From 1938 to 1978, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), strictly regulated airline fares and market entry by air carriers. These regulatory policies had the effect of constraining market efficiencies while spurring technological innovation, because airlines were forced to compete on the basis of technology as opposed to cost. After World War II, spin-offs from military R&D and transfers to the private sector from military-based research and procurement had a decisive effect on the commercial sector. Manufacturers such as Boeing and General Electric that worked in both the military and the civilian jet-aircraft and jet-engine markets were able to leverage the cost of production and technology development across both areas.

NACA's efforts in technology diffusion and encouraging the adoption of new technology through dissemination of technical documents were successful in spurring technological advances in the United States. NACA (and later NASA) also encouraged companies of comparable technical ability to share R&D findings in large joint projects.34 In addition to support for R&D and the adoption of new, innovative technologies in the civil sector, NACA and NASA played a key role in support of the infrastructure underlying the commercial aviation industry.

There are several important lessons to be gained from the government's involvement in support of the commercial aircraft industry. First, NACA concentrated on areas of pre-commercial, applied R&D with broad application throughout the industry. Private companies then took the research results and specialized in technology commercialization. Program managers at NACA facilities were not involved in specific decisions on product applications. NACA generally limited its support to "generic, enabling technologies" from which current or future product design programs would benefit.

Second, NACA's research efforts were unstructured and minimized over-lapping responsibilities, in contrast to many current federal programs. Research projects were initiated after informal approval from staff supervisors or NACA's executive committee.35 The organization's relatively small size and single location contributed to close staff collaboration. NACA was also able to attract high-quality scientific and engineering talent. Staff was not restricted to narrow technical specialties, which promoted the wide transfer of technical information and expertise.

Synthetic Fuels

The government's attempt to develop a synthetic fuels industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s is a case study of unsuccessful federal involvement in technology development. In 1980, Congress established the Synthetic Fuels Corporation (SFC), a quasi-independent corporation, to develop large-scale projects in coal and shale liquefaction and gasification.36 Most



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement