HomeNewsArticle Display

AEDC Fellow James Nichols’ contributions to the complex remembered

James H. Nichols (U.S. Air Force photo)

James H. Nichols (U.S. Air Force photo)


AEDC Fellow James H. Nichols will be remembered for his contributions to Arnold Engineering Development Complex following his passing on Nov. 8 at the age of 91.

Nichols is credited with exhibiting technical and managerial leadership in advancing state-of-the-art wind tunnel facility design, operation and testing. He was honored as an AEDC Fellow in 2011. The AEDC Fellows program, established in 1989, recognizes AEDC personnel who have made substantial and exceptionally distinguished contributions to the nation’s aerospace ground testing capability.

Nichols grew up in Mississippi and attended Mississippi State University. According to his obituary, it was there that Nichols learned to fly.

Following a stint working at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Nichols relocated to southern middle Tennessee to begin his career with AEDC at Arnold Air Force Base. The aeronautical engineer was part of the group responsible for the design and construction of the Propulsion Wind Tunnel Facility. Nichols later moved into a management role and was responsible for plant operations in support of PWT and the AEDC von Kármán Gas Dynamics Facility.

Among his accomplishments, Nichols is noted for his pioneering work in the PWT and resolving operational problems and extending the capabilities of the facility.

Nichols was also a key contributors in the development and integration of the flexible nozzle for the 16-foot transonic wind tunnel, also known as 16T. His work delivered an accurate and robust system that has operated in support of all major weapons systems developed more than the past half-century. In later years, Nichols’ work extended the capability of 16T down to the subsonic and low-speed range.

He helped run the initial Mach calibration of the 16-foot supersonic wind tunnel in 1960. This calibration established the quality of test conditions available in the tunnel.

Along with his contributions to the success of the PWT facilities, Nichols also developed innovative solutions to leverage base-wide capabilities through facility interconnects. With the help of others, he adapted the PWT Plenum Evacuation System to support altitude rocket testing in the J-4 and J-5 test cells. He also worked with utility engineers to devise modifications to allow the Aeropropulsion Systems Test Facility cooling tower system to support PWT operating requirements, eliminating many cooling water conflicts.

Prior to his retirement, Nichols was deputy director, Operations and Maintenance Facility, for Calspan Corp., then a contractor for AEDC. He was selected as an AEDC Fellow after his retirement.

According to his obituary, Nichols’ favorite pastime was photography and, along with sharing photos with family and friends, he would visit the Tullahoma Regional Airport with his camera after he stopped flying.