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Researching in company archives and other primary sources - how to get started?

overscan (PaulMM)

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Scott, Tony and others have spent a lot of time researching unbuilt projects from official archives, whether company archives, patent office, FOIA requests etc.

Perhaps we could discuss the practicalities of doing primary research here.

How do you gain access to company archives?
How does one make an FOIA request, and what do you ask for?
Where are the archives for different companies located?

With forum members located all over the world, potentially we could visit most of the archives in existence.
 

Orionblamblam

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Re: Researching in company archives and other primary sources - how to get start

overscan said:
How do you gain access to company archives?

Depends greatly on the company. In my admittedly limited experience, Boeing is easy, other companies are hard and some are impossible. As to Boeing, there are two full-time archivists, and they are workign full-time on Boeing projects... they cannot do your research for you, so you pretty much *have* to visit. It helps a lot if you are a US citizen.

overscan said:
How does one make an FOIA request, and what do you ask for?


Presumably you don;t know what reports you are looking for, but rather have keywords. Consequently, start with a request for a records search (cut and pasted and modified from a request I just fired off:

Defense Technical Information Center
ATTN: FOIA Officer
8725 John J. Kingman Road
Fort Belvoir, VA 22060

September 5, 2006

I request a computer generated technical report bibliography of reports on the subject/keywords of:
XXXX

This is a request for DTIC records, please don’t forward my request to NTIS. Please include both classified and unclassified records in your search. If any records are classified, please review them for release, or the release of nonsensitive portions.

I am an individual requestor, making this request in support of a XXX research project. I also agree to pay up to $25 for reasonable fees associated with this request.

Thank you for your help.

Sincerely,

Who The Hell ever.

overscan said:
Where are the archives for different companies located?

Off the top of my head, Boeing is in Bellevue, WA; Convair/GD in San Diego; Bell in Nigara Falls, NY; Rockwell/North American is being transitioned to the Boeing facility; Douglas in Huntington Beach, CA. Lockheed... never have found any sort of decent publicly accessible archives for them. NOrthrop and Grummans archives have been at least closed down, at worst destroyed. United Tech's archive in San Jose, CA, never actually existed (I worked there).

overscan said:
With forum members located all over the world, potentially we could visit most of the archives in existence.

No. Many won't let you in the door.
 

Andreas Parsch

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Re: Researching in company archives and other primary sources - how to get start

On the subject of FOIA requests, I'd like to add that filing a FOIA request is not always a "fire and forget" (i.e., you send a request letter, and lean back to wait for the results) process. I have had (and currently again have) cases with HQ USAF's FOIA office at the Pentagon, which have "stalled" because of USAF-internal bureaucracy f*ck-ups :mad:. So far, one or more complaints always got the cases going again, but if I had done nothing I don't know if any results had come forward.

Also, FOIA is usually a slow process. Although the regulations state a maximum reply time of 20 working days, with extensions permissible only under certain circumstances, these circumstances are effectively always in place at some FOIA offices :(. So if you want info quick and now, FOIA is not the way to go.

One the positive side, for non-commercial requests you get 2 hours of search time, the entire review, and up to 100 pages of copies for free. I.e., if you know exactly what you want (-> no long search) and it is not too much material, you can dig out real "treasures" absolutely for free :)! And just in case this is not known to everyone: FOIA requests can be filed be everyone - you don't have to be a US citizen.
 

overscan (PaulMM)

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Re: Researching in company archives and other primary sources - how to get start

I guess the obvious question becomes: how does one decide on what to search for?

Perhaps Andreas or Scott might give an example of a search they did and what kind of information it turned up?
 

Andreas Parsch

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Re: Researching in company archives and other primary sources - how to get start

overscan said:
I guess the obvious question becomes: how does one decide on what to search for?
Whatever you are interested in ;D!

For FOIA, one of the crucial things to find out beforehand is where the documents or information you want is located. E.g., if you are looking for files on an old USAF missile program, you should find out which AF command handled the program at that time, and place your request with that command's current successor.

This is often not possible, so more generic sources must be sought. DTIC, as posted by Scott, is an excellent starting point for technical reports. An other good generic source is AFHRA (Air Force Historical Research Agency) at Maxwell AFB. At http://www.thememoryhole.org/mil/afhra/, you can download a sort of "Finding Aid" for about 550,000 AFHRA files in the form of 29 ZIP'ed Excel sheets. I combined those sheet into a single XLS file (which weighs in at several hundred megabytes!), which can easily be full-text searched for any keyword I like.

Perhaps Andreas or Scott might give an example of a search they did and what kind of information it turned up?

I doubt that my requests are really "typical" ;D!

Anyway, as you know I'm primarily interested in nomenclature related things. One of my first requests (in 2001) was for the USAF records covering the allocation of the F-20A designator to the Northrop "Tigershark". The request went to AFMC at Wright-Patterson AFB, because I knew that allocation of aircraft designators was handled at that time by an office named AFMC/CASC (this information came from the official DOD regulation about the aircraft designation system, which I had already found online). Although it turned out that my understanding of the designation allocation process was then significantly incomplete and partially wrong ;), AFMC fortunately was (at that time!) indeed the correct place to ask for the records. The results were exactly what I wanted - the official rationale why the Tigershark became the F-20, any why F-19 was skipped :).

I made many similar requests to fill the "gaps" in the various designation series. Somtimes the initial return included just enough information to file a follow-on request for more specific files. E.g., when I requested the allocation records for the slot #68 in the M-for-Missile series, only a single form came back, saying only "ZAIM-68A, Kirtland, BIG Q". This in turn led to a follow-up request to Kirtland AFB for records on the "BIG Q" project, which resulted in a short, but extremely useful status report on the BIG Q missile from 1965.

Of course, I also had a fair share of FOIA requests, which were dead ends, returning either nothing at all or only insignificant information. What can be really frustrating, though, is when you locate a file about a 1950s(!) cancelled(!!) missile program, only to hear that it is still classified, and that the FOIA officer is unable to find anyone who is authorized to do a declassification review, because the file is so old :mad:!
 

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I can only tell something about the situation here in Germany.

1. EADS Archive Ottobrunn near Munich – After the uprising wish to extend our knowledge regarding VTOL designs all over the world Mike Hirschberg and I tried to get access to the administration of all the Bölkow and MBB proposals. German bureaucrats are impressed by ‘authorities’, so it was good for our attempt to have an aviation author (Mike) by my side. As well, Mike Hirschberg was in contact with a former Tornado engineer and the manager of the archive. As our visit was approaching another archivist compiled interesting V/STOL material – it was allowed to make Xerox copies and use our own scanner. On the other hand we had no permission for independent research between the rows of high bookshelfs. We made the same experience as Andreas Parsch (with the 1950s missiles) - many of the 1960s VTOL technology is still classified – because there is nobody to check such material periodically if it’s still necessary to be sworn to secrecy L. And now the bad news. Shortly after our visit the archivist told us about the new rules there: The management believes that private research put the EADS to expense. We never got a second chance. Requests from outside will no longer be answered by the company. Outwardly the archive doesn’t exist :mad:! Our one and only hope is that the archivist Mr Mühlbauer (Hallo Wolfgang, liest Du das hier?) continues his excellent articles in the German “Flugzeug Classic” magazine month by month, which are founded on the material of this EADS archive.
2. Deutsches Museum Munich/Archive – Very difficult to get access. We had no chance (the contemporary/recent director tightened up the rules).
3. EADS Dresden/Elbe Flugzeugwerft – After contacting the two archivists (by letter) I visited the archive for half of a day. I was amazed how much material survived after the end of an independent aircraft production in the GDR in 1961. But you need much time to find what you are looking for. It’s well arranged, but I had not enough time. So I only get a general overview. In 2002 there was a lack of a photocopier L, so I left the archive without copies of the three-view drawings of never published jet trainer designs. I hope to find a second chance looking for these trainers and also civil VTOL designs (yes, there are indications for such considerations!)
4. EADS Bremen – Mike’s and my most successful operation. First we wrote to the company library and we were successfully. The archive is far outside of the works premises. The librarian (who is responsible for the archive too) took us to the building. He was in the same room all over the time (he was busy to sort files from another archive), so we had free access to all files. Two days were not enough to check all the interesting things, but our scanner and photocopier (no company-own equipment was there) had a hard job without a break ;). Thanks a lot to EADS in Bremen.
5. Historisches Unternehmensarchiv Dornier in Immenstaad (on Lake Constance) – Again first contact by letter and phone (with reference to our website and the seriousness of our research). Material was sorted before we (this time jemiba was on our side to help) arrived the archive – no possibility to see the contents of the wall-to-wall shelvings with our own eyes. A photocopier existed, but we had to use our own scanner again. At the end the archivist told us, that a part of the archive is stored in Oberpfaffenhofen - maybe our next target? Remarkably, that many of the designs, we’ve sent to the archive a few weeks ago to illustrate our questions, were not known to the archivist! It’s all a matter of give and take ;) .

In the result we missed many (and of course we found a lot of unknown) designs. Scott says many won't let you in the door. Yes, that’s right, but never give up! It helps (sometimes) if you are an author (with authority) or you are able to prove the seriousness of your research work. Skybolt gave a good example for the success of his efforts today in the SIAI-Marchetti SM_122 & SM_132 section.

So I’ve never lost the hope to see a picture of the very first Tu-95 prototype (‘95/I’) one day ;) (Flateric, is there a kind of National Archive in Samara, where all OKBs had to send copies of their ‘brain childs’? I’ve heard about such an institution in talks with K Udalov resp. Y Gordon.)
 

Jemiba

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I'm afraid, the story of aviation archives, or better of archives holding aviation related material is a very sad one.From 1984 to 1988 I was working for Standard Eleketrik Lorenz, then part of ITT, a once proud name in the german history of electronics and avionics. Yes, there was an archive, lead by a nice and friendly chap, close to his retirement, who knew relatively well, where to find certain things. When I once was talking to him, mentioning my interest in aviation, he reacted very pleased and showed me several documents about german WW II radars, airborne and ground
installations. For example, I remember one document showing a radarinstallation for a Ju 88, I hadn't seen before and never after this. But asking, if I could borrow some documents for a while, or at least copy them, reminded him, that there were very strict rules for using this archive, we probably already had ignored completely and, of course there wasn't a copier there ... Perhaps one year later, in one of the usual "change-your-room" session, not only offices, but the archive, too, was moved. I saw several large boxes, which may have contained documents from the archive, but not enough for all the bookshelves there, so probably quite a large amount of them was already "recycled". And the rest probably was brought to a room, which was useless for all other purposes and forgotten there. And there wasn't an archivist any more, of course ! Important things were stored online in a network, that would seem very crude today, storage capacity still was expensive and who, the hell, needed such things ? To pay someone, just to answer questions from freaks out there ?
A new, lean and efficient company cannot make money with archives ! Spending money for storing informations about cancelled or failed projects ? Ok, maybe it would be good for blackmailing someone, but such things aren't stored in a more or less public archive. As long, as there isn't a clever guy, who discovers, that such documents can be kind of a gold mine, if they are sold to interested enthusiasts, it will be just a way for companies, to decrease costs by getting rid of this old stuff. And if one day there really is that guy, I'm afraid we can't afford it !

So, our hope lies completely on old fashioned companies and institutions ! ;)
 

Bomiwriter

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Bomiwriter:

I understand SAC tossed out multiple thousands of either files and or photography! Lockheed/Martin in Denver where really wild research in the 1950s-1960s occurred will not cooperate. I actually understand that many Corporations simply refuse to store, file, hire an archivist, or deal with the public. Also, many are still sitting what files were saved and not destroyed because they refuse again, to spend time, funds, etc, to perform the Gov't regulations detailing declassification of same files. Another point is this; since project files are generated within their firm, they also simply "landfill" them, or perhaps burn or shred the files-again bypassing the declassification process, and not spending monies that could go into the pockets of the Execs!

The declassification process is also (insider at Nat'l Archives told me the following), a wild process. I was actually informed that certain boxes of files are chosen to be declassified. I tried to have classified Dyna Soar material (yes, Virginia some stuff is still stamped with that magenta colored "Secret" stamp), and it seems to be a pick and choose a box affair. I was blown away upon hearing that one. In 2005-2006 Pentagon simply refused to declassify DS Project stuff even though pointing out it was now 50 plus years old. There you be folks. The powers can always claim that thoroughly worn out term "National Security," as though DS files would cause the downfall of Imperialism or something. That's it and have a good day.
Bomiwriter
 

aero-engineer

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Re: Researching in company archives and other primary sources - how to get start

Orionblamblam said:
Douglas in Huntington Beach, CA.

I *think* Douglas archive is actually located in Cyprus, CA. I don't recall the woman's name who runs it.

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CAIR67

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Re: Researching in company archives and other primary sources - how to get start

How about the National Archives? What is the procedure to research aviation materials there. I heard that you have to get a companies permission to copy files obtaining to companies still in business. For example, I want to research Glenn L Martin projects but I have to get Lockheed Martin's permission. I live right down the street from the National Archives and always wanted to go explore. I would appreciate any tips.
 

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