Davidson Lab Answers the Call: WWII Research, America’s Cup, Climate Disaster Preparedness
Partner to U.S. military, space and industry players and a key research facility in the campaign to combat climate change, Davidson Laboratory has been serving the nation for more than eight decades.
It was early 1942, in the dark days of World War II, and the U.S. Navy, under threat of submarine attack, needed a research facility that could test the maneuvering moves of a wide range of vessels.
Stevens’ own Experimental Towing Tank, known as Tank 1, was already devoted to the war effort, focusing largely on seaplane research. But professor Kenneth S.M. Davidson, a former pilot in the Army Air Service, and his team answered the call from the Navy when the lab was selected to construct Tank 2, the world’s first indoor maneuvering basin, on Hudson Street. They built it in just four months.
Stevens would later build a third new tank — a high-speed towing tank — with two shifts of researchers and staff working day and night to help support the Allies.
This fascinating chapter of Stevens history is just one of many in the renowned lab’s 84-year run.
Stevens’ original Tank 1 was housed in the old Navy Building, built by the U.S. government as a dormitory for the U.S. Navy Steam Engineering School during World War I. By 1936, the tank had become involved with the testing of racing yachts — the start of a long relationship with yachts competing in the America’s Cup that continues to the present day.
As war brewed in Europe, seaplane model testing began in 1938. Davidson and his colleagues had already been evaluating the “turning behavior” of ship destroyer models. But the Navy needed accelerated testing of seaplane hulls and looked to Stevens once again. The result was the construction of the 313-foot long High-Speed Towing Tank, or Tank 3, opening in November 1944, right next to Tank 2; it took nine months to construct.
Post-war, the lab expanded into testing of model torpedoes and submarines, and was instrumental in the design and testing of Albacore, the first modern submarine.
Seaplane researcher Dan Savitsky M.S. ’52 was a giant figure in the lab's post-war research era. In 1964, he produced a seminal technical paper that developed the “Savitsky Method”: predicting high-speed planing boats’ horsepower needs. The Savitsky team also developed key designs for landing craft for the U.S. Marine Corps, the Navy’s advanced planing vessels, and floats for converting a Lockheed airplane to a water-based craft.
Davidson Lab even had a role in the nation’s space program. In the 1970s and ’80s, NASA’s lunar rover was tested at Davidson Lab.
Today, Davidson Lab still works with military contractors and the Navy. But the lab’s work has diversified. Researchers work with state and federal agencies and industry partners on weather and marine environmental resilience projects in strategic efforts to counteract the impact of climate change. Additionally, the lab's technology for capturing wind, tide, current, wave and other data is used to activate life-saving responses to potentially devastating storms. Davidson Lab created and runs the New York Harbor Observing and Prediction System (NYHOPS), a critical emergency preparedness resource for New York City and coastal New Jersey credited with vital Hurricane Sandy predictions in 2012.