In July 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed into law a bill authorizing construction of a new building for the newly-renamed National Air and Space Museum (NASM). It had been twenty years since the National Air Museum was established, also by law, in 1946. During that period the growing collection had been exhibited partly in the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building and partly in a hangar, known since World War I as the Aircraft Building, in the south yard of the Smithsonian Castle. Additional aircraft and reference materials were in storage at Silver Hill, Maryland. S. Paul Johnston, who became Director of the Museum in 1964, initiated a Master Plan in 1965 which called for reorganization and improvement at Silver Hill, improvement of exhibitions on the Mall, and planning for the new building.
There had been a Section of Aeronautics under the old administrative hierarchy since 1933. Paul E. Garber, who had joined the staff of the Institution in 1919, had risen to Assistant Curator of Aeronautics. By 1966, Garber's title was Assistant Director (Education and Information), and Aeronautics was divided into three parts: Flight Craft, Flight Materiel, and Flight Propulsion, headed by curators Louis S. Casey, Kenneth E. Newland, and Robert B. Meyer, respectively. Garber officially retired in 1969 but remained as Historian Emeritus and Ramsey Research Associate into the 1990s. With Garber's retirement, Casey became Acting Assistant Director, while Frank A. Taylor succeeded Johnston, becoming Acting Director in 1970.
Meanwhile, the Apollo 11 voyage to the moon of 1969 helped fuel the desire for building the new Air and Space Museum. Ex-astronaut Michael Collins was named Director in 1971, a ground-breaking ceremony was held in November 1972, and the entire staff began detailed preparations for an expected opening during the 1976 Bicentennial.
The plans for the new museum called for twenty-three exhibit halls, many of which were related to aeronautics, making aircraft restoration and exhibit preparation the major concerns of this period.
In 1975 the staff moved into the new building and completed installation of the exhibits in time for the July 1, 1976 opening.
The late 1970s and the early 1980s were a period of new emphasis on historical and scientific research. The Charles A. Lindbergh Chair of Aerospace History was established in 1977, and Charles Harvard Gibbs-Smith, Keeper Emeritus of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, became the first occupant. An international fellowship was established, along with the Verville Fellowship. Various symposia on figures such as Lindbergh, the Wright Brothers, and Amelia Earhart were held, and the General Electric Lecture Series began. In 1980 the department held a seminar on Forty Years of Jet Aviation. The Aeronautics Department initiated a new aviation book series, Famous Aircraft of the National Air and Space Museum, and plans were made to issue a bibliography called a Guide to Aerospace History Sources. In 1986 NASM announced the establishment of the National Air and Space Archives, a national center for research in aerospace history.
Donald S. Lopez was named Assistant Director (Aeronautics) in 1972. In 1980 his title was changed to Chairman, Aeronautics Department. Paul Garber had been named Historian Emeritus. By the late 1970s, the department included Curators Walter J. Boyne, Louis S. Casey, Robert B. Meyer, Jr., Robert C. Mikesh, Claudia M. Oakes, Edmund T. Wooldridge, and C. Glen Sweeting. In 1981 curators Tom D. Crouch and Von D. Hardesty joined the aeronautics staff, and Boyne became Assistant Director of the Museum, now led by Noel Hinners. In 1982 Boyne became Acting Director and then Director of the Museum in 1983, with Donald S. Lopez becoming Deputy Director, and Edmund T. Wooldridge, Jr., Chairman of the Aeronautics Department. Wooldridge served as Chairman of the Department, 1983-1986.