After surveying the German missile development facilities in December 1945, Dr. Theodore von Karman, Director of the Army Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, advised General H.H. Arnold that the United States needed to build research and development facilities comparable to what he had seen in Europe to include "...wind tunnel facilities to attain speeds up to three times the velocity of sound, with large enough test sections to accommodate models of reasonable size, including jet propulsion units, and one ultrasonic wind tunnel for the exploration of the upper frontier of the supersonic speed range." The availability of land, water, and power made the central Tennessee site ideally suited for the new installation.
Construction of the center at Tullahoma, Tennessee, began in 1950. On June 25, 1951, President Truman attended a dedication ceremony naming the center for the recently deceased Arnold. As test facilities were activated, the center became an important component of the newly formed Air Research Development Command. The first tests at the engine test facility were conducted in 1953. Since that time the facility grew into the world's most comprehensive aerospace ground-test center.
Large wind tunnel facilities allowed hypersonic high altitude aerodynamic tests on full-scale components. For example, in December 1982, the first full-scale test firing of the Peacekeeper missile 60,000-pound thrust second-stage solid rocket motor was conducted under a simulated altitude of 70,000 feet.