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The Wind Tunnel: Is It Just Testing The Wind..?

A Private Wind Tunnel

  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is home to the only privately owned and operated wind tunnel in the United States. Hidden in plain sight on MIT’s campus, the Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel has proven instrumental in the examination of aerospace, architectural, vehicular, sports and other engineering systems.
Wind Tunnel Science 1

Wind Tunnel Evolution…

  • Approaching its 75th year in use, we take a look back at how the tunnel and the research done within have evolved over the years and how it has become such an iconic part of the Institute. Described by the people who know it best, the Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel is a vital part of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and according to most students, the heart of MIT.
  • Bicknell had received the SM Degree from Course 16 in 1937, joined the NACA Langley center, and returned in 1939 at the request of Professor Shatswell Ober to work at the Wright Brothers Facility. He arrived only four days before Peters left for Germany at the start of World War II. Professors Markham and Ober were in charge of the facility at that time.
  • The first dozen years of operation included extremely heavy demands from industry for design development testing during the Second World War. The original pressurized capability was set aside and two shifts per day was the normal procedure. The charge algorithm was based on actual costs, normal overhead, and facility improvement. The latter included projects such as a separate student wind tunnel ($51,000) and a transonic wind tunnel and Building (17A) ($135,000), the tunnels being demolished in 1961 and 1964 respectively.

Wind Tunnel Experiment: Early Aircraft…

  • A number of famous aircraft were tested for industry during the ’40 and ’50 decades (e.g. Sikorsky, Grumman, Republic, Consolidated-Vultee, Chance Vought). Pressure operations were concentrated at 2.5 atmospheres absolute and test velocity was virtually always held to 125 mph, with the motor-fan system in second speed. Pressure limitations in part were related to practical pumping times; dryers were required to avoid wet air during compression, and too rapid decompression led to condensation. Third speed was avoided as a result of the excessive noise, but when necessary was timed to meet the 10 minute breaks between classes! Fourth speed was also avoided due to gyroscopic forces on the fan blades which prevented pitch changes while running. Noise proved to be very severe in fourth speed, and was responsible for a glass block window arrangement that was installed for the classroom (33-206) in the adjacent Guggenheim Building.

Types Of Wind Tunnel

  • During the late 1950′s, a sliding nozzle block, blow-down, transonic wind tunnel that was designed for aeroelastic studies was supported by the facility both financially as well as by the tunnel circuit itself (in the role of a two atmospheres source pressure tank). The shared operations continued for about eight years. In the mid 1960′s then Director Professor Bicknell initiated aerodynamic evaluations of ground structures, specifically for several campus areas [the Green Building (1965), the Center for Advanced Engineering Study (1966), and the Calder "Sail" for McDermott Court], while continuing general aviation testing (e.g. General Aviation, Helioplane).
Wind Tunnel Design: Civil Engineering…
  • On Bicknell’s retirement in 1969 Frank H. Durgin assumed the responsibility for day to day operations and began a serious attempt to broaden the match of the tunnel’s capabilities to the needs of the civil engineering and architectural communities. Beginning in 1972 the facility took on the major undertaking of both wind tunnel simulations and on-site measurements to explain window failures being experienced in the new John Hancock Toweracross the Charles River Basin in Boston. Following some success, an initial design evaluation assignment was awarded to establish the wind effects on the facade and at ground level for the Sears Tower in Chicago, and this occupied the latter years of the 1970′s, along with a number of other ground studies (radome housings, the Battery Park and Trade Center Towers area at the southern tip of Manhattan, antenna configurations, galloping power transmission lines, and tall structures in Cincinnati, Columbus, Orlando, Toledo, and Boston).

    English: Grady McCoy stands in the Langley Res...

    English: Grady McCoy stands in the Langley Research Center’s 16 foot transonic wind tunnel in 1990. Before the tunnel was mothballed in 2004 it supported most major military programs both in their development stage and ongoing propulsion integration research including all fighters since 1960 (F-14, F-15, F-16, F-18 and the Joint Strike Fighter). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wind Tunnel Testing…
  • Civil Engineering became a regular feature, and Professor David P. Hoult scheduled smokestack plume pollution research studies for the Mechanical Engineering Department. For several years Professor Normal D. Ham, and then Professor Eugene E. Covert, served as Directors. Ham carried out helicopter rotor studies, and with Paul Bauer developed a unique gust generating system for general wind tunnel applications. During Covert’s tenure the use of the tunnel for building and environmental testing continued. One particularly interesting program was conducted for the Atlantic Richfield Oil Company, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska operation. The purpose was to shape the underside of a building on stilts so that prevailing winds would clear the snow from beneath the building, rather than allowing drift accumulations. The program was successful, but nearly a decade later a call informed Mr. Durgin that the area was filling with snow. It turned out that the rule prohibiting vehicle parking under the building was not being enforced! Upon strict enforcement, the wind again cleared the area of snow. Still another interesting concept involved sensing stall acoustically, and was carried out by Bolt Beranek and Newmanin a series of tests.

    Canal aérodynamique

    Canal aérodynamique (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wind Tunnel Simulator: Aircraft (2)…
  • In 1979 Professor Judson R. Baron was appointed Director and an aeronautical priority was reestablished in parallel with the ongoing wind aerodynamics studies. The Fairchild Republic Company became a major user of the facility and successively developed a number of aircraft (the Saab/Fairchild [SF340] twin engine transport, the USAF Next Generation Trainer [T46A], a drone vehicle, a forward swept wing fighter prototype, and several advanced preliminary design configurations). The Digital Equipment Corporation provided a new computation system for automated data acquisition, and with special support grants from Fairchild, the facility acquired a new test control console, a complete reconfiguration of the original balance system that allowed the installation of modern strain gage sensors for all six components, computation system peripherals, and encouragement to pursue recertification for pressurized operations with either air or a heavy gas. On 30 January 1984, during “routine” development testing of a joint Boeing/Fairchild model (an ASW version of the SF340), pressure operations over the range from 0.5 to 1.5 atmospheres were carried out for the first time in three decades to examine Reynolds number effects, and have since been extended to 2.0 atmospheres.
Vertical Wind Tunnel And Hoover Wind Tunnel…
  • In recent years Faculty research interests generated long range studies of unsteady airfoil flow fields (Prof. E.E. Covert), jet engine inlet-vortex behavior (Prof. E.M. Greitzer), aeroelastic tests of unducted propeller fans (Prof. E. Crawley), and panel methods for tunnel wall interaction effects (Prof. J.R. Baron). Industrial testing has ranged over auxillary propulsion burner units, helicopter antenna pods, and in-flight trailing cables, as well as new concepts for roofing attachments, a variety of stationary and vehicle mounted ground antenna configurations, the aeroelastic dynamics of Airport Control Tower configurations for the Federal Aviation Authority, and the less anticipated live tests in Olympic ski gear, astronauts’ space suits for tare evaluations related to underwater simulations of weightless space activity, racing bicycles, subway station entrances, and Olympic rowing shells for oarlock system drag comparisons. Baron retired in the Fall of 1989 and Covert became Director once again. In over a half century of operations the work has been recorded in several hundred theses and more than one thousand technical reports.

Wind Tunnel

(Source of main image & Video: MIT /)

6-component external balance, F.K. Kirsten Win...

6-component external balance, F.K. Kirsten Wind Tunnel, University of Washington Aeronautical Laboratory (UWAL), University of Washington, Seattle, Washington. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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