Wind tunnel getting up to speed

9:39:08 AM CDT - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

By Kristin Strole

The Walter H. Beech Memorial Low Speed Wind Tunnel at Wichita State is getting ready for business after undergoing a $6 million makeover since last October.

Officials at the National Institute for Aviation Research report that initial indications show that the tunnel is exceeding all expectations.

Airspeeds of more than 230 mph have been observed with test section temperature below 95 degrees. Before the upgrades, the tunnel's speed was limited to approximately 150 mph winds and its temperature would frequently rise above 150 degrees. With those constraints, the tunnel was limited in fulfilling clients' needs. Its diverse clientele, which includes aviation and nonaviation-related businesses, required not only higher wind speeds and lower temperatures, but the ability to conduct research in a timely, cost-efficient manner. Also before the upgrade, the tunnel could only be operated for about an hour before the air temperature would get too high for testing to continue.

"We're very excited to see the tunnel perform better than we had expected," said John Laffen, director of the NIAR Aerodynamics Laboratories. "We're the only tunnel of our kind with active cooling. This allows us to run all week long at full speed. This is the single biggest improvement the tunnel has seen."

The upgrades on the tunnel include installing a new flow conditioning equipment for improved airflow simulation; a new six-component external balance for precise measurement of the aerodynamic loads on test articles; a specialized fan, motor and drive unit that will generate wind speeds ranging from 25 mph to well over 200 mph; and a large heat exchanger and cooling system. The latter system will hold down the tunnel's temperature by removing the heat generated by the fan and by the friction from the high-speed air moving through the tunnel.

In the coming weeks, the installation of the external balance, the tunnel's primary means of measurement, will be completed. Although construction will be finished in July, the tunnel will not be open for public testing until October. Until it opens, NIAR will continue investigating and examining the quality of the tunnel's testing section. Laffen said the tunnel has booked clients through the end of this year.

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