Updated crash lab, wind tunnel allow for expanded testing at institute

3:00:41 PM CDT - Thursday, November 04, 2004

There's a light at the end of the tunnel for researchers eager to use a modernized crash dynamics lab and wind tunnel at the National Institute for Aviation Research.

The new upgrades will allow both the wind tunnel and crash lab to expand their customer base. With its $6 million upgrades, the wind tunnel can now handle higher air speeds and temperatures, while crash lab officials are shopping their new $3 million upgrades to the automotive industry.

Final testing is being done on both facilities before they open for business.

Upgrades on the Walter H. Beech Memorial Wind Tunnel are complete and officials in the aerodynamics lab say the tunnel is in "shakedown." During this period, the staff tests how the tunnel functions and makes sure it's reliable. The shakedown also helps staff become familiar with the tunnel upgrades.


Director John Laffen stands inside the new upgraded wind tunnel.

Courtesy photo by NIAR

"By performing several different kinds of wind tunnel tests, we will be able to test not only the system as a whole, but test ourselves as well," said John Laffen, aerodynamics lab director. "This will ensure that we can give our customers the best service available."

Construction was completed May 29, and the results are promising. "The external balance is better than we specified" in the original plans, said Laffen.

The balance, the tunnel's primary means of measurement, was built by Aerotech ATE Ltd., based in Heathfield, England. The new six-component external balance provides precise measurement of aerodynamic loads on test articles.

Airspeeds in excess of 230 mph have been observed with test section temperature below 95 degrees. Before the upgrades, the tunnel's speed was confined to approximately 150 mph winds and its temperature would frequently rise above 150 degrees. The tunnel could only be operated for approximately one hour before the air temperature would get too high for testing to continue.
The constraints limited some testing for the tunnel's diverse clientele which includes aviation and nonaviation businesses.

The testing process has gone well, although there have been a few hitches. During an accelerated fan start to more than 230 mph in less than 30 seconds, negative pressures generated in the test section lifted the turntable out of the floor. As a result, the test section had some damage, leading to a new turntable design and replacement parts.

The final segment of the project involves developing and testing a new computer-based data acquisition system. With this system, businesses will be able to view results via the Internet instead of being at the lab.

"It's exciting to see the tunnel run and perform better than we had anticipated, especially after years of work leading up to this point," said Laffen. "I believe our clients will be quite impressed with our capabilities when our commercial testing resumes."

Meanwhile the upgraded Crash Dynamics Laboratory is expected to become operational by mid-November and reopen for business in January.

The new horizontal crash system will be an accelerator crash sled, meaning that the impact will initially take place and then use the crash sled rails to decelerate to a safe level of speed.
Currently the lab is only able to do component testing for aviation, but the upgrade will allow expansion into the automotive industry. Testing on air bags, child safety seats and other components will be possible as well.

In addition to the new sled, the lab expanded to include a client work/office space and two technical support rooms. The photographic lighting system will also be replaced.

With so many improvements, the lab staff is introducing themselves to the automotive neighborhood. Lab personnel have already attended automotive trade shows.

"It's such a tremendous improvement that we can't wait for it to be done," said Joseph Mitchell, lab director. "We're ready to show our clients what we can do."

Compiled by Joe Kleinsasser


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