For release: August 11, 1995
Mary M. Spracher
RELEASE NO. 95-79
NASA's oldest operating wind tunnel, the 30- by 60-Foot Tunnel, will be officially closed Sept. 29. The historic facility, originally known as the Full-Scale Tunnel (FST), is located at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
The closing of the 30- by 60-Foot Tunnel allows for an orderly consolidation of aeronautical testing facilities at a time of shrinking federal budgets and enables essential center capabilities to be preserved.
The 30- by 60-Foot Tunnel is a subsonic wind tunnel originally designed for the testing of full-scale models and actual airplanes at operational flight speeds. Such ground-based testing eliminated scale effect and provided basic information prior to and during flight testing. Contemporary studies in the tunnel often focused on stability and control characteristics for military aircraft, and high-lift capability for both civil and military aircraft.
Throughout its history, the 30- by 60-Foot Tunnel has been used for the testing of innumerable vehicle configurations. It was the largest wind tunnel in the world until 1945, and in 1985 it was named a National Historic Landmark.
The 30- by 60-Foot Tunnel has contributed to military, commercial and general aviation aircraft designs. Its many contributions include fundamental aerodynamic testing of full-scale aircraft during the 1930s; drag reduction or "clean up"studies of full-scale military aircraft during World War II; free-flight testing of models of vertical takeoff and landing aircraft; testing of the Albacore, the fastest submarine in the world in 1950; testing of the nation's first spacecraft, the Mercury space capsule; testing of full-scale general aviation aircraft; and testing of lifting body, supersonic transport and present-day military aircraft configurations.
Designs for the tunnel were begun in 1929, with $900,000 of funding appropriated before the Depression. Because the tunnel was designed and built during the Depression, the design team, led by Smith J. DeFrance, was able to take advantage of cheap materials and a large pool of unemployed engineers. Construction began in the spring of 1930 and the completed 30- by 60-Foot Tunnel was dedicated on May 27, 1931.
The overall tunnel is 434 feet long and 222 feet wide with a maximum height of 97 feet. The actual test section is an open-jet 30 feet high, 60 feet wide and 56 feet long. Two four-bladed wooden propellers, each 35.5 feet in diameter and powered by a 4,000-horsepower motor, generate the air stream. The tunnel is a closed-loop design, with two return passages that allow for continuous air flow at speeds up to 120 mph.
Over the years the test section of the tunnel has been modified several times to adapt to changing needs. During renovations in the 1960s and 1970s, the tunnel was equipped for free-flight dynamic model testing. In recent years, the tunnel has been extensively used for such free-flight tests. This test technique, unique to this facility, involves flying 10- to 20-percent scaled models controlled by remotely-positioned pilots.
The future of the 30- by 60-Foot Tunnel is uncertain, but there are no plans to tear it down or to change its external appearance. Possible adaptive uses are under study and certain components may be made available to the National Air and Space Museum (Smithsonian) or other museums. NASA Langley is a federal custodian of historic properties, in conformance with the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act.
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