|For release: October 1995
RELEASE NO. 95-101
SPECIAL TO NTV:
HISTORIC NASA WIND TUNNEL IS RETIRED
NASA's oldest operating wind tunnel, which has tested everything
from biplanes to a Mercury space capsule to far-out airplanes of
the future, has blown its last breath, a victim of budgetary
The unique facility had been modified several times over its 64
years to keep up with the growing size of aircraft and with
improvements in test techniques. But this time, it's shutting down,
and its work will be done in other NASA wind tunnels.
The cavernous wind tunnel was completed in 1931 to test the
aerodynamic characteristics of full-scale models and actual
airplanes at operational flight speeds. It was originally called
the Full Scale Tunnel (FST). Located at NASA
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., it was declared a National
Historic Landmark in 1985.
Full scale testing eliminated the uncertainties of model testing
and provided basic information prior to and during flight testing.
Contemporary studies in the renamed 30- by 60-Foot Tunnel often
focused on stability and control characteristics for military
aircraft, and high-lift capability for both civil and military
Throughout its history, the 30- by 60-Foot Tunnel has been used
for the testing of innumerable aircraft configurations. It was the
largest wind tunnel in the world until 1945.
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 was extensively used for
such free-flight tests. This test technique, unique to this
facility, involved 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.
- end -
NOTE: A video clip and the following photographs are
available to illustrate this release.
(LMAL 30652) F4U-1 Airplane Tested in the 30- by 60-Foot
Mercury Capsule in the 30- by 60-Foot Tunnel
(NACA 5553) Vought Corsair Airplane Test in the 30- by 60-Foot
(L 87-08104) Free Flight Testing F-18 in the 30- by 60-Foot
Waverider LoFlyte Model in NASA Langley's 30- by 60-Foot
(NACA 4655) Construction of the 30- by 60-Foot Tunnel
Aerial View of the 30- by 60-Foot Tunnel
Supersonic Model in NASA Langley's 30- by 60-Foot
(L 81-07333) VariEze Full Scale Model Tested in the 30- by
(L 90-09207) Free Flight Testing in the 30- by 60-Foot
(Graphic) The 30- by 60-Foot Tunnel Plan View
text-only version of this release