RELEASE NO. 02-031
NASA Langley to shut down transonic wind tunnel
As part of a national initiative to optimize government-owned
wind tunnels, NASA's Langley Research Center will shut down its
16-Foot Transonic Tunnel and transition work to other facilities.
The tunnel is scheduled to be put in mothball status September 30,
2004. "Mothball" status means that the facility could be made
operational within six to 12 months and that maintenance to the
tunnel would be limited to facility preservation only.
Research tests are booked at the tunnel through September 2003
and all those tests will be completed. The Center anticipates that
no civil service jobs will be lost as the tunnel's staff of 18
researchers and technicians will be reassigned to other
This decision is the result of an ongoing NASA-DoD alliance
studying investment planning in wind tunnel assets. Looking at
research capabilities from a national, multi-agency perspective
will allow NASA to most effectively invest its limited
"Doors opened here in Hampton in 1917," said Langley Research
Center Director Jeremiah F. Creedon. "We have brought on line and
shut down wind tunnels as the needs of the nation have evolved.
Though we are mothballing the 16-Foot Tunnel, we are retaining and
enhancing a more modern facility, the National Transonic Facility
(NTF), that encompasses most of the capabilities of the older
tunnel and offers more."
The 16-Foot Transonic Tunnel has supported most major military
programs both in their developmental stage and in on-going
propulsion integration research. This long history has included all
fighters since the 1960s, such as the F-14, F-15, F-18 and the
Joint Strike Fighter. The tunnel has also supported NASA programs
by doing extensive testing for the Space Shuttle, Reusable Launch
Vehicles, Hyper-X and other experimental programs.
The more modern NTF is a high-pressure, cryogenic, closed
circuit wind tunnel that provides full-scale flight conditions
using scale models. NTF provides testing in stability and control,
cruise performance, stall buffet onset and configuration
aerodynamics validation for both full-span and half-span
The tunnel has two modes of operation. In the variable
temperature cryogenic mode, nitrogen is the test gas. In this mode,
the NTF provides full-scale flight conditions without an increase
in model size. In the other mode, air is the test gas and the
facility operates much like a conventional tunnel. NTF can
duplicate 16-ft conditions, but models must be appropriately
reduced in size.
Wind tunnels help researchers understand the forces acting on an
object as it moves through the atmosphere. They are used in
conjunction with computers and flight simulators to learn about the
flight characteristics of new aircraft designs and design
Components such as structural materials, wings, ailerons,
horizontal stabilizers, fuselages, power systems, engine cowlings,
landing gear affect the flight characteristics of aircraft. Small
changes to one component can result in the modification of another
components on the aircraft. All effects of the changes may not be
clear until the aircraft experiences flight conditions.
Tests with models in wind tunnels allow the study of aircraft
designs without risk to a pilot or the expense of building a new
full-size test aircraft for every design improvement. They are also
used to measure and minimize aircraft noise and to optimize engine
efficiency. Although primarily used for airplanes, other objects
such as spacecraft, automobiles, ships, trucks and even wheelchairs
have been tested in Langley wind tunnels.
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