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Wind Tunnel Testing a Full-Sized Aircraft Tail

A full-sized tail from a 757 commercial airplane having air being blown across the tail.

NASA recently tested a full-sized tail from a 757 commercial aircraft that was modified and equipped with tiny jets called “sweeping jet actuators” to blow air across the rudder surfaces.

The test vertical tail is an actual 757 tail that came out of an aircraft bone yard in Arizona and was refurbished into a wind tunnel model.

The tunnel hosted the 26-foot 757 tail for a series of tests of an innovative Active Flow Control system that one day might allow airplane builders to design smaller tails, which would reduce weight and drag, and help improve fuel efficiency. The “flow control” comes from the actuators, which are devices that essentially blow air in a sweeping motion along the span of the tail and manipulate that flow of air.

The image was taken inside the National Full-Scale Aerodynamic Complex, a massive wind tunnel located at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett, Ca. In the image, an engineer braces himself against the strong winds in the tunnel as he holds a wand emitting a stream of smoke that’s used to visualize “in flight” air flow across the tail.

Actuator technology will be installed for flight tests on the tail of Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator program 757 flight test aircraft in early 2015 as part of an agreement with NASA.

Read more: NASA Aces Delicate Operation with Aircraft Tail