20-Foot Spin Tunnel

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Facility 645
Building view in 1984

Center: Langley Research Center
Location: Hampton, Virginia
Year Built: 1941
Historic Eligibility: National Register Eligible
Important Tests: Tail Spin Research

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[top] History

One of the first life-threatening problems of heavier-than-air flying machines demanded early attention from designers and pilots of the day—the dreaded tailspin. The international aeronautical engineering community knew very little about the primary factors that influenced the spin or the relative effectiveness of piloting methods to recover from spins. Langley’s staff initially evaluated the use of catapult-launched models in an airship hangar which was about 105 feet high. After using the method to study spins, the Langley staff concluded that the catapult technique was time consuming and resulted in frequent damage to the fragile models. They then constructed a 5-ft diameter vertical tunnel in the late 1920s to provide for measurements of the aerodynamic loads on aircraft models during simulated spinning motions. The model was not in free-flight, but was driven by an electric motor. Airflow in this early tunnel was vertically downward, and tests were directed at the aerodynamics encountered in the spin.

Langley then proceeded to successfully design and construct a 15-ft free-spinning tunnel in 1934 which permitted researchers to observe the spin and recovery motions of small free-flying balsa models. Operations began in 1935. The airflow in the 15-ft tunnel was vertically upward to simulate the downward velocity of an aircraft during spins. At the beginning of a typical test, the model was mounted on a launching spindle at the end of a long wooden rod held by a tunnel technician. A tunnel operator increased the airspeed in the vertical tunnel so that the air forces on the model equaled its weight. At this point, the model automatically disengaged from the spindle and continued to float as the airspeed was continuously adjusted to maintain the model’s position at eye level in the test section. The model’s control surfaces were moved from pro-spin settings to pre-determined anti-spin settings by a clockwork mechanism, and the rapidity of recovery from the spin was noted. After the test was completed the tunnel airspeed was decreased and the model was allowed to settle into a large net at the bottom of the test section. The model was then recovered with a long- handled clamp and prepared for the next test.

In 1941 Langley began operations of a new 20-foot spin tunnel which replaced the 15-ft tunnel and has been in continuous testing to the present day. The facility features a vertically-rising test airstream into which free-flying unpowered aircraft models are hand-launched to evaluate spinning and spin recovery behavior, tumbling resistance, and recovery from other out-of-control situations. The tunnel is a closed-throat, annular return wind tunnel with a 12-sided test section 20-ft across by 25-ft tall. The test section air speed can be varied from 0 to approximately 85 ft/sec. Airflow in the test section is controlled by a 3-bladed fan powered by a 400-hp direct current motor located in the top of the facility. The airspeed control system is designed to permit rapid changes in fan speed to enable precise location of the model in the test section.

The models for free-spinning tests in the Langley 20-foot Vertical Spin Tunnel are hand launched with a spinning motion into the vertically-rising airstream and a tunnel operator controls the airspeed to stabilize the spinning model in view of observers. Data measured includes angle of attack, spin rate, and control positions. Spin-recovery characteristics are determined by remotely actuating the control surfaces of the model. Images of the stabilized spinning motions and the number of turns required for recovery are documented on high-resolution video. This versatile testing facility is also used to determine the size and effectiveness of emergency spin-recovery parachute systems for flight-test aircraft by deploying various parachute configurations from the spinning model. In addition, unconventional maneuvers such as uncontrollable nose-over-tail gyrations known as “tumbling” can be investigated. In its recent history the tunnel has also been used to evaluate the stability of vertically descending configurations including munitions and parachute/capsule systems. The spin tunnel has supported the development of nearly all U. S. military fighter and attack aircraft, trainers and bombers during its 68-year history, with over 600 projects to date.

[top] Photos

[top] Construction and Exterior

1930 Model of 5-foot Vertical Tunnel1932 5-foot Vertical Wind Tunnel1936-05-09 Model Spin Tunnel1940 Pouring Foundation1940 Foundation for 20 FT Spin Tunnel1940-07-1920945.jpg1940-08-3022182.jpg1940 Frame for Tunnel22352.jpg1940-11-161940-11-2922590.jpg1940-12-2122622.jpg1940-12-3019411942Description and Photos645PhotoCard.jpgLMAL 34517.jpg1946-10-26 Spin Tunnel FF SphereLMAL 50166.jpgLAL 86257.jpgCross Section of Spin Tunnel1972 Exterior viewLangley Spin TunnelLangley Spin Tunnel1984 Closer view of building:Cutaway View of 20-ft Spin TunnelNewer Diagram Showing Camera Changes1984 Office building1985 Aerial View of East Area Tunnels1994-02 Spin Tunnel Crew1995 Aerial20012004 Building

[top] Interior

1941 Model TestingDescription of Tunnel19411948-02-19 MG Set in Spin TunnelLMAL 55622.jpgLMAL 55623.jpgApparatus for Flow Survey19901992199219921994-09-28 View from Bottom of Tunnel

[top] Repair

L-83-557.jpgL-83-558.jpgL-83-559.jpgL-83-560.jpgL-83-562.jpgL-83-563.jpgL-83-564.jpgL-83-565.jpg1985-05-16 Spin Tunnel RepairL-85-5923.jpgL-85-5924.jpgL-85-5925.jpgL-85-5926.jpgL-85-5927.jpg

[top] General Model Tests

First Spin Tunnel Test Subject (1931)

Consolidated NY-1 Model 1.jpgConsolidated NY-1 Model 2.jpgConsolidated NY-1 Model 3.jpgConsolidated NY-1 Model 4.jpgConsolidated NY-1 Model 5.jpgConsolidated NY-1 Model 6.jpg

Seversky NF-1 tested in December 1937 in 15-Foot Spin Tunnel

NACA 14610.jpgNACA 14611.jpgNACA 14612.jpg

Typical Spin Model1942 Lee Pollard's Father with model:1947 Gooseneck Rotary Arm for Model SupportUnknown1.jpgUnknown (2).jpg1959 Model Test1959 Mercury Capsule Test196419641964Bay 3, 1976Bay 4, 1976Bay 5, 197619811991Engineer Reviewing VideoTechnician Filming TestRunning Speed Control1989 Model TestModel ConstructionModel ConstructionModel TestModel TestModel TestTime-Lapse TestTime-Lapse TestTime-Lapse TestPhotos: Model A-MPhotos: Model N-ZTests by Project Number

[top] Stall/Spin Tests

See more on Stall/Spin_Research

Slides Used by Paul Stough for Presentations

PS 00005.jpgPS 00011.jpgPS 00056.jpgPS 00064.jpgMore Stough Slides

[top] Awards and Staff Photos

1992 WhippleAward.jpgL-74-3869.jpgL-84-9878.jpg646staff.jpg646staff1950s.jpg1994 Spin Tunnel Crew1994 Spin Tunnel Crew Names

[top] Floor Plans


[top] Films

1930s: Spin Tests in RAE Vertical Wind Tunnel

~1945 Dynamic Tunnel Work

1948: Investigations of Pilot Escape by Nose Jettisoning

1948 Spin Tests

1953: Various Spin Tests- Demonstration #16

1955: Effect of Deflecting Ailerons with the Spin on Spin Recovery

1956: Spin Research Highlights

1956: NACA Research and Spin Problems

1957: Spin Recovery Parachute Tests of F-104B Airplane

1957: Spin Tunnel Test of the North American T2J-1 Airplane

1957: Tests of the Republic Aircraft Escape Capsule

1957: Spin and Recovery Tests of a Cessna T-37

1958: Spin Recovery Characteristics of the X-15 Airplane

Spin Tests of the North American X-15 in the 20-Foot Spin Tunnel

1958: Stall/Spin Characteristics and Recovery Techniques

1958: Spin-Recovery Parachute Tests of the Lockheed F-104A Airplane

1958: Re-entry Body Stability Tests

1958: Spin Tunnel Tests of a Flare-Stabilized Bluff Body

1959: Free Drop Tests of Minneapolis-Honeywell Fluted Spheres

1959: Tests of Reentry Vehicles

1959: Drogue Parachute Tests for a Project Mercury Capsule Model

|1959: Tests of the McDonnell Design of the Project Mercury Capsule Part 1 and Part 2

1960: Stability Tests of Full-Scale Minneapolis Honeywell Hemosphere-Drogue Combination

1960: Parachute Recovery Tests of a B-58 Airplane

1960: Subsonic Flight Tests of a 1/7 Scale North American X-15 Airplane Model

1962: Tests of a Dynamic Scale Model of the Gemini Capsule

1963: Dynamic Model Investigation of a Gemini Spacecraft

1964: Operation of a Spin Simulator

1964: Model Tests of Mars Entry Vehicles

1965: TA-AF3 Inverted Spin Recovery

1967: Apollo Module Investigation

1968: High and Low Tail SB2C5 Model Test

1969: Spinning Talk Video for North Carolina State

1970: Dynamic Model Test Techniques for Stall/Spin Studies

1973: Stall/Spin Studies Related to Light General Aviation Aircraft

1973: NASA Support for DoD Research

1975: General Aviation Aircraft Spin Testing (West Point Airport)

1975: Stall Spin Test of Composite F-4 (West Point Airport)

1975: Piper PA 40 Model Spin Tests

1978: Effect of Tail on Spin and Recovery

1979: F-14 Parachute Deployment

Spin Tunnel Tests of a Model AD-1 Airplane

1989 X-31 Wing Rock and Spin

1993: Tumble Tests in Spin Tunnel

Large Angle Motion Tests Including Spins of a R/C 1/9 Scale Model of an Attack Airplane

Dynamic Model Tests of Project Mercury Capsules

Spin Tunnel Tests to Evaluate Improved Spin Recovery Test Techniques for the F-4 Airplane

Demonstration of Parachute Deployment in a Spin

Spin Tunnel Tests of a Fairchild A-10A Model

Construction of the Balsa Lightplane Spin Model (Part 1)

Stall/Spin Research Status Report

Making Flying Safer: Probing the New Frontier

Correlation of Low Wing General Aviation - Tail #4

Test of a McDonnell Douglas F-15

Spin Tests Grumman F-14A

Additional Tests of the Grumman F-14A

Correlation of Low Wing General Aviation Aircraft Stall/Spin Studies between Tunnel Model, RC Model, and Airplane

Description of the Vertical Spin Tunnel

Spin Tunnel Demonstration #1

Spin Entry of a F-15 Radio-Controlled Model

Tail Spin Research

Spin Tunnel Demonstration #1

X-31 Spin Parachute Deployment Tests

Investigation of the XB-70 Spin that Occurred after the Mid-air Collision

Performance of a Parachute Operating in the Wake of a F-4

Documentary of F-15 Spin Tunnel Tests

Spin Tests of a 1/60-Scale Model North American B-70 Airplane

Spin Flight Characteristics of a TA-4F Airplane at High Angles of Attack

Spin Entry Tests of a 0.10-Scale Radio-Controlled Model F-14A Airplane

Spin Tunnel Tests of a YF-16

Spin Tunnel Tests of a YF-17

Visual Flow of Air Over a F-4

Spin Entry, Developed Spin, and Recovery Characteristics of the F-111A Airplane

Tests Conducted by Write Field at Weeksville, N.C. on Catapult Rig

Inflatable Parawing Deployment Tests from a 1/4-Scale Manned Re-entry Type Capsule

Tail Spin Research

Preliminary Flight Tests of a 1/7-Scale Radio-Controlled Model X-15 Airplane

Rotary Recovery Systems Talk Film

Publicity Film- Prep Test of F-111 Radio-Controlled Model

Inflatable Parawing Deployment Tests

F-111A Airplane Parachute Tests

Demonstration of Tunnel and Spin Models

Tests of a 1/17-Scale Radio-Controlled Model Rockwell International B-1 Airplane

Rotary Recovery Systems Talk Film with Capsule

Radio Controlled F-18A

F-16 Tests

Tests of a 1/40-Scale Model to Determine Pre-Crash Motions of the BAC-111 Airplane

X-3 Model Drop

F-111A Outside Drop Tests

Gemini Parasail Landing Rocket Tests

Glide Tests of a 1/17-Scale Model Inflatable Paraglider

Footage for Business Opportunities

Spin Entry of a Convair B-58

Compilation of Spin Research Activities

Footage Meant for School Children

Test Techniques for Stall/Spin Studies

Spinning and Tumbling Tests of a 1/18-Scale Model of the Ryan X-13 Airplane

Compilation of Special Problems of Spin Research

Pilot Escape Tests

Rocket Recovery Spin Tests of Lockheed F-104A

2007: Constellation Program

Stall/Spin Video Collection Donated by Retired Researcher Paul Stough

[top] Documents

1931 The Vertical Wind Tunnel of the National Advisory for Aeronautics Committee

1941 Spin Tunnel Project Index

1942 Vertical Spin Tunnel Characteristics and Detailed Costs

Compilation of Test Data in 111 Free-Spinning Airplane Models Tested in the 15-Foot and 20-Foot Free-Spinning Tunnels. Frank S. Malvestuto, Jr., Lawrence J. Gale, and John H. Wood. 1947. RM-L7E15.

Characteristics of Nine Research Wind Tunnels. NACA. 1957.

1960 Technical Report R-57 - Status of Spin Research for Recent Airplane Designs

1965 Real Property Record

1965 Brief Description of Langley's Vertical Spin Tunnel (TM X-1130)

1966 Technical Facilities Resume

1974 Quick Facts on the Vertical Spin Tunnel

1978 Floor Plan

1980 Real Property Report, Spin Tunnel Support Building

1986 Layout displaying the tunnel and some of its tests

1990 Facility Resume

1991 Structural Integrity of Wind Tunnel Wooden Fan Blades

1993 Tunnel Renovation Description and Researcher Article

1993-1998 20 Ft Vertical Spin Tunnel Utilization

1994 Automated Video Tracking System

1997 Report Enhancements and Future Needs

1997 Facility Description

1998 Facility Details

1999 Spin Tunnel Projects Since 1990 (excluding rotary balance)

1999 Spin Tunnel Models

2005 Vertical Spin Tunnel Brochure

2006 Wind Tunnel Enterprise: 20-Foot Vertical Spin Tunnel

2007 A New Spin on the Constellation Project

Early Depiction of Vertical Spin Tunnel Design

Spin Tunnel Reports

2013 Historic American Building Survey

[top] Memories

Jim Bowman came to Langley in 1943 working in the East Area Model Shop. Models at that time were built only for the Spin Tunnel (645). Jim later went into the Navy and then N.C. State before returning as an engineer to work in building 645. He became head of the tunnel in the late 1950s. He remembers that spinning tests were not conducted in the old tunnel (646) when the new tunnel came on line.

Lee Pollard's father came to work at NACA in 1941. His father remembered working in the 15-Foot Tunnel and having to slide a very heavy board out into the center of the tunnel to work on the model. Lee thinks his father worked there until the 20-Foot opened. He has a photo of his father in 2-=Foot from 1942.

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