Ice Tunnel and Transonic Blowdown Tunnel

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Facility 583
Building 583

Center: Langley Research Center
Location: Hampton, Virginia
Year Built: 1938
Historic Eligibility: National Register Eligible
Important Tests: Airfoils


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[top] History

Building 583 in the NASA East Area has been the site of several historically significant wind-tunnel activities since it became operational in 1938. The following discussion provides information on research activities for some of the most important programs conducted in Building 583.

[top] Ice Tunnel

In the late 1920s Langley researcher Eastman Jacobs began an aggressive campaign to acquire a new wind tunnel capable of operation with extremely low levels of turbulence in its test section airstream. Low levels of turbulence are critical for certain aerodynamic applications, such as laminar flow airfoils and low-drag configurations. Methods of accomplishing the challenge included the use of high contraction ratios (ratio of settling chamber area to test section area) in combination with extensive honeycomb and fine-meshed screens to smooth the airflow in the settling chamber. Jacobs also envisioned using a pressurized tunnel to obtain test conditions more representative of flight. Before investing in a pressurized tunnel of such a novel concept, it seemed wise to build a relatively cheap full-scale model to work out any unexpected engineering and air flow problems that might arise. Jacobs’ request for a new tunnel based on low turbulence levels was not accepted by Langley’s management, in part on the basis that Congressional approval for the tunnel would be difficult to achieve based on the vague technical factors involved. However, aircraft icing problems were a high-priority issue for the NACA mission at the time, and Jacobs and Ira Abbott commenced to designing an “icing tunnel” which had the same dimensions and layout as a desirable low-turbulence tunnel. Using this ploy, a pilot tunnel of the low-turbulence tunnel was built as the Langley Ice Tunnel with the stated purpose of investigating ice formation on aircraft components. The closed-throat tunnel was built of wood with a sheet steel lining and included refrigerating equipment and installation on the outside. Built in Building 583 (then known as Building 188), its rectangular test section measured 3-feet wide and was 7.5-feet high. Powered by a 200-horsepower motor, the tunnel was capable of test speeds up to about 155 mph. The Ice Tunnel became operational in June 1938 and served its alleged purpose with a few rapid investigations of icing. During the studies emphasis was placed on the ability of coatings and heat from heated air ducts to prevent ice formation and to deice wings of aircraft. Flight tests were conducted by Langley's flight division for correlation with the tunnel test results. The minimum temperature for icing tests in the tunnel was about 20° F and the airspeed was about 80 mph. Natural precipitation was simulated by spraying water into the airstream through a spray nozzle. A source of heated gas, such as would be available from an engine exhaust, was simulated by blowing air through a multi-tube electric heater. The icing program was led by Lewis A. Rodert, who would later be awarded the Collier Trophy for his pioneering efforts in the field. Langley's efforts in icing research were transferred to the NACA Ames Laboratory in 1940, along with Rodert.


[top] Two-Dimensional Low Turbulence Tunnel

After its brief role in Langley's research on icing, the Ice Tunnel was modified for its intended mission in aerodynamic evaluations of the low-turbulence tunnel concept. The refrigeration equipment in the Ice Tunnel was removed and the settling chamber of the tunnel was converted with arrays of honeycomb and screens to reduce the turbulence levels to extremely low levels. The first airfoil test for a low-drag airfoil was carried out in June 1938 and the measured aerodynamic drag of the new airfoil was about 50 percent less than had previously been measured on airfoils of comparable thickness. This highly impressive result led to preparations to build a pressurized low turbulence tunnel to be known as the Langley Two-Dimensional Low Turbulence Pressure Tunnel (LTPT). Having accomplished its pioneering mission, the Langley Two-Dimensional Low-Turbulence Tunnel was dismantled in 1947 and Building 583 was subsequently used to accommodate the Langley 26-Inch Transonic Blowdown Tunnel.


[top] 26-Inch Transonic Blowdown Tunnel

After 1955 testing in the Langley Two-Dimensional Low-Turbulence Pressure Tunnel (LTPT) decreased and the facility was used as a high-pressure air storage tank for a complex of smaller transonic and hypersonic tunnels. The first of these tunnels was the Langley 26-Inch Transonic Blowdown Tunnel (TBT) which was constructed to study transonic aerodynamic phenomena and to investigate flutter characteristics at transonic conditions. The TBT became operational in October 1950 using compressed air from the LTPT as a power source. High-pressure air could be transferred to the TBT through three precise quick-acting valves. The octagonal test section was slotted and measured 26.4 inches across flats with an operational Mach number range from 0.5 to 1.45. Models in the TBT could be mounted on an internal 5-component electrical strain-gage balance (no axial-force measurements). For flutter testing, test runs on the order of 10 to 20 seconds were typical.

After results of the flutter tests became known in the aeronautical community in 1953 the tunnel was in great demand for flutter testing. Flutter studies were made in the TBT of components of about 15 high-priority aircraft and missile configurations between 1954 and 1959. The TBT was deactivated in the 1970s, but returned for flutter tests such as the Space Shuttle in 1973.


Characteristics of Nine Research Wind Tunnels. NACA. 1957.

[top] 20-Inch Variable Supersonic Tunnel

The availability of high-pressure air sources from the LTPT complex provided a stimulus for researchers to develop additional high-speed blow-down test facilities in Building 583. After the Langley 26-Inch TBT was used with great success, the Langley 20-Inch Variable Supersonic Tunnel was designed in 1950 as a horizontal tunnel mounted above the TBT. The settling chambers of both tunnels were interconnected through an isolation valve and manifold so that both could make use of a regulator system to control the stagnation pressure. The 20-inch tunnel operated until 1965.


[top] 6- by 28-Inch Transonic Tunnel

In 1968, Langley instituted a program to develop tunnel test facilities for small two-dimensional airfoil sections at subsonic through transonic speeds. A modification to the non-operational 20-Inch Variable Supersonic Tunnel was proposed to permit such tests, citing the large cost savings that would accrue from using the existing hardware. The modification was completed in mid-1974 with operational testing beginning in late 1974. The modified facility was designated the Langley 6-by 28-Inch Transonic Tunnel with operational Mach numbers from 0.3 to 1.2. The facility operated in a blowdown mode at stagnation pressures up to 150 lb/ft2 which was the pressure of the air storage tank.

The tunnel was a horizontal, two-dimensional wind tunnel with slotted top and bottom walls. Typical models tested in the facility and wing spans of about 6 inches and a wing chord of about 4 inches with extensive pressure instrumentation.


[top] Hypersonic Flow Apparatus

The Langley 15-Inch Mach 10 Hypersonic Flow Apparatus (HFA) was one of the first hypersonic wind tunnels at Langley. The tunnel was used for investigations of hypersonic forces, pressures, heat transfer, and flutter. Flow through the 15 inch test section exhausted into a vacuum tank. The test running time available under blowdown conditions was about 180 seconds. The apparatus included a Schlieren system that permitted the visualization of shock interactions.

The Hypersonic Flow Apparatus was moved to building 1251 in 1973.


[top] Tunnel Descriptions

The following information was provided by Ken Pierpont in a writing he put together in May 1977.

  • Ice Tunnel - 3 X 7 1/2-Foot Refrigerated Tunnel later called the Low Turbulence Tunnel (LTT); removed in 1946-47
  • 26-Inch Transonic Blowdown Tunnel (TBT) - deactivated 1976
  • 9 X 12-Inch Supersonic Tunnel - 5 nozzle blocks for transonic (M = 1.62, 1.93, 2.55, 3.05); moved from 19-Foot Pressure Tunnel (648); 1962 - sent to USAF as scrap
  • Boundary Layer Research Tunnel - also known as the 18 X 36-Inch Subsonic Tunnel and the Diffuser Tunnel; 1958 - given to USN Annapolis
  • 20-Inch Variable Supersonic Tunnel (VST) - blowdown tunnel with adjustable throat for M = 1.5 - 5; test section removed in 1972
  • Hypersonic Flow Apparatus (HFA) - Mach 10, 15-inch diameter blowdown tunnel; moved in 1972 to building 1251
  • 6 X 28-Inch Transonic Tunnel - a two-dimensional blowdown tunnel dedicated to airfoil research; became operational in 1974


[top] Photos

1936-09-24 Construction of Ice Tunnel1937-10-12 Construction of Ice Tunnel1937-11-19 Construction1937-11-19 Construction1938-02-04 Wood Frame Construction for Ice Tunnel1938-02-04 Wood Frame Construction for Ice Tunnel1938-02-04 Wood Frame Construction for Ice Tunnel1938-02-04 Wood Frame Construction for Ice Tunnel1938-05-18 Testing Effects of Pressure for the Ice Tunnel1939-03-18 Airfoil Model in Two-Dimensional Low-Turbulence Tunnel1939-03-18 Airfoil Model in Two-Dimensional Low-Turbulence Tunnel1939-10-15 Martin XBM-1 with Heated Wing1940-05-02 Martin XBM-1 Airplane with Heated Wing Section (Icing Research)1953 Orifice Plate in 26-Inch TBT1953 26-Inch TBTPhantom drawing Sketch of Ice Tunnel and Low-Turbulence Pressure Tunnel1978 Exterior view1989 BearingExterior view1994 Building2003-06-25 Building2012 Complex Prior to Demolition2012 Floor Plan Prior to Demolition6X28-Inch Transonic Tunnel Test Section


[top] Additional Photos

[top] Ice Tunnel

[top] Two-Dimensional Low Turbulence Tunnel

[top] 26-Inch Transonic Blowdown Tunnel

[top] 20-Inch Variable Supersonic Tunnel

[top] 6 X 28-Inch Transonic Tunnel

[top] Charts

6 X 28 Inch Transonic Tunnel Empty Calibration6 X 28 Inch Transonic Tunnel15 X 72 cm (6 X 28 Inch) Transonic Tunnel Run TimeLow Turbulence Tunnel Diagram


[top] Films

Ice Tunnel

1999 Icing for Regional and Corporate Pilots

Transonic Blowdown Tunnel

1950s: Flutter Investigation of A2 F-1 Horizontal Tail

1950s: Flutter Investigation of Dyna-Soar I Booster Fins

1950s: Investigation of X-15 Airplane and Horizontal-Tail Transonic Flutter Models

1957: Flutter Tests of Grumman F11F-1

1957: Flutter Tests of F-105B

1958: Flutter Tests of of Y-P6M T-Tail Model

1959: Investigation of X-15 Airplane Horizontal-Tail Transonic Flutter Models

1960s: Transonic Flutter Tests of Cantilevered Mounted Models of the F-104A T-Tail

1961: Variable-Sweep Wing Flutter Investigation

1961: Transonic Aeroelasticity Investigation of Models of the DynaSoar Booster (Titan II Fins


[top] Documents

Ice Tunnel

1938 Ice Tunnel Tests on 0012 Mouse Measurements

1940 Ice Tunnel Details

1942 Ice Tunnel Correction Factors

1942 Ice Tunnel Floor Plan

1943 Medical Decompression Chamber

1947 Description from Technical Note of Ice Tunnel


Transonic Blowdown Tunnel

Tunnel Description

1964 Twenty-Inch Variable Supersonic Tunnel

1965 Brief Description of Langley's 20-Inch Variable Supersonic Tunnel (TM X-1130)

1965 Brief Description of Langley's 26-Inch Transonic Blowdown Tunnel (TM X-1130)

1965 Brief Description of Langley's Hypersonic Flow Apparatus (TM X-1130)

1966 Experiment in Langley 15-Inch Hypersonic Flow Apparatus

1966 Twenty-Six Inch Transonic Blowdown Tunnel

1980 Floor Plan with Tunnel

1983 Notes on Flutter Investigation of Republic F-105 Tail Surfaces

1992 Letter from Albert Braslow


Two-Dimensional Low Turbulence Tunnel

1940 Test 87

1944 Test 814 NACA 65-012 Airfoil Data

1947 Power Loss Analysis at Mach Numbers Greater than 0.4 with F-12

1949 Pitot Survey Tube Data Charts

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