8-Foot High Speed Tunnel

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Building 641
1936 Exterior View

Center: Langley Research Center
Location: Hampton, Virginia
Year Built: 1936
Historic Eligibility: former National Historic Landmark
Important Tests: Lockheed P-38 Fighter, A-26B Invader,Development of "area rule", Scout Project HQ

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[top] Tours

Virtual Tour of Facility

[top] History

As interest in the field of high-speed aerodynamics increased in the early 1930s, Langley’s existing wind tunnels proved too small and underpowered for effective high-speed aircraft testing. Understanding that a new facility would give U.S. engineers a decided advantage in the aeronautical field, Langley’s director of research George W. Lewis authorized the design and construction of a larger high speed wind tunnel in 1933. Construction of the 8-Foot High Speed Tunnel (HST) was funded by the Public Works Administration (PWA) and completed in 1936 at a cost of $266,000.

Within a short time, the aluminum fan blades suffered from fatigue failure. Retired researcher John Becker remembers that:

About a year later at 3:06 a.m. on October 8, 1937, I was running the tunnel at full power and had just promised the operator at the Hampton generating plant that I would reduce power gradually when, without warning, there was a sickening break in the steady roar of the 550-mph wind. Acrid smoke filled the test chamber as I pushed the red emergency button, no doubt blowing the safety valves in Hampton. On entering the tunnel we found the huge multi-bladed drive fan twisted and broken. The cast aluminum ally blades had failed in fatigue from vibrations induced by their passage through the wakes of the support struts. Operations were suspended until March 1938, and the staff was temporarily dispersed to other sections. (see NASA SP-445).

When Becker was interviewed in 2011, he remembered this accident in detail and added that this was the stimulus to change all wind tunnel propeller blades to wood.

The world’s first large high speed tunnel, the HST proved vital during World War II. Evaluating stability-control problems of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter in the 8-Foot HST, Langley engineers devised the “dive recovery flap,” a wedge-shaped flap on the lower surface of the wings that allowed sufficient lift for a pilot to pull out of steep dives. This ingenious feature subsequently was incorporated in the design of a number of U.S. fighter aircraft, including the YP-38 Lightning, the P-47B Thunderbolt, the A-26B Invader, the P-59 Airacomet (the first U.S. jet aircraft), and the P-80 Shooting Star.

In the postwar years, Langley physicist Ray H. Wright observed that interference from wind tunnel walls could be minimized by placing slots in the test section throat, a concept that came to be known as “slotted throat” or “slotted wall tunnel” design. By the end of 1948, the 8-Foot HST had been retrofitted with the new slotted test section configuration, allowing speeds in excess of Mach 1 (the speed of sound, or approximately 761 mph at sea level). Wright and his team used the tunnel to refine the slotted-throat design, and—after modifications—the facility was re-designated the 8-Foot Transonic Tunnel (TT) in October 1950.

In the mid-1950s, the 8-Foot TT facilitated important research in body/wing design for supersonic aircraft. Langley engineer Richard Whitcomb used the tunnel to develop the revolutionary “area rule” principle that — in practical terms — prompted the use of a compressed, or “wasp-waisted,” fuselage design for supersonic jet fighters, allowing them to break what was popularly known as the “sound barrier.” Subsequent testing of area-rule aircraft designs was conducted in the adjacent tunnel, the 8-Foot Transonic Pressure Tunnel. Whitcomb’s once controversial area rule achieved widespread acclaim in the scientific community and the popular press, and he was awarded the Collier Trophy for the greatest achievement in aviation in 1955.

The TT continued in use until 1961, when it was deactivated by NASA. The facility was kept in operational condition until 1976 when critical parts were sent to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and used in the construction of a new facility. Since then, the 8-Foot TT building has been used as office and storage space. The historical significance of the facility and its many contributions to aerospace technology (first continuous-flow high-speed wind tunnel for large test models and actual plane parts and also the landmark 'slotted-throat' design -see NPS site) were recognized when it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985.

The office portion of the structure was remodeled and leased to the Langley Air Force Base in the early 2000s, while the tunnel circuit remained abandoned. In 2011, the tunnel circuit was demolished. The National Historic Landmark designation was removed in 2014 and the office portion was transferred to the Air Force in April of 2016.

[top] Photos

[top] Exterior

1935-5-9 Drawing of Tunnel FlowSchematic1936 Aerial19361936 Exterior View1936Description and Photos641PhotoCard.jpgWWII with Tunnel in Camouflage Paint1946-12-171952 Aerial1952195219521952-03-10 Existing Substation- 8' HST Transformer19561967 Aerial641.jpgVA Air and Space Center Poster

[top] Interior


2006 Digital Cutaway1946 Test Chamber with ManometersDrive MotorMotor in Tunnel ~1951Motor in Tunnel ~19511955 Richard Whitcomb with Model1964 Whitcomb with Model1984-08-011984-04-05

Control Room

1936 Control RoomNACA era Test SectionNACA era Test Section1945 Control ConsoleLMAL 47173.jpgLAL 76840.jpgLAL 76841.jpgLAL 76842.jpg1953 Controls1984198419841986198619861986198619861986

Tunnel Circuit

1936 Constructing Propeller1936 16' Fan1936 Fan Blades with Researcher1936 Fan Blades1936 InsideTunnel circuit.jpg1936 Researcher1950 Ray Wright in Suit in Test Chamber1936 Test Model1936 Test Section11847.jpg1941 Vultee XB-32 model (Test 48)1957 InsideLAL 95547.jpgLAL 95549.jpg1952 Turning Vanes

[top] Drawings


[top] Models

L-69886 Transonic Wing 1951LAL 72808 Drop model with tail fins 1951

[top] Condition and Demolition (2011)

HAER DocumentationB641 7.jpgB641 8.jpgB641 1.jpgB641 2.jpgB641 3.jpgB641 4.jpgB641 5.jpgB641 6.jpgBuilding SignScout SignHistoric MarkerNarrativeLocationFloor Plan188.jpg190.jpg2003 Exterior2006 Exterior2008 6412008 6412008 Intake and ExhaustGreen Building2012 Remaining Structure2012 Remaining Structure

[top] Films

NACA-Era: P-47 Metal Rudder Flutter Test

1946: Human Tolerance to Wind Blasts and report

1950s: Dr. Theodorsens Flutter

1951: Schileren

[top] Documents

1933-1936 Eight Foot High Speed Wind Tunnel

1939 Floorplan

1942 Datasheet

1945 Investigation of Typical High-Speed Bomber Wing

Comparison of two-­dimensional air flows about an NACA 0012 airfoil of 1-­inch chord at zero lift in open and closed 3-­inch jets and corrections for jet-­boundary interference. 1946. Ray Wright. TN 1055.

1947 Investigation of Practical Application of Slotted Wind Tunnel

1948 Development of a Slotted Supersonic Test Section and its Application to 8' HST

1951 Installation of 22,000 Horsepower Drive

1952 John Stack Acceptance Speech for Recognition from Collier Trophy Committee and Biography

1955 Air Scoop Vol. 14 Issue 47

NACA Transonic Wind-Tunnel Test Sections. 1955. Ray H. Wright and Vernon G. Ward. TR 1231.

1957 NACA Slot Shapes Research Paper Ray Wright

1965 Brief Description of 2-Foot Hypersonic Facility

Section of "Wind Tunnels of NASA" site describing "The First Big High-Speed Tunnel (8-Foot High Speed Tunnel--641)

Major Contributions to Aviation Achieved in the Langley 8-Foot High-Speed Tunnel and the 8-Foot Transonic Pressure Tunnel. Pete Jacobs. 1983.

1984 National Register Nomination

1992 Procedures to Repair 8' HST

1995 Historic American Engineering Record

1995 Library of Congress: American Memory

2001 National Park Service, Man In Space; A National Historic Landmark Theme Study

2006 Historic Data, Photos and Drawings

Characterisitics of the Langley 8-Foot TT with Slotted Test Section

Development of Slot Shape

Paragraph Published in Virginia Landmarks Register on the 8' High Speed Tunnel

2014 NHL Delisting

[top] Technical Reports

Wind Tunnel Tests of a Submerged Engine Fuselage Design. 1940.

Aerodynamic Tests of an M-31 Bomb in the 8-Foot High-Speed Tunnel. Donald D. Baals and Norman F. Smith. 1942. L-132.

Numerical Evaluation of the Wake-Survey Equations for Subsonic Flow Including the Effect of Energy Addition. Donald D. Baals and Mary J. Mourhess. 1945. WR L-5.

Aerodynamic Measurements Made During Navy Investigation of Human Tolerance to Wind Blasts. Donald L. Loving. 1947. RM L7025

The Effect of Spinner-Body Gap on the Pressures Available for Cooling in the NACA E-Type Cowling. 1943.

High-Speed Wind Tunnel Investigation of the Longitudinal Stability and Control Characteristics of a 1/16-Scale Model of the D-558-2 Research Airplane at High Subsonic Mach Numbers and at a Mach Number of 1.2. 1949.

Characteristics of Nine Research Wind Tunnels. NACA. 1957.

Investigation of the Static Longitudinal Stability Characteristics of an Air-to-Surface Canard Missile Configuration in the Transonic Mach Number Range. 1960.

The High Speed Frontier. John V. Becker. 1980.

From Engineering Science to Big Science. Pamela E. Mack, edit. 1998.

[top] Memories

From Olaf O. Storaasli: Thanks for the good news that the 641 I remember is still standing! Perhaps I'm a bit sentimental, but I remember taking friends to the waterside of Gosnold's Hope park and pointing out where I worked at Bldg 641. I have many happy memories there. I was honored to have known John Whitcomb, Jerry South, Dennis Bartlette, Dennis Allison, Cuyler Brooks and others in Aero, as well as Bob Fulton (my supervisor), Carson Yates, George Salley, Dave Loendorf (AARLD)and a host of others getting our IPAD project off the ground.

I remember the 1st day I reported for work at NASA Langley in 1970 when Cortright's RIF you mentioned was in full force. In those days the cafeteria and Personnel and perhaps Clinic shared the same NASA building in the east area. Not sure where to park, and my 1st time on base, I found a spot next to the Full Scale Tunnel you describe so well. I was indeed impressed by this huge structure and felt I was so privileged to be starting my career as such an organization with such facilities. I proceeded thru my processing, which was routine until one of the bubbly nurses in the clinic said it was sure great to see someone being processed in as they'd been mostly been processing people out for RIFs, retirements or transfers for people who weren't so happy as I was. When I returned to my car, being a curious scientist/engineer, I thought I should see what this huge building was. There was a sign on the door labeling it as the Full-Scale wind tunnel as I recall, but also a warning sign not to enter. Somehow, my memory clicked in, and I recalled seeing a picture of the Full-Scale tunnel in a photographic exhibition at the student center at NCSU, so I realized I was at this remarkable place. Later when I worked on the Viking GCMS Tiger Team with Rick Snyder, Jim Robinson & Nate ? (SED) & others did we frequent the Full Scale Tunnel and nearby buildings.

BTW, I have great memories of Ed Cortright, as from what I recall, he was at NCSU and participated in recruiting. As all the slots were filled up by undergrads to interview NASA, I asked if I might drop in at the end of the day to drop off my CV, even though it was the day of my PhD Thesis defense. The Placement clerk said there were no guarantees NASA (Cortright)would stay late, but I could try.

As luck would have it, not only did he take my resume, but told me all about Langley and fired me up and encouraged me to apply, which I did.

I didn't roam in such high management circles much, but later at his Langley retirement, packed with people, when I went thru the receiving line,he surprised me by saying, I remember you Olaf when I interviewed/hired you. I wasn't quite sure why a Center Director would be involved in interviews, but I like to think that's what transpired.

You mentioned the reorganization that took place in Oct 1970. I still have by copy of the thick green book showing how the center was reorganized. Many in my green book are no longer with us. However, I still feel on top of the world, as does my close colleague and friend, Jarek Sobieski. However, I miss my NASA Langley family and hope to return to some Alumni meetings in the future, as we've retained our waterfront home in Norfolk, as never expected we'd be in Oak Ridge almost 10 years.

Best wishes for reviving so many fold memories of Langley and the wonderful folks associated with so many advances which took place there.

Sincerely yours, Olaf O. Storaasli Wikipedia: Storaasli

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