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The 8-Foot High-Speed Wind Tunnel, Langley Field, Virginia
Completed March 1936. “The National Advisory Committee for
Aeronautics constructed this 8-foot high-speed structure for test purposes.
It is the largest structure of this kind in the world and is built of
reinforced concrete throught except that the air passages are lined with
steel plates. Large-scall airplane models and full-sized airplane parts are
investigated for the effects of air velocities varying from 85 miles per
hour up to the speed of sound. The tunnel is equipped with an
8,000-horsepower motor which drives an 18-blade propeller 16 feet in
diameter. The working space in the dome is at a negative pressure, while
tests are being made, to simulate an altitude of 12,000 feet at full speed.
To withstand these pressures, when operating at high speed, the test chamber
is dome-shaped and the operating personnel enter and leave through air
locks. The building was designed and constructed under the supervision of
members of the Committee staff at a cost of $474,000 and it was completed in
March 1936. Other facilities available at Langley Field, available to the
Committee, are a 24-inch wind tunnel capable of producing wind volocities of
750 m.p.h., a free-spinning wind tunnel, and an engine research laboratory,
all of which were constructed with P.W.A. funds at an approximate cost of
“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
Airacomet (the first U.S. jet
aircraft), and the P-80
“First operational in the spring of 1936, the 8-Foot High Speed Tunnel
(later called the 8-Foot Transonic Tunnel) was the first to employ a slotted
throat design. The results from tunnel tests led to the cowling spaces used
in most US World War II aircraft and to the efficient air inlets used in
early jet aircraft. Later investigations of wing body shapes in the tunnel
led to Richard T. Whitcomb's discovery of the transonic area rule, which is
used in the design of many high performance aircraft.”
“The [Transonic Tunnel] continued in use until 1961, when it was
deactivated by NASA. The facility was kept in operational condition until
1976 ... The office portion of the structure was remodeled and leased to the
Langley Air Force Base in the early 2000s, while the tunnel circuit was left
to deteriorate. In 2011, the tunnel circuit was demolished.”
- Short, C.W., and R. Stanley Brown, Public Buildings, A Survey of
Architecture of Projects Constructed by Federal and Other Governmental
Bodies between the Years 1933 and 1939 with the Assistance of the Public
Works Administration, United States Government Printing Office, Washington
(1939), page 530.
High Speed Tunnel, NASA website, accessed 11 June 2017. History,
photos, films, and documents. The photo shown at top is from this site
because it is much higher resolution than the same photo in the Short book.
- 8-Foot High Speed Tunnel historical
Foot High Speed Wind Tunnel 1933-1936, summary, site plan, diagrams.
Exploring NASA's Roots - The History of the Langley Research Center,
NASA website, December 31, 1992, accessed 10 June 2017.
Langley Research Center, 8-Foot High Speed Wind Tunnel: Photographs,
Written Historical and Descriptive Data, Reduced Copies of Measured Drawings,
January 1995, 30 pages (at Library of Congress).
Research Center, Wikipedia, accessed 10 June 2017.
Photos from C.W. Short, U.S. Federal Works Agency Public Buildings (1939).