Wind tunnel

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A wind tunnel is a research tool used in aerodynamic research. It is used to study the effects of air moving past solid objects.


Theory of operation

Wind tunnels were first proposed as a means of studying vehicles (primarily airplanes) in free flight. The wind tunnel was envisioned as a means of reversing the usual paradigm: instead of the air's standing still and the aircraft moving at speed through it, the same effect would be obtained if the aircraft stood still and the air moved at speed past it. In that way a stationary observer could study the aircraft in action, and could measure the aerodynamic forces being imposed on the aircraft.

Later, wind tunnel study came into its own: the effects of wind on manmade structures or objects needed to be studied, when buildings became tall enough to present large surfaces to the wind, and the resulting forces had to be resisted by the building's internal structure. Determining such forces was required before building codes could specify the required strength of such buildings.

Still later, wind-tunnel testing was applied to automobiles, not so much to determine aerodynamic forces per sec but more to determine ways to reduce the power required to move the vehicle on roadways at a given speed. In these studies, the interaction between the road and the vehicle plays a significant role, and this interaction must be taken into consideration when interpreting the test results. In an actual situation the roadway is moving relative to the vehicle but the air is stationary relative to the roadway, but in the wind tunnel the air is moving relative to the roadway, while the roadway is stationary relative to the test vehicle. Some automotive-test wind tunnels have incorporated moving belts under the test vehicle in an effort to approximate the actual condition.

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