Magenta Visit to the NASA Ames Wind Tunnel

Field Trip Blog, Part I

On Thursday, Magenta Band went to visit the NASA wind tunnel. We were lucky to have a connection there, and Chris Hartley, an engineer at the tunnel, gave us a tour of the Wind Tunnel. Below are pictures from our field trip as well as some student reactions.

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From Evan: The wind tunnel was one of the largest enclosed spaces I had ever seen. A football field on its side is about how large the air intake is. So naturally I had to get a picture. So I ran into the corner of the wind tunnel to give a sense of scale. But when I ran over there, I remembered that our tour guide said that I had sound/vibration dampening built in the tunnel. I thought that since it’s so large and made out of hard materials, it must echo. So, to test it, I clapped. Now I did hear an echo but it didn’t sound like a clap. It sounded like a cartoon laser gun. When Cory and I heard it (us being 5-year-olds) we had to have a finger gun laser fight in the largest wind tunnel in the world.

From Jack: This last Thursday, the Magenta band went on an awesome field trip to the NASA Ames Research Center, where we got a tour of the largest wind tunnel in the world, the 80 by 120 foot wind tunnel. It was amazing. The wind tunnel is absolutely huge, You walk into the test chamber (which is just a small part of the whole wind tunnel) and are just shocked by the sheer size of the room. Adjacent to the side where you enter, there is a huge set of doors that open to allow a 75-ton crane on rollers to bring the model in. If you look to your left while facing the huge doors, you will see the tunnel will widen on all sides, including the floor. This looks extremely surreal; the floor changes from solid grating to a softer material. Because they didn’t want people walking on the softer material, there was a very narrow piece of steel that you had to walk on. The slope was so steep that if you were at the top you couldn’t see the people at the bottom. The facility in all was awesome.

From Harry: Yesterday, our class went to the NASA Ames Research Center to see the world’s largest wind tunnel. I don’t think anyone knew what we were expecting, so it was all the more shocking how colossal it was. From the outside, it looked big enough, but somehow it seemed even bigger from the inside. It was kind of humbling how massive it was, and made me think about humanity’s will to create. Seeing that places so monumental can be made by man was astonishing. It was also amazing how much goes into each test of anything. For example, the minimum prep time for anything is 8 weeks, and every test runs for about 4 months.

From Zoe: When going on a field trip you never know what to expect. I don’t think I ever could’ve predicted some of the amazing things I saw. One memory that truly sticks out was walking into the wind tunnel. When we walked in, my mouth flew wide open. I remember looking around in amazement at the sheer size of the place. I felt like a grain of sand at the beach. It is hard to find the right words to describe the feeling you get when you are in that wind tunnel. I felt like a spec of dust compared to the structure surrounding me. As we walked on the metal flooring, towards the other side of the wind tunnel, it looked as if we were at the edge of the world. It seemed as if we were about to walk off the edge into the abyss. I don’t remember speaking much, just silently taking in my surroundings. But it wasn’t just the size that was impressive; the power that the wind tunnel had was hard to comprehend. When the machine is turned on, the output of wind is so strong that they have to divert planes so none will crash. I never thought air could be so powerful. It puts everything into perspective when you see the amount of energy the wind tunnel uses. The power the propellers use is the same amount of energy as the town of Mountain View. The size and power of this machine was the thing that really stuck with me the most. Seeing the world’s largest wind tunnel made everything else seem so much smaller.

From Aidan:

Aidan asked many great questions during our tour. Here is his memory about some of those:

Aidan: Can you give an example of an aircraft that you have helped test in the large wind tunnel?
Chris: Yes, We recently tested an experimental helicopter not yet in production. It had a new technology on it that was supposed to help dampen vibrations from the rotors.
Aidan: What was that new technology?
Chris: The helicopter had carbon fiber blades and a thing that blew air back into the rotors.

Chris: We recently tested the placement of a radar pod on a production sub-hunter aircraft for the navy.
Aidan: What was the aircraft?
Chris: It was a P-8 Poseidon.

Aidan: Are the engines in the wind tunnel brushed or brushless?
Chris: They are large brushless motors.

Aidan: Does the shape of an aerofoil or does the angle of attack generally create more lift?
Chris: An aerofoil will generally create more lift in the long term, but adjusting the angle of attack will create more lift faster. A fast airplane will have a very thin aerofoil and rely more on angle of attack, and a slow plane will have a very thick aerofoil.

Aidan: Does the V-22 Osprey use its variable pitch props to adjust throttle when in fixed wing mode?
Chris: The pilot often uses both the pitch and the fuel valves to control thrust.

We are grateful to Chris Hartley for this opportunity to visit the Wind Tunnel during our By Air Arc!

In the afternoon of the same day, we went to the Hiller Aviation Museum, and Part II of our blog will be posted shortly about the museum and the flight simulation we did, as well as a much smaller wind tunnel that we saw.