This Is What 135,000 Horsepower Looks Like

This Is What 135,000 Horsepower Looks LikeS

When you want to go really fast, you need a lot of power. And when you want to simulate going fast, you need even more power. When the engineers at Moffett Field want to test new ideas in aircraft, this is how they do it.

Photo credit: Joey Gannon

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I Heart Experimentation

I love wind tunnels, aircraft, and history. If you do too, check this out and use your Google-fu to search for some more info on these cool machines and tests. My goal here is to spread the word that we, as a culture, have made some amazing advances in aeronautics over the years and, if we try, we can still keep doing awesome science experiments to push the envelope further!

History: In 1944 the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, later to become NASA) commissioned the 40x80 Wind Tunnel at Moffett Field, California. She was designed and built in only a few years, with her first test taking place in August of 1944. She’s still here today, a testament to the solid engineering of her creators and the intelligent upgrades and careful maintenance of subsequent generations of engineers, technicians, electricians, and mechanics.

She has been modified several times over the last seven decades, including a major mod in the early 1980s that added a second test section, the 80x120, and nearly 100,000 additional horsepower. You read that right. When the 40x80 was born in 1944 she was blessed with six fans, each with 6,000 horsepower. She now has six much angrier fans, each with 22,500 horsepower. That’s 105 megawatts worth of Al Gore’s tears. When this second monstrous test section was added, the tunnels were renamed the National Fullscale Aerodynamics Complex (NFAC). The two tunnels ran up until NASA mothballed them in 2002. Congress recognized this machine as a national asset and asked the US Air Force to re-activate them in 2004. We’ve been running like crazy ever since!

I feel it’s important to mention this: due to security under the direction of the USAF, we can’t release nearly as many pictures of our most recent tests as we would like. Some, like the MSL Parachute pictures down at the bottom, have been released to the public. Keep your eye to the interwebs! As test data is cleared for public consumption, we’ll be getting it out!

Since we’re all gearheads here, I’ll drop some stats:

  • Total Horsepower: 135,000 hp
  • Total Electrical Draw: 105 MW
  • Fan Drive Mass Flow Rate: 60 tons/second
  • Speed: 300 knots in 40x80, 100 knots in 80x120

The Fan Drive: Here’s a couple pics of the fans. The first one is in 1944, the second is in 1986. Note the people standing by the center bottom fan in the second pic.

I Heart ExperimentationS

I Heart ExperimentationS

Now, here’s a few of my favorite test pictures and a little info on each one.

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1944: Douglas BTD-1 Destroyer- The first 40x80 test was conducted at the height of WW2. An advanced replacement for the Douglas Dauntless and Curtiss Helldiver was needed. This was it.

I Heart ExperimentationS

I Heart ExperimentationS

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1945: Douglas A-26 Invader- There were many modifications to the airframe, aerodynamics, and load-out for the venerable Invader over the years.

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1951: F-86 Saber- Early refinements to everyone’s favorite Korean War fighter jet!

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I Heart ExperimentationS

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1960: Avrocar- Bizarre flying-saucer VTOL thing… icky.

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1962: Super Sonic Transport (SST)- One of literally dozens of SST concepts tested in the 40x80 over the years.

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1963: NASA M2-F1 Lifting Body- This little guy was born here at NASA Ames, tested, then finished up and flown down at Edwards. Knowledge gained from these lifting-body tests (along with the X-15 and Dyna-Soar) gave NASA the tools to build the Space Shuttle.

I Heart ExperimentationS

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1964: Bell Helicopter Rotor System Test- This was one of the earlier helicopter tests performed in the 40x80. As you can gather from the fact that there is only a rotor, no fuselage, this is a test to study the rotor only. Tests like this allow us to understand how the rotor really works (which is an art in itself). We humans are still learning about rotors, which is why rotor tests are the bread-and-butter of the NFAC to this day. That, and there is no other place in the world where you can test a usefully-sized rotor…

I Heart ExperimentationS

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1964: Ryan XV-5A Vertifan- This was one of the early “XV” test aircraft developed here at NASA Ames to test vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) technology.

I Heart ExperimentationS

I Heart ExperimentationS

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1966: Bell Helicopter High-Speed Rotor- This is another rotor test in the 40x80. Fun fact: the tellow test rig in the picture is still in our inventory today. It’s a good little rig. We call it The Easter Egg.

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1966: Double-Delta Planform SST- Another SST test. This guy actually came and went several times in the 1960s.

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1966: Bell XV-3- One of my favorite flying machines of all time. It was the grand-daddy of the V-22 Osprey and the first truly successful tilt-rotor aircraft. The wings ripped themselves off after this picture and it made a mess of the place. But the nice folks at the Air Force museum in Ohio fixed it up and put it on display a few years ago, so go see it. It rocks.

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1966: Lockheed Stopped Rotor Compound Helicopter- This was a concept that was toyed with back in the day. The thought was that if you had wings and a jet engine, you could stop the rotor in flight and fold it up to reduce drag. Basically, it’s an airplane that can deploy a rotor to land and takeoff.

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1968: Hughes OH-6 “Loach”- As I understand, this was a fairly standard drag clean-up test. But it sure looks cool!

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1968: Lear-Jet- Aerodynamic testing of an early Lear-jet test article. Reason: unknown!

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1969: Hunting H.126 (British)- One of the earlier experiments using “blown flaps” where you blow high-pressure air over the wing flaps (usually) to energize the boundary layer and augment their effectiveness. It’s a solid idea and we continue to refine the technology today.

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1969: Supersonic Commercial Air Transport (SCAT)- yet another SST…

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1970: Sikorsky Advancing Blade Concept (ABC)- This was a pretty cool coaxial helicopter concept from Sikorsky. The hub was very rigid and I don’t think the blades were articulated, as they are on pretty much everything this side of a BO-105. This concept would come back to the 40x80 ten years later for more testing and would also fly as the Sikorsky S-69.

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1972: Boeing Tilt-Rotor Semi-span Test- In the early 70s there were several companies vying for government tilt-rotor aircraft contracts. This was in support of one of Boeing’s concepts.

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1974: Boeing 747 Wake Vortex Survey- You know how you have to wait a while after a plane takes off before another is allowed onto the runway? It’s because airplanes really screw up the air. Especially heavy ones. Tests like this one show us how much spacing is needed between planes. As you can guess, you need a pretty big wind tunnel to do this in.

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1975: Space Shuttle Orbiter 101 Test- There were several space shuttle configurations tested here. This one was called the “101” test and was pretty close to the final configuration.

I Heart ExperimentationS

I Heart ExperimentationS

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1978 Bell XV-15 Check-out Test- This was the second generation tilt-rotor, after the Bell XV-3 and before the V-22 Osprey. Before the XV-15 was allowed to really get into the meat of it’s flight test program, it was flown in the 40x80. Good thing! They discovered that the tail wasn’t stiff enough for high-speed flight and fixed it before a pilot found out the hard way.

I Heart ExperimentationS

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1980: Sikorsky ABC Test (second entry after the 1970 test)- This is the second time the Sikorsky ABC came to the 40x80. This was in support of the flight test program.

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1988: Heavy Vehicle Drag Reduction (Phase 1)- This was the first of several semi truck tests to go into the 80x120. The most recent was in 2010. Notice all those new fairings under truck trailers lately? Also, yes. This is a real truck, not a scale model. The tunnel really is that big.

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1991: F-18 High-Alpha Engine Intake Flow Study- In the late 80s the Blue Angels discovered that if you hooned an F-18 too hard, the engines stalled. They flew one here, plopped it in the 80x120, and discovered that the inlets needed redesign. Now you can hoon an F-18 much harder.

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1993: High-lift Engine Aeroacoustics Technology (HEAT) semi-span test- Semi-span test (half an airplane) to study the acoustic signature of things like lift augmenting devices on a SST.

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1994: High Speed Civil Transport (HSCT)- Another (yawn) SST…

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2000: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Scale Wind Turbine- The steady, controlled conditions in the 80x120 allow for precise measurements of the flow through and around wind turbines, leading to improvement of the technology and turbine placement. Expect to see many more of these types of tests in the near future.

I Heart ExperimentationS

I Heart ExperimentationS

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2000: Tilt Rotor Acoustic Model (TRAM)- This is a ¼ scale V-22 model, designed to acquire acoustic data of a tilt-rotor aircraft in flight.

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2001: Large Rotor Test Apparatus (LRTA) UH-60 Individual Blade Control (IBC)- I describe the LRTA as 75,000 lbs of angry helicopter test machinery. This machine is the only practical way to drive a chopper main rotor into the stall region. This particular test was part of a series of entries to study the feasibility of some advanced helicopter control system hardware.

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2009: Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Main Parachute Test- Many of you have heard of the Curiosity Rover that we dumped on Mars last year. This parachute is how it was slowed enough to use the Skycrane. The parachute deployed in the Martian atmosphere at around Mach 2 and worked like a charm. Wind tunnel testing allowed for the parachute design to be refined and perfected before sending it to Mars.

I Heart ExperimentationS

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