Virginia Tech’s Stability Wind Tunnel has a rich history, beginning with roots in the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA, to its move to the Blacksburg campus in the 1950s. The tunnel is known as the largest university-owned anechoic wind tunnel in the United States.

Over the past 15 years, the wind tunnel has become an internationally recognized leader in aerodynamic testing and in measurement of sound made by flows though its unique capabilities and novel arrangement, which has been emulated by a rapidly growing number of facilities worldwide.

In order to stay on the forefront of innovation, Virginia Tech's Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering has entered into a three-year partnership with the NASA Langley Research Center as part of the agency's Transformational Tools and Technologies grant program.

As part of this dual-lead strategic effort, the tunnel will undergo modifications and investments in instrumentation to enable and generate benchmark validation datasets at unprecedented completeness. Such adjustments could possibly be recognized as a landmark dataset for validation, benefitting commercial aerospace companies, government sponsored research, and industrial customers.

“The tunnel and department are making a strategic decision to commit significant resources to support this study, which seeks to establish a new standard for completeness in our search for truth in aerodynamics,” said William Devenport, professor of aerospace and ocean engineering and director of the Stability Wind Tunnel. “This investment is also will position Virginia Tech as pioneers as we accelerate flow research to a new paradigm.”

The tunnel’s research group, which includes Virginia Tech undergraduate and graduate students, is led by Devenport and Todd Lowe, associate professor of aerospace and ocean engineering. The group is collaborating with NASA Langley Research Center to conduct benchmark experiments for turbulence modeling validation, aiming to reduce uncertainty and produce fundamental research experiments at the highest level of accuracy.

The goal of this study, under NASA’s Transformational Tools and Technologies grant program, is to produce detailed experimental datasets that, for the first time, meet the most exacting requirements of computational fluid dynamics validation. Through carefully controlled testing and by taking detailed measurements, Virginia Tech researchers will be able understand the flow of air and water at a much more detailed level of completeness.

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The Virginia Tech team stands inside the test section of the Stability Wind Tunnel. From left: aerospace engineering graduate student Danny Fritsch, aerospace engineering Ph.D. candidate Aldo Gargiulo, research Associate Professor Aurelien Borgoltz, director of the Stability Wind Tunnel William Devenport, post-doctoral research associate Matthew Szőke, Associate Professor Todd Lowe, aerospace engineering senior Julie Duetsch, and aerospace engineering Ph.D. candidate Vidya Vishwanathan. Not pictured is Professor Christopher Roy.

The project will be driven by a group of aerospace engineering students, who will be guided by faculty advisors, to design and test interchangeable hard wall and acoustic test sections in the wind tunnel during the first year. Undergraduate and graduate students will document uncertainties in the flow of a plane turbulent boundary layer over a three-dimensional bump, which can be mounted on either sides of the test section wall.

The team of students hopes to establish a new standard in uncertainty documentation, thus ushering in a new generation of computational fluid dynamics turbulence modeling. A parallel set of experiments is also being performed by the student team on rough wall boundary layers subject to favorable and adverse pressure gradients as part of another project with the Office of Naval Research. The experiments have many overlapping similarities and objectives.

"The Virginia Tech team of faculty and students boasts unique expertise in aerodynamic experimentation and modeling, especially with a view toward the exacting needs of benchmark studies -- those seeking the ground truth for aerodynamic behaviors,” Lowe said. “These students are conducting research that will push the boundaries of our ability to use computer simulations to analyze the next generation of quieter, cleaner, and less expensive aircraft and ocean vehicles.”

Written By Jama Green. Video by Erica Corder.