New UAH wind tunnel ready for action


A new US$2M wind tunnel system at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) is ready to undertake supersonic flow research with Mach numbers up to 3.

Built with support from the Alabama Innovation Fund, the SuperSonic/ TranSonic/ WindTunnel, or SS/TS/WT, and is installed in the Air Breathing Test Cell at UAH’s Johnson Research Center. UAH is one of a handful of universities across the USA with such capabilities. The facility recently passed testing at supersonic speeds and is being outfitted with an optical flow visualization system for research use.

“The recent successful tests were an order of magnitude more difficult compared with what we did in early May,” said Dr Phillip Ligrani, UAH eminent scholar in propulsion and the project’s principal investigator, who is also a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. The first confirmed supersonic flow test took place on June 20, 2016. The test section inlet Mach number was 1.57.

The test bed sections of the facility reach speeds and air velocities ranging from Mach 1.6, with an airspeed of approximately 1,230mph, to Mach 3, with an airspeed of about 2,300mph, Ligrani said.

Test applications include supersonic engine intakes, scramjets and hybrid space vehicles and components.

Air for the tunnel is supplied by four 16-ton, 14ft-long tanks valued at US$1m that were donated to the university by the US Air Force’s Arnold Engineering Development Center in Manchester, Tennessee. The tanks started life as rocket fuel storage, but now are used in conjunction with a fifth tank to provide 50m³ of compressed air storage at supply pressures up to 2,500 lb/in².

“An elaborate valve system controls the flow,” Ligrani said. “This will ensure high enough flow rates and pressures to reach the required supersonic speeds.”

Air from the tanks is routed through pressure regulating valves to two wind tunnels that are slightly larger than washing machines, where it rushes past objects under research in the 9.6in by 4in test bed chambers and then is exhausted outdoors through a noise reduction baffle system.

July 15, 2016

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