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NASA Glenn Flow Visualization Tunnel


Photograph of the completed flow visualization wind tunnel.

Aerodynamicists use wind tunnels to test models of proposed aircraft. The model is placed in the test section of the tunnel and air is made to flow past the model. Some wind tunnel tests are used to determine the aerodynamic forces on the model. Some wind tunnel tests are designed to provide information about the flow of air around the model. There are a variety of techniques that are used to visualize the flow around the model, including laser sheets, oil flow, tufting, and interferometry. One of the oldest techniques is to use smoke injected into the tunnel upstream of the model.

Here is a picture of a paper airplane undergoing smoke tunnel testing. You can see the smoke swirl as it passes the leading edge of the wing on the far side of the tunnel. You can watch a movie of this experiment which shows the motion of the smoke over the wing. Thanks to Dwayne Hunt for the production of the movie clip.

Photographs of paper airplane model in a wind tunnel using smoke
 flow visualization techniques.

During the Centennial of Flight celebration, Dwayne Hunt and Carol Galica of the NASA Glenn Research Center developed plans for the construction of a small flow visualization wind tunnel. The tunnel pumps streams of smoke across a variety of small models. A picture of the completed tunnel is shown at the top of this page. Step-by-step instructions (1.64 MB pdf file) for building the flow visualization wind tunnel are available from this web page, by clicking on the yellow button:

Button to Download a Copy of Tunnel Plans

It requires moderate shop skills with hand tools, but less than $100 worth of materials to build the tunnel. Photographs detail the construction process. The tunnel can be used as part of a science fair project, or used to study how air flows past a variety of models.

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Editor: Nancy Hall
NASA Official: Nancy Hall
Last Updated: May 13 2021

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