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Schematic drawing of an open return wind tunnel

Wind tunnels are designed for a specific purpose and speed range. Therefore, there are many different types of wind tunnels and several different ways to classify wind tunnels. In this section of the website we shall present various types of wind tunnels and discuss some of the unique features of each type of tunnel.

On the figure, we show a schematic drawing of an open return wind tunnel. This type of tunnnel is also called an Eiffel tunnel, after the French engineer, or an NPL tunnel , after the National Physical Laboratory in England, where the tunnel was first used. The Eiffel tunnel has an open test section, while the NPL tunnel has a closed test section as shown in the figure. The original Wright Brother's wind tunnel was an open return design. In the open return tunnel, the air that passes through the test section is gathered from the room in which the tunnel is located. The arrows on the figure denote the flow of air through the wind tunnel and around the room. The other major type of wind tunnel is the closed return tunnel, in which the air is conducted from the exit of the fan to the contraction section by a series of ducts and turning vanes.

The open return tunnel has some advantages and some disadvantages relative to the closed return tunnel.

Advantages of the Open Return Tunnel

  • Low construction cost.
  • Superior design for propulsion and smoke visualization. There is no accumulation of exhaust products in an open tunnel.

Disadvantages of the Open Return Tunnel

  • Poor flow quality possible in the test section. Flow turning the corner into the bellmouth may require extensive screens or flow straighteners. The tunnel should also be kept away from objects in the room (walls, desks, people ...)that produce asymmetries to the bellmouth. Tunnels open to the atmosphere are also affected by winds and weather.
  • High operating costs. The fan must continually accelerate flow through the tunnel.
  • Noisy operation. Loud noise from the fan may limit times of operation.

Here is a Java program that you can use to study the operation of an open return wind tunnel. You can also use this software for the prelimiinary design of a low speed, open return tunnel

Due to IT security concerns, many users are currently experiencing problems running NASA Glenn educational applets. There are security settings that you can adjust that may correct this problem.

You can change values of the input parameters by typing into the input boxes or clicking and dragging the slider bars. This program solves the conservation of mass equation for one dimensional ideal flow conditions. The analysis is only valid for low-speed operation in which the air density remains a constant. Details of the software are described on a separate page. You can download your own copy of the program to run off-line by clicking on this button:

Button to Download a Copy of the Program



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Button to Display Wind Tunnel Index Button to Display Aerodynamics Index
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Editor: Nancy Hall
NASA Official: Nancy Hall
Last Updated: May 05 2015

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