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The Past Creates The Future

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Recently, some folks in Virginia who have been working for years to preserve the legacy of the Wright Brothers and educate new generations about their achievements have taken up the task of fighting to save the Langley Full-Scale Wind Tunnel from the wrecking ball. Ken Hyde and his team at The Wright Experience made use of the tunnel to test their reproduction of the original Wright Flyer, rediscovering the design's aerodynamic properties. More recently, the wind tunnel has been used to test Boeing's blended-wing-body designs, and a trucking company has put it to use to find ways to decrease drag, and reduce fuel consumption, for its fleet.

The building is owned by NASA, and used by Old Dominion University in their research programs. Barry Newman, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, visited the place recently and described it as reminiscent of "an opera house ... where all the arias are about flight." Charles Lindbergh, Howard Hughes, and other aviation notables have spent time at the wind tunnel, and it retains an aura of being an important place where significant things happen. When the lease runs out in September, NASA wants to demolish the building and replace it with a parking lot -- where we can be assured nothing interesting or useful will ever happen...

It's sad to lose a historic structure like this one, and once it's gone, it's gone forever. If the facility is under-used, maybe it would make more sense to encourage more use of it, rather than knock it down. The world doesn't really need another parking lot.

Comments (8)

Great idea, the use by the trucking company. The design of today's trucks shows there's been an effort in the area of aerodynamics, but there's probably some room for improvement. An interesting practical example of a non-aviation use.

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | August 27, 2009 8:44 AM    Report this comment

We (the aviation community) can't let this happen. With aviation safety under close scrutiny, the need for good aerodynamic design and testing cannot be done in any other way than the Langley wind tunnel. How do we fight the clsoing?

Posted by: mike Stoddard | August 27, 2009 9:19 AM    Report this comment

This facility deserves the designation as National Historical Site, so it can be saved. Wind tunnel test facilities are fast disappearing in the United States, largely due to lack of funding to maintain them, while foreign countries are maintaining state of the art facilities.

Posted by: Paul Romere | August 27, 2009 10:43 AM    Report this comment

We stopped by there a couple of years ago and were very dissapointed to learn that no tours were available. 9/11 I suppose. damm.

Posted by: Ted Lemen | August 27, 2009 11:56 PM    Report this comment

I have fond memories of working there in the summer of 1967, when I was assigned to the unit as a co-op student from North Carolina State University. The co-op program was brand new at NCSU, and I was lucky enough to be chosen along with 3 other students from the Mechanical/Aerospace Department to participate in the program at NASA Langley.

When I was at the facility, they were doing preliminary research with a large scale model of a military jet transport to study the effects of jet thrust deflected through a segmented flap system. Today we have the C-17 transport which was developed using that technology.

Incidentally, it was while I was at Langley during one of my work periods that I made the fateful decision to set a goal of becoming a military pilot. At the time I had my private pilot's license, and while couped up in an office with a NASA engineer, I spent most of my time watching C-130's and F-4's doing touch & go's out the window, while teaching myself to write computer programs using Fortran IV.

I fulfilled my dream of becoming a military pilot and subsequent corporate pilot, but I'll always remember my few months working in that historic wind tunnel.

Posted by: Dennis Crenshaw | August 28, 2009 2:07 PM    Report this comment

With so many, at least to me, downright silly museums and preserved buildings and sites in the country - ie. a grasshopper museum... - surely there is a way to use/preserve this historic and socially relevant site. As a NHS noted above or museum at least some revenue could be had if it would not be used anymore. A parking lot of all things in a tight economy when creative minds could do so much more with it - Nasa owns the building but does the University own the property? If so maybe the students can ride bikes instead of cars...

Posted by: David Miller | August 29, 2009 2:42 PM    Report this comment

Unfortunately the building is not on a college campus, it's on an air force base, which is part of the problem... as Ted noted, access is restricted, and this has been an issue with opening the facility to the public. Also, the building is in a flood zone, so that's why once it's gone, nothing else will be built on the site.

Posted by: Mary Grady | August 31, 2009 7:31 AM    Report this comment

Please understand that the LFST in in the NASA inventory but it is owned by the TAXPAYERS. It is on Air Force land leased since 1919 to NASA. It was build in a flood plane in 1932 at a cost of $1M. A windtunnel building is not like a house, if it floods, they push the mud out and continue testing. It would cost $500m+ to repace it. NASA's leasing the LFST to ODU in 1997 was one of the smartest things NASA has ever done. ODU aero engineering students get hands on training. Anyone can test in tunnel, cost? $1600 hr. ODU had to turn away 6 months of testing customers because NASA wants them out by Sept 30. There is NO LACK of work for this tunnel. The Ames 90X120 tunnel operated by the Air Force by order of DOD operating cost about $200K hr. Note all wind tunnels are alike, LFST delivers good data..thats why Boeing right now is testing the the Blended Wing Body in LFST. This is their second or third back in the tunnel after making nodifcations. Why are they there? Simple, they get good data and ODU students are working with the worlds most futuristic airplane. I have spent may hours testing in is tunnel with the ODU students. It cost NASA nothing. We need to save this tunnel!

Posted by: ken hyde | September 2, 2009 9:25 AM    Report this comment

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