wind tunnel, apparatus for studying the interaction between a solid body and an airstream. A wind tunnel simulates the conditions of an aircraft in flight by causing a high-speed stream of air to flow past a model of the aircraft (or part of an aircraft) being tested. The model is mounted on wires so that lift and drag forces on it can be measured by measuring the tensions in the wire. The paths of the airstream around the model can also be studied by attaching tufts of wool (which align themselves with the wind direction) to various parts of the model, by injecting thin streams of smoke into the tunnel to render the airflow visible, or by using certain optical devices. Pressures on the model surface are measured through small flush openings in its surface. Forces exerted on the model may be determined from measurement of the airflow upstream and downstream of the model. In wind tunnels operating well below the speed of sound, the airstream is created by large motor-driven vanes. At velocities near or above the speed of sound, the airstream is created either by releasing highly compressed air from a tank at the upwind end of the tunnel or by allowing air to rush through the tunnel into a previously evacuated vacuum tank at its downwind end. Sometimes these methods are combined, especially for the production of hypersonic velocities, i.e., velocities at least five times as great as the speed of sound. The effect of wind on other vehicles, e.g., automobiles, and on stationary objects such as buildings and bridges may also be studied in wind tunnels. In many instances, wind tunnels have been rendered obsolete by computer modeling.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.