AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate opens new subsonic wind tunnel facility

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFRL) – The Air Force Research Laboratory has completed development of a new wind tunnel facility here.

A team from AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate completed the facility, known as the Parker Subsonic Research Facility (SuRF).

“The objective of this effort is to design and build a continuous flow, closed jet, subsonic wind tunnel to be used in the evaluation of prototype aerodynamic models that can be tested to failure,” said Larry Leny, the chief of the Aerospace Systems Directorate’s Aero Validation Branch.

The SuRF provides researchers the ability to quickly see if new ideas have merit and test out cost-effective, innovative solutions.

“The existence of this facility is driven by the desire to accelerate the pace and reduce the cost of running initial exploratory experiments,” said Aaron Altman, a technical advisor with the Aerospace Systems Directorate. “The Parker SuRF frees up resources that would otherwise be tied up unnecessarily in the bigger tunnels in working out some of the earlier stages of proof of concept ideas and their sometimes higher-risk implementations. Additionally, this facility provides AFRL with a new opportunity to achieve world-class fundamental scientific advances.”

“The SuRF supports demand for products, demos, and deliverables and reduces risk,” said Leny. “It enriches AFRL core technical competencies, especially aerodynamics, aeroelasticity and rapid prototyping.”

This facility will meet the need for a research tunnel that provides a quick-turn capability and is more resilient because it can accommodate items, such as 3-D printed components, without undue risk to the tunnel’s infrastructure.

“The need for a new subsonic wind tunnel that could test models to failure was realized in early 2015,” said Leny. “Dr. Greg Parker, who coordinated the establishment of this facility, conducted market research to see what companies could build the facility and he received interest from five manufacturers. The tunnel would be required to fit within the current footprint of the wind tunnel complex.”

From 2019-2020, Aerospace Systems Directorate facility engineers worked closely with 88th Air Base Wing civil engineers to design, procure services, and accomplish building modifications for the tunnel. Despite challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presented in this process, the AFRL team was able to adapt and overcome.

“AFRL worked through numerous challenges in trying to install a new wind tunnel facility in the COVID environment,” said Leny. “AFRL worked closely with the manufacturer coordinating the tunnel layout, product shipment, and construction dates.”

In August 2021, AFRL accepted shipment of the first pieces of the Parker SuRF. Installation began immediately and construction of the wind tunnel was completed the first week of November 2021.

“Dr. Parker, Aero Validation Branch Chief Engineer, played an instrumental role in establishing this facility,” said Leny. “During this process, Parker passed away after a long battle with cancer. The wind tunnel will be named the Parker SuRF in remembrance of the work he had accomplished for this facility.”

This six-year effort honors a past researcher who made valuable AFRL contributions. Parker’s legacy will live on in the advances of research that will stem from this facility.

“It is deeply invigorating to see the physical manifestation of Dr. Parker’s vision, persistence and diligence come to fruition,” said Altman. “There are a multitude of potential uses for the tunnel that have bench-level scientists chomping at the bit to get into the wind tunnel and start testing in a much lower risk, lower cost, sandbox-type environment that can still deliver high-quality data.”

The wind tunnel team is currently working with the manufacturer to complete calibration of the facility and operational training. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be scheduled at a later date.

image of wind tunnel

An Air Force Research Laboratory team from its Aerospace Systems Directorate developed and installed a new wind tunnel facility at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as shown in this, Dec. 14, 2021 photo. This wind tunnel will serve as a premiere test site to further innovative research for the AFRL. (Courtesy photo)