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Types of Wind Tunnel

written by: Kapil Agrawal•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 12/11/2008

Wind tunnels are widely used in automobile and aircraft industry to design fuel efficient cars and aircrafts.

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    Wind Tunnel Applications

    Wind tunnels are used to simulate air flow in laboratories under controlled conditions. These find vast application in automobile and aircraft industry to test the prototype for aerodynamic conditions specially drag force on the prototype. School laboratories utilize them to study flow around small objects like a sphere or a wedge.

    Wind tunnels are designed for specific purposes. A wind tunnel designed for school lab is generally between 2m to 12 meters long while the wind tunnels in automobile are large enough to accommodate whole car in its test section. These days wind tunnels are being replaced by CFD tools.

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    Types of Wind Tunnel

    Wind tunnels can be classified based on air flow speed in test section and based on shape.

    Based on Flow Speed:

    1. Subsonic or low speed wind tunnels:

    Maximum flow speed in this type of wind tunnels can be 135m/s. Flow speed in wind tunnels is generally preferred in terms of Mach number which comes out to be around 0.4 for this case. This type of wind tunnels are most cost effective due to the simplicity of the design and low wind speed. Generally low speed wind tunnels are found in schools and universities because of low budget.

    2. Transonic wind tunnels:

    Maximum velocity in test section of transonic wind tunnels can reach upto speed of sound ie 340m/s or Mach number of 1. These wind tunnels are very common in aircraft industry as most aircrafts operate around this speed.

    3. Supersonic wind tunnels:

    Velocity of air in test section of such wind tunnels can be upto Mach 5. This is accomplished using convergent - divergent nozzles. Power requirements for such wind tunnels are very high.

    4. Hypersonic wind tunnels:

    Wind velocity in test section of such type of wind tunnels can measure between Mach 5 and Mach 15. This is also achieved using convergent - divergent nozzles.

    Based on Shape:

    1. Open circuit wind tunnel:

    This type of wind tunnel is open at both ends. The chances of dirt particles entering with air are more so more honeycombs (mesh to clean incoming air) are required to clean the air. Open type wind tunnels can further be divided into two categories:

    a) Suckdown tunnel: With the inlet open to atmosphere, axial fan or centrifugal blower is installed after test section. This type of wind tunnels are not preferred because incoming air enters with significant swirl.

    b) Blower tunnel: A blower is installed at the inlet of wind tunnel which throws the air into wind tunnel. swirl is a problem in this case as well but blower tunnels are much less sensitive to it.

    2. Closed circuit wind tunnel:

    Outlet of such wind tunnel is connected to inlet so the same air circulates in the system in a regulated way. The chances of dirt entering the system are also very low. closed wind tunnels have more uniform flow than open type. This is usually a choice for large wind tunnels as these are more costlier than open type wind tunnels.