NASA pressed a once-decommissioned wind tunnel at its Langley Research Center back into service for one last time in August to help test the prototype of the X-48C — Boeing's new, turbojet-powered, advanced blended wing body (BWB) aircraft.
The tunnel was built in 1930 and used to test World War II fighters, the Mercury space capsule, and concepts for a supersonic transport.
Langley Research Center decommissioned the tunnel in 1995, then leased it to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., for research and student engineering training. The lease was up this summer and the tunnel is scheduled for demolition because of its lack of national strategic importance, limited testing capability, deteriorating condition and the environmental liability associated with the materials used in its construction.
But not before it got this one last go-around with the X-48C prototype. In fact, it's actually the second time a BWB model was put through its paces at the huge wind tunnel. In 2006, preliminary tests helped engineers determine how the X-48B would perform during remotely piloted flight tests. Blended wing body designs are different from traditional tube-and-wing aircraft in that the tube and wings are blended for lower drag and better lift, and they rely primarily on multiple control surfaces on the wing for stability and control.
Such a shame such an awesome wind tunnel's getting demolished. We feel like we need a "Save The Wind Tunnels" t-shirt.