HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — For the first time in 4 decades, a new major wind tunnel is being built at NASA Langley. The Flight Dynamic Research Facility (FDRF) has a vertical wind tunnel that will allow researchers to test flight dynamics.
They will use the facility to also advance scientific missions to the moon and research autonomous flight vehicles, so the flying cars in “The Jetsons” are one step closer to reality.
“When we think about things like ‘The Jetsons’ that no longer has to be a cartoon, it can be our reality,” said Clayton Turner, director of NASA Langley Research Center. “The idea that we get to reach for new heights to reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.”
On Wednesday, partners of the project broke ground, which begins the construction phase for the state-of-the-art facility.
The 25,000-square-foot-facility will replace two aging wind tunnels. Upgrading older infrastructure is part of NASA Langley’s facility revitalization plan. In September 2021, the U.S. General Services Administration awarded $43 million to BL Harbert International, which is building the wind tunnel.
Jennifer Kibler, the Deputy Director for Intelligent Flight Systems, said the new facility is a two-for-one that replaces the old and packs a much bigger punch. Kibler said the wind tunnel capabilities will bring world-changing research and development.
Kibler describes the way the wind tunnel works to be similar to indoor skydiving.
“Think of the vertical flow of air in this facility somewhat akin to that iFly capability,” she said. “Focus on the flow of air vertically, which allows us to take advantage of gravity.”
Turner said the new wind tunnel is 10 times more powerful than one of the old tunnels.
Researchers and technicians will spend time in the facility creating air and space craft and using the wind tunnel to make sure their design is safe.
“They will come up with concepts. They will build mock-ups and put them in the tunnel and collect data,” Turner said.
Kibler said the new facility means the future of aerospace is bright. It will help improve air transportation for urban and suburban areas. They will test aircraft that can reach low altitudes to deliver people or cargo.
This facility will be at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton. Rep. Bobby Scott said it’s a welcomed addition and adds to the many research facilities in the area.
“We do a lot of cutting-edge research here in Hampton and this will just add,” he said.
By 2030, the revitalization plan will reduce Langley’s footprint by over 1.21 million square feet and by replacing the old wind tunnel, it will save NASA Langley $105 million in maintenance.
The construction of FDRF will take two to two and a half years. It’s set to open around late 2024.