Chapter 1 - Whirling Arms and the First Wind Tunnels


1901 wind tunnel

[Sketch of the Wright brothers' 1901 wind tunnel]


[1] The would-be aeronauts of the nineteenth century closely studied the flight of birds and began building flying machines patterned after avian structures. Their birdlike craft failed miserably. They quickly realized that in reality they knew nothing about the lift and drag forces acting on surfaces cutting through the atmosphere. To fly, man first had to understand the flow of air over aircraft surfaces. This meant that he had to build instrumented laboratories in which wings, fuselages, and control surfaces could be tested under controlled conditions. Thus it is not surprising that the first wind tunnel was built a full 30 years before the Wrights' success at Kitty Hawk.

The wind tunnel is indispensible to the development of modern aircraft. Today no aeronautical engineer would contemplate committing an advanced aircraft design to flight without first measuring its lift and drag properties and its stability and controllability in a wind tunnel. Tunnel tests first, free-flight tests later, is the proper order of things.