With extensive computerization, self streamlining walls, laser based instrumentation, cryogenic operation, and magnetic model suspension, wind tunnel technology is unquestionably keeping pace with the rapidly advancing state of the art in scientific research. No plateau of development or technological hardening of the arteries seems in sight.
The basic engineering mission of the wind tunnel will remain the same as it has been for a century: pioneering aerodynamic research followed by performance validation of new aircraft designs and subsequent refinement of configurations. In addition, wind tunnel validation of new theoretical concepts will always be part of aerodynamic progress.
Through the years, wind tunnels have always been able to respond quickly to unexpected problems, such as the Electra catastrophes. A national concern of today is energy conservation. With the U.S. commercial airliner fleet consuming approximately 10 billion gallons of aviation fuel annually, a 1 percent improvement in aircraft efficiency would save an immense amount of fuel. NASA's goal in reducing aviation's fuel consumption is not a mere 1 percent but rather 25 to 50 percent. This would be a remarkable accomplishment. Since drag reduction is the key to achieving this goal, NASA's inventory of wind tunnels will once again be called on for solutions.