Victorian Train Tunnel Turned Test Track

Characterizing the aerodynamic performance of a vehicle usually requires a wind tunnel since it’s difficult to control all variables when actually driving. Unless you had some kind of perfectly straight, environmentally controlled, and precision-graded section of road, anyway. Turns out the Catesby Tunnel in the UK meets those requirements exactly, and [Tom Scott] recently got to take a tour of it.

The 2.7 kilometer (1.7 mile) long tunnel was constructed as a railway tunnel between 1895 and 1897, thanks to the estate owner objecting to the idea of “unsightly trains” crossing his property. The tunnel’s construction was precise even by modern standards, deviating only 3 mm from being perfectly straight along its entire length. It lay abandoned for many years until it was paved and converted into a test facility, opening in 2021.

To measure the speed without the luxury of GPS reception, a high-speed camera mounted inside a vehicle detects reflective tags mounted every 5 m along the tunnel’s wall. This provides accurate speed measurement down to 0.001 km/h. A pair of turntables are installed at the ends of the tunnel to avoid an Austin Powers multi-point turn (apparently that’s the technical term) when turning around inside the confined space.

Due to the overhead soil and sealed ends, the temperature in the tunnel only varies by 1 – 2 °C year round. This controlled environment makes the tunnel perfect for coastdown tests, where a vehicle accelerates to a designated speed and then is put into neutral and allowed to coast. By measuring the loss of speed across multiple runs, it’s possible to calculate the aerodynamic drag and friction on the wheels. Thanks to the repeatable nature of the tests, it was even possible to calculate the aerodynamic losses caused by [Tom]’s cameras mounted to the outside of the vehicle.

The Catesby Tunnel is an excellent example of repurposing old infrastructure for modern use. Some other examples we’ve seen include using coal mines and gold mines for geothermal energy.

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A cardboard wind tunnel

Optimize Your Paper Planes With This Cardboard Wind Tunnel

We at Hackaday are great fans of hands-on classroom projects promoting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects – after all, inspiring kids with technology at a young age will help ensure a new generation of hardware hackers in the future. If you’re looking for an interesting project to keep a full classroom busy, have a look at [drdonh]’s latest project: a fully-functional wind tunnel made from simple materials.

A styrofoam car model in a cardboard wind tunnelBuilt from cardboard, it has all the same components you’d find in a full-size aerodynamics lab: a fan to generate a decent stream of air, an inlet with channels to stabilize the flow, and a platform to mount experiments on. There’s even some basic instrumentation included that can be used to measure drag and lift, allowing the students to evaluate the drag coefficients of different car designs or the lift-generating properties of various airfoils. Continue reading “Optimize Your Paper Planes With This Cardboard Wind Tunnel”

DIY Wind Tunnel Aims To Educate The Youth

Typically, when we talk about wind tunnels, we think of the big facilities in use by the aerospace and motorsports industries. However, there’s nothing stopping you building a wind tunnel of your very own, and it may even be easier than you think! [Jude Pullen] has whipped up just such a design with DIY in mind.

Intended for high school Design & Technology (D&T) classes, it uses relatively simple materials construction techniques. The airflow straightener is built out of PVC pipes, and the end boxes built out of cardboard. The transparent walls for observation are created out of acrylic, while a simple fan provides the necessary flow. The desk-sized wind tunnel can then be instrumented with a manometer, tachometer, and anemometer to measure pressure, fan speed, and wind speed. [Jude] also explores experiments that can be run in the wind tunnel, such as working with a small balsa wood glider and measuring the lift it generates with a scale.

[Jude] has a very pragmatic and real-world understanding of such projects, too. He notes the difference between making things to measure, and making them to fit, and highlights the values of both approaches. It’s a much more holistic approach than simply berating students to “do it right” or “do it better” when making things in a D&T class.

Use of a basic wind tunnel is often not taught to engineering students until at least the second or third year of an engineering degree, after all the boring math and static analysis has been dealt with. However, there’s no reason high school physics students can’t understand the physics involved, and they’re more than capable of undertaking such a build. Starting such education early often nets huge benefits for individuals and their eventual careers.

Once you’ve got yourself a wind tunnel, you might want to start thinking about some flow visualization, which gets really exciting.

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Vapor Trails And Fan Make For Fantastic Photos In DIY Wind Tunnel

Every wanted a mini wind tunnel to check the aerodynamics of scale model cars, drones, or other small objects? Then check out [dannyesp]’s mostly-3D-printed DIY wind tunnel (video, embedded below). Don’t forget to also browse the additional photos in this Reddit thread.

A junk parts project doesn’t have to look like a hack job.

There’s not much for plans available, since as [dannyesp] admits, this device was very much the product of trial-and-error and junk bin parts. The video and photos are more than enough for any enterprising hacker to work with.

The core of the device is a large fan made from a junked drone motor. This fan is located at the rear of the tunnel. A small anemometer is placed at the front, where some 3D-printed baffles also work to smooth out turbulent incoming air.

The foggy trails of vapor come from a hacked-up vape pen. Vapor gets piped through some tubing to the front of the tunnel. There, the vapor trails are drawn towards the low-pressure area at the rear, traveling over and around the object on the way. [dannyesp] also mentions that the platform holding the object is mounted on a rail, which incorporates some kind of pressure sensor in an attempt to quantify wind drag.

We want to take a moment to appreciate just how clean this “junk parts” project looks — even though it is made from things like broken photo frames. All of this comes down to thoughtful assembly. A hack doesn’t have to look like a hack job, after all. We also love the little control box that, instead of having a separate power indicator, lights up like a little nightlight when it has power.

Hacking vaporizers is a fantastic way to create a small, portable fog machine. These can create fantastic costume effects like this smoking Ghost Rider skull. They are a great way to turn an off-the-shelf consumer item into something that cost quite a bit more just a few years back.

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Homemade Toy Wind Tunnel Blows (Really Well)

Sometimes a kid wakes up on Christmas morning and runs downstairs, only hoping to see one thing: a shiny new wind tunnel. This past December, that’s exactly what [SparksAndCode]’s son found under beside the tree, complete with a bag of scarves, ping-pong balls, and other fun things to launch through it (in the name of physics, of course).

The real story here starts about a week before Christmas, when [SparksAndCode]’s son was enthralled by a similar device at a science museum. At his wife’s suggestion, [SparksAndCode] got to work designing a and building a wind tunnel with hardware-store parts, his deadline looming ahead. The basic structure of the tunnel is three rods which support plywood collars. The walls are formed by plastic sheets rolled inside the collars to make a tube. Underneath, a Harbor Freight fan supplies a nice, steady stream of air for endless entertainment.

After finding a few bugs during his son’s initial beta testing on Christmas morning, [SparksAndCode] brought the wind tunnel back into the shop for a few tweaks and upgrades, including a mesh cover on the air intake to stop things from getting sucked into the fan. The final result was a very functional (and fun!) column of air. Looking for even more function (but not necessarily less fun)? We’ve got you covered too with this home-built research wind tunnel from a few years back.

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Space Shuttle Model In A Hypersonic Wind Tunnel

Mach 20 In A Wind Tunnel: Yes, It’s Rocket Science

Hypersonic speeds are defined by those exceeding Mach 5, and lately there’s been a lot of buzz about unmanned hypersonic vehicles making test flights. Vehicles returning from orbital flight also travel at hypersonic speeds as they do their best to transition back to the terrestrial realm. Before anything leaves ground though, these machines are tested in wind tunnels. [Scott Manley]’s video “How Hypersonic Wind Tunnels Recreate Mach 20” (embedded below) does a wonderful job of explaining the engineering behind wind tunnels for testing hypersonic vehicles.

While the earliest wind tunnels such as that used by the Wright Brothers were powered by simple fans, it is not possible for any propeller to surpass subsonic speeds. This is evidenced by there not being any propeller driven aircraft that can exceed Mach 1. Since an aircraft can’t reach those speeds with a propeller, it follows that a wind tunnel cannot be driven by propellers, fans, or any such device, and exceed Mach 1 wind speed, either. So it begs the question: Just how do they do it?

You might think that the answer lays in Bernoulli’s law – but it does not. You might think it involves compressing the air into smaller and smaller tubes and pipes. It doesn’t. As [Scott Manley] so expertly explains in the video below the break, it has quite a lot in common with actual rocket science.

You may be interested to know that we’ve covered some DIY wind tunnel builds as well as a small desktop wind tunnel in the past. While not hypersonic, they’re exactly what you’d want to have if you’re an aerospace hacker of any kind.

Thanks [Zane Atkins] for the tip!

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Retrotechtacular: Discovering Aerodynamics With The Chrysler Airflow

When you think about it, for most of human history we’ve been a pretty slow bunch. At any time before about 150 years ago, if you were moving faster than a horse can run, you were probably falling to your death. And so the need to take aerodynamics into consideration is a pretty new thing.

The relative novelty of aerodynamic design struck us pretty hard when we stumbled across this mid-1930s film about getting better performance from cars. It was produced for the Chrysler Sales Corporation and featured the innovative design of the 1934 Chrysler Airflow. The film’s narration makes it clear why the carmaker would go through the trouble of completely rethinking how cars are made; despite doubling average engine horsepower over the preceding decade, cars had added only about 15% to their top speed. And while to our 21st-century eyes, the Chrysler Airflow might look like a bulked-up Volkswagen Beetle, compared to the standard automotive designs of the day, it was a huge aerodynamic leap forward. This makes sense with what else was going on in the technology world at the time — air travel — the innovations of which, such as wind tunnel testing of models, were spilling over into other areas of design. There’s also the influence of [Orville Wright], who was called in to consult on the Airflow design.

While the Airflow wasn’t exactly a huge hit with the motoring public — not that many were built, and very few remain today; [Jay Leno] is one of the few owners, because of course he is — it set standards that would influence automotive designs for the next 80 years. It’s fascinating too that something seemingly as simple as moving the engine forward and streamlining the body a bit took so long to hit upon, and yet yielded so much bang for the buck.

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