Langley’s Pioneering Full-Scale Wind Tunnel Helped Win WWII

It cost the government a total of $1 million to see this project come to life. The lives of millions would have been saved during the Second World War, thanks to the massive aerodynamics testing tool, used by experts and scientists to improve all the high-performance machines used by the Americans in the war, among them, the super fast  P-51 Mustang and the F4U Corsair.

According to a Nasa source, the designer of the wind tunnel was aviator Smith J. De France. The fabulous machine had a 30-by-60-foot open throat, where aircraft with wing spans up to 40 feet could be tested.

The air was moved at up to 118 miles per hour by the 4,000-horsepower electric motors powering the two fans. The building where the machine was finished in 1931, measured 434 feet long, 222 feet wide and it was 10 stories high. According to the Daily Press, huge personalities such as Charles Lindbergh and Howard Hughes went to visit Langley’s pioneering full-scale wind tunnel.

With the help of the wind tunnel, aircraft were better tested and improved, especially when it came to speed, range and maneuverability, assets that made the United States aircraft superior to those of the enemy. Also, the results and the whole process turned out to be so useful and successful that at one point Langley had to test literally every new model, the Daily Press reports.

The Bell P-39 Airacobra for example improved its top speed from 340 to 392 miles per hour, thanks to tests conducted at Langley. Another good example is the P-51 and all the work engineers had to do on the pioneering low-drag wings, which made the aircraft a lot faster. Also, a secret test of a captured Japanese Zero aircraft took place at Langley. The experts and the research which was taking place at Langley, with the opening of two other new labs by the National Advisory Council for Aeronautics during the Second World War, were  the “force behind our Air Supremacy,” as stated in Aviation magazine in January 1944.

Even following the end of the war, planes and other space vehicles entered the testing tunnel, including  the Harrier Jump Jet fighter, the F-16,  the Boeing 2707, the Space Shuttle and the Lunar Landing Test Vehicle. Nasa decommissioned the tunnel in 1995 and it was later used by  Old Dominion University in the 2000s. After the ODU lease expired in 2010, Langley’s pioneering full-scale wind tunnel was demolished.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE