Wind tunnel has delivered six decades of engineering excellence – From Concorde to the latest passenger aircraft tested for take-off

Published on: 25th May 2017

Filton, 25 May 2017 – The low speed wind tunnel at Filton has completed 60 years of aerodynamics testing. From proving the designs for Concorde to testing today’s passenger aircraft, it continues to be a world-leading facility, playing a critical role in the design, innovation and testing of new aircraft designs.
The facility, which marked its diamond jubilee in May, played a key role in the design and development of famous aircraft such as Concorde, the BAC 1-11 and, from 1982, every new model of Airbus – including the A380, A400M, A350 XWB and Beluga XL.
And it’s not just the aviation industry which has benefited from the wind tunnel. Over the years, it has been used to test models of bridges, oil platforms, hotels, sails for ships, ski bikes for the Army, traffic lights, windmills, golf clubs and weather-proof clothing. For several years in the mid-1990s the Ferrari Formula One racing team used the tunnel to test their designs.
In the 70s the wooden models were all hand-built by craftsmen who used hundreds of templates as there were no computer-aided design tools available at that time. Curves were drawn by hand through a series of dots on the paper. Wind tunnel models are now 3D printed in a matter of hours from metal powder or polymer, and the designs include tiny channels to measure air pressure.
It’s fit for the future too. As it marks its diamond anniversary, the wind tunnel is set to continue its role at the forefront of engineering design. The wind tunnel tests at low speeds (200mph), simulating the take-off and landing conditions for aircraft and helicopters.
Simon Galpin, Head of Aerodynamics, said: “Looking forward, the future appears as bright and challenging as ever. There are exciting prospects coming up to support of a wide range of programme developments and research activities including proving the next generation of wing designs.”