The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is building a replacement for its 79-year-old Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel. The new tunnel will be the largest and most advanced academic wind tunnel in the United States, and the lead sponsor will be Boeing.
Boeing has made a funding pledge to become the lead donor of the $18 million project. Terms of the Boeing pledge were not disclosed.
The gift reflects the century-long relationship between MIT and Boeing that helped ignite the global aerospace industry, and also points to the future of research and development that will fuel continued innovation, according to Greg Hyslop, Boeing CTO and Senior Vice President, Engineering Test & Technology.
Like its predecessor, the new tunnel will be operated by the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and it will retain the Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel name.
The new tunnel will:
- permit increased test speeds, from the current 150 miles per hour to 200 miles per hour;
- greatly improve research data acquisition;
- halve the power requirements of the original 2,000 horsepower fan motor;
- increase test section volume from 850 cubic feet to 1,600 cubic feet, and test section area from 57 square feet to 80 square feet;
- improve ability to test autonomous vehicles (“drones”) and aerodynamic components including wings, bodies, and wind turbines; and
- enable new MIT classes in advanced aerodynamics and fluid mechanics.
“Few relationships in aerospace can compare to the ties between MIT and Boeing, and we are thrilled and gratified to be part of this critically important renovation that will launch our relationship into the second century of aerospace,” Hyslop said. “Several of Boeing’s founding leaders studied at MIT, we have worked with the great people and facilities at MIT over the decades, and with this gift, we will continue in the years to come.”
A number of Boeing founding leaders studied at MIT, including Donald Douglas, Sr, James S. McDonnell, and the first Boeing engineer, Wong Tsu, who designed Boeing’s first commercially successful airplane, the Model C, in 1916. Currently, Boeing employs more than 800 MIT alumni around the world. In addition, more than 50 Boeing executives as well as more than 60 members of the Boeing Technical Fellowship hold MIT degrees.
“In our first 100 years, Boeing has collaborated with MIT in many ways to give rise to the aerospace industry, and then disrupt it with big ideas and innovative applications of new technologies,” Hyslop said.
“Today’s agreement is a big step in continuing our strong relationship to further stretch, disrupt and grow our industry. Together we will continue to change the world.”
Research and teaching tool
“The new Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel will present MIT with a state-of-the-art research and teaching tool for many years to come,” said MIT AeroAstro Department head Jaime Peraire.
The new tunnel will be constructed on the site of the current tunnel which was dedicated in September 1938. From its early days during World War II, when technicians worked around the clock designing military aircraft, testing in the tunnel has branched out to include ground antenna configurations, ski gear, space suits, wind turbines, ship sails and most recently, a design for clean, quiet and super-efficient commercial aircraft.