Memories of my days in a wind tunnel

Some weeks ago my brother Jaime wrote a couple of posts in his blog about wind tunnels. A first general post in which he described how they work and mentioned some techniques including PIV, and a second post in which he described the acoustic camera.

Master thesis front page.

Master thesis front page.

It happens that, back in 2005, I completed my aeronautical engineering master thesis with a project carried out in a wind tunnel at the Aerospace Institute (Luft- und Raumfahrt) of the RWTH-Aachen. Those two posts brought back some good memories and I thought I could share a couple of them here in the blog. Jaime has worked in a wind tunnel in Audi, and in his posts he included some pictures from other affluent wind tunnels. You will see here the contrast with budgetary constrains lived by universities.

I think that for this post I will be brief in the comments and will focus on sharing some pictures trying to bring you about what we tried to do and how we did it. Directly, from the thesis preface:

This Diplomarbeit is the result of two different experiments. Each one is dealing with different techniques but both share a common aim: the comprehension of the noise generation in the flap-side edge. That is the reason for presenting both experiments in a very similar way in this report, so the reader might see two parallel experiments which final results are analyzed together.

Thus we wanted to measure noise and correlate it with the flow around the flap. How did we measure the noise in the vicinity? “Aha! an acoustic camera!”, and you then remember the arrays of microphones my brother displayed in his post. See here the arrangement we had:

"Acoustic camera".

“Acoustic camera”.

Fancy, isn’t it? Except for which we indeed counted with a single micro, which we had to move to every position of the array and thus repeat long measurements endlessly. 🙂

Aerial view of the experiment.

Aerial view of the experiment.

In the picture above you can see the wing profile with the single micro in the left (to the intrados of the wing).

Once we had made dozens of measurements it was just a question of letting Matlab do the dirty job and plot measurements for each position at different flap deflections…


Noise measurements.

But remember that we wanted not only to measure noise but to correlate it with the flow structure at the flap edge. Let me advance you an image of what we wanted to see:

Vortex structure.

Vortex structure.

How did we make to study the flow? Another of the techniques introduced by Jaime, Particle Image Velocimetry, directly from the Wikipedia:

Particle image velocimetry (PIV) is an optical method of flow visualization […]. It is used to obtain instantaneous velocity measurements and related properties in fluids. The fluid is seeded with tracer particles which, for sufficiently small particles, are assumed to faithfully follow the flow dynamics (…). The fluid with entrained particles is illuminated so that particles are visible. The motion of the seeding particles is used to calculate speed and direction (the velocity field) of the flow being studied.


Typical PIV apparatus consists of a camera (…), a strobe or laser with an optical arrangement to limit the physical region illuminated (…), a synchronizer to act as an external trigger for control of the camera and laser, the seeding particles and the fluid under investigation.

Seeding the flow, recording it with a camera, using a laser beam… boy, doesn’t it sound fancy high-tech? Let’s go and describe it.

See a plan of the wind tunnel we used:

Wind tunnel plan.

Wind tunnel plan.

See an schematic of the equipment and connections we used for the experiment, all placed at the open section of the tunnel:

Schematic of the experiment.

Schematic of the experiment.

See exactly where we wanted to shoot at with the laser beam:


Laser bream.

See from where we recorded the images (camera at the right side of the picture, downstream from the wing):

Our single micro.


See in this other graphic a summary of the technique. The laser emits two consecutive pulses which light the seeded particles. The camera records those 2 consecutive images and a dedicated software measures the movement of each particle thus providing the information of the flow.

Schematic of PIV technique.

Schematic of PIV technique.

So far, so good.

However, it happens that this was the first time we were using the technique at the institute and despite of our reading of references it took us some time, trials and finally asking experienced people to pull the right strings. At the beginning we just either saw nothing or blurry images.

Blurry image.

Blurry image.

After days of running the tunnel seeded with oil particles you can imagine the fog we were in:

Oil fog.

Oil fog.

… and what we needed were two consecutive shots of very well-defined particles. In the end we managed to fine tune everything and get the desired results:

Image of particles.

Image of particles.

Once we had the images, we ran all the correlations with the acoustic measurements of our array of one microphone and had all the data to analyze, draw some conclusions, propose some new paths to continue experimenting and with which to write a nice thesis.

All that was left was to clean up the mess at the tunnel:

Cleaning the inside of the wind tunnel.

Cleaning the inside of the wind tunnel.

But, yeah, who’s got a picture of himself between the stator and the rotor of a wind tunnel? 🙂

Me among the vanes of the stator.

Me among the vanes of the stator.


Filed under Aerospace & Defence, Education

6 responses to “Memories of my days in a wind tunnel

  1. Uwe

    As a student I saw a method of 3D flow measurement using a dual focus pulsed laser beam. Focii could be moved on a virtual sphere until you got a maximum of correlated scatter events from ever present dust particles ( orientation of focci ~= direction of fluid flow, interval between event pairs ~= speed ). this was around 1984/5.

    • Uwe

      Thinking back it actually must have been a CW Laser.

    • and recording from a transversal camera?

      • Uwe

        No camera, just a narrow band light sensor focused on the whole area or just the focii that records the scatter events when dust particles pass through one focus or the other. You have to constantly shift focii into the point of highest number of paired events. i.e. into the orientation where each particle passes through both focus points.
        You need a reasonably well defined focus along the beam axis by using a relatively large lens.
        I probably should do a drawing to provide a clearer view.

  2. I love that line “I probably should do a drawing to provide a clearer view.”, kind of proves “C.I.A. Manual of Trickery and Deception” (

    “One of the tricks to pour some powder into another cup is by emptying the back of wooden pencil (where usually there is the small rubber) and fill it with powder. The pencil is kept in some pocket and brought into the scene with the excuse of scribbling anything or making some sketch in order to help yourself with an explanation. I found this very natural in me. Anytime I want to explain something I take a paper and a pen and draw something.

    The book included a provision for women employing this trick. A woman would need to carry two pencils. One with the little hole with powder and another one untouched, apart from that the pencils shall be identical. Why is that? Not because the woman cannot draw a sketch or because she would need two pencils, but because if the woman was to be facing a man and she would use a pencil to sketch something as part of her explanation, it is very likely that the man would ask for that pencil in order to amend the woman’s sketch!! So the woman would need to have a second pencil to replace the first one before the man takes on the pencil with the little hole in order to avoid that he notices the trick.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s