HAMPTON ROADS — NASA Langley Research Center held a groundbreaking ceremony on Aug. 17 to mark the beginning of construction on its new vertical wind tunnel, the Flight Dynamics Research Facility (FDRF).
NASA Langley states that the new 25,000-square-foot facility will play a major role in the experimental research of autonomous flight vehicle developments including, Advanced Air Mobility and Urban Air Mobility, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), and experimental aircraft.
“Drone research is heating up in our region,” said Donnie Tuck, mayor of Hampton, at the groundbreaking ceremony. “Contributing to this is a space act agreement between NASA and The Longbow Group connecting Langley’s CERTAIN test range to Longbow’s unmanned systems research and technology center on Fort Monroe. Partnerships like this pave the way for Hampton Roads to become a leader in unmanned aircraft research.”
The new wind tunnel will support state-of-the-art research into what NASA Langley calls EDL: Entry, Decent, and Landing. The advanced data gathered at FDRF will contribute to human exploration and science missions returning from the Moon and Mars, and future exploration of Titan and Venus.
The groundbreaking ceremony commemorated the beginning of construction on NASA Langley’s first major wind tunnel in over 40 years. The FDRF is replacing two vintage wind tunnel facilities at NASA Langley. The first is a 12-foot wind tunnel built in 1939 that has a top speed of 77 feet per second powered by a 280-horsepower motor, according to NASA Langley’s Director, Research Directorate Allen Kilgore. The second wind tunnel is a 20-foot vertical tunnel built in 1941, with a top speed of 85 mph powered by a 400-horsepower motor.
“This new tunnel, FDRF, will continue the concept of the vertical float, but it will have a speed of 172 feet per second, and a motor of 1,000 horsepower,” said Kilgore. “It’s about the same size as the 1939, 280-horsepower motor. It’s extremely efficient.”
The FDRF is a large construction project included in NASA Langley’s facility revitalization/master plan. In April of 2018, NASA signed an interagency agreement with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to begin acquisition planning. In Sept. 2021, GSA awarded a $43 million design-build construction contract to BL Harbert International. The design team includes architecture and engineering firm Mason & Hanger, and wind tunnel design by Calspan.
“This facility, this revitalization plan, by 2030 will save almost $250 million in maintenance and utilities,” said Congressman Bobby Scott at the groundbreaking ceremony. “Today NASA Langley celebrates the next step in the critical revitalization of its operational facilities breaking ground on the first wind tunnel built at NASA langley in over 40 years of flight dynamics research.”