Blowing in the wind: ''U'' aerodynamics lab serves as testing site for GM, NASA

BY TOVIN LAPAN FOR THE DAILY
For the Daily For
Published January 29, 2001

Supported by Michigan"s automotive and engineering industry, the University"s aerodynamics department has garnered numerous contracts over the years for studies using wind tunnels.

Paul Wong
Aerodynamics Laboratory Supervisor Tom Griffin stands with some of the machinery used to create an air current in one of the University"s wind tunnels<br><br>David Katz / Daily

Using one of the largest university-owned wind tunnels in the nation, aerodynamicsresearchers on North Campus are currently involved in a project with General Motors to reduce the drag on vans and other large vehicles. Aerodynamics graduate student Sabi Balkanyi has been working on the GM project this year. Balkanyi uses models to test modified van designs for drag. The University"s Department of Aerospace Engineering, housed in the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Building on

North Campus, has been doing aerodynamics research with wind tunnels for a variety of companies since 1956.

The University"s first and largest wind tunnel was built as a joint effort with the United States Air Force as partof a contract to test the effects of gusts on aircraft. In addition to the larger, five-foot by seven-foot test area wind tunnel, the University owns nine smaller tunnels on North Campus. Most of the smaller tunnels are used for

educational purposes.

"Educational use always comes first at the University," said Tom Griffin, the aerodynamics lab supervisor.

Griffin said he believes the University"s aerodynamics facilities have helped sway prospective students and faculty towards the University.

Each semester, students enrolled in Aerospace Engineering 306, under the supervision of Prof. Donald Geister,

design and test projects using the wind tunnel.

"The students work in groups of four and complete seven to 10 projects each semester," Geister said.

This semester student projects include designing aircraft jet engines modifications on the X-38, a type of wing

designed by Johnson Flight Company electric propulsion in space and a project with National Aeronautics and

Space Administration, Geister said.

Geister"s students are also working with the man-powered helicopter team on design modifications. In the past,

students have used the wind tunnel facilities to test the Michigan solar and formula racing cars.

In recent years the University has been commissioned to do aerodynamics tests on bicycle helmets, windshield

wipers, cars, jets and race cars for such companies as Ford, General Motors, NASA, Goodyear, Lockheed,

Greyhound Bus Company and the U.S. Military, Griffin said.

In 1987 the University worked with the U.S. Olympic bobsled team on modifications to the sled for the 1988

Winter Games. Recently, the Ann Arbor Police Department has contacted the University about running wind resistance tests on police car lights.

The wind tunnels have also been used to combat the forces of nature. Numerous companies have hired University researchers to test product and building designs against high winds that may occur during hurricanes or tornadoes.

Use of the wind tunnel facilities has slowed in past years as large companies have found it more cost effective to

build their own testing sites, Griffin said.