A Visit to the Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel

By Lily Robles

This week Julia and I had the unexpected pleasure of visiting the Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel for the first time. We had seen photos and read stories in our work with the AeroAstro department over the years, but never actually saw the lab.  We were meeting with Bill Litant, the communications director, and he mentioned a newly printed 3D model.  When he took us to see it, we had no idea we’d been stepping into such an important, historic space.

Built in 1939, the tunnel is used for school research as well as industry. From design testing during WW2 to big aircraft companies over the decades. If you’ve been in Boston a while, you might remember when the Hancock Tower windows were falling from the sky (aka “plywood ranch”) and the tunnel was used then as well. The inside was small and tight and the heavy thick door reminded me of stepping into a submarine when my dad was in the Navy. But all around you could see instrumentation tucked away, above and around the insides of the curved walls. In the middle was the 3D printer model we came to see… what Bill described as a “dubble bubble” design, two cylinders joining for an extra wide fuselage, extra lift, and 70 percent less fuel than existing models. Super slick, clean, new and a striking contrast to the well-worn, but equally fascinating wind tunnel lab.

As I think about how to tag this blog entry with one of our design tags, I’m not sure there actually is one. Perhaps “surprising ways in which graphic design can help you learn about the world.” I’ll ask Julia.