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Radical Wings & Wind Tunnels: Advanced Concepts Tested at NASA Langley

Radical Wings & Wind Tunnels: Advanced Concepts Tested at NASA Langley by Joseph R. Chambers and Mark A. Chambers. Specialty Press, 2008, 160 pp.

Commonly called the “Mother Center,” the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, was the United States’ first civil aeronautical research laboratory. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), NASA’s predecessor, created its first laboratory at Langley in 1917. In their book Radical Wings & Wind Tunnels, Joseph and Mark Chambers explore the history of the Langley test facilities and some of the aircraft tested there, focusing on two main areas: the wind tunnels and the aircraft that have gone through them.

Built in 1922, the first wind tunnel—the variable-density version—accurately tested subscale models. By the 1930s, Langley boasted five tunnels: the variable density, propeller (for component testing), spin, full scale, and free flight, all of them described in detail, including their dimensions and operating capabilities. The authors also provide diagrams of the wind tunnels and period photographs of aircraft such as the P-26 Peashooter and P-51 Mustang during their testing.

Numerous aircraft went through evaluation at the Langley facilities (both wind-tunnel and flight testing), a process that yielded various aerodynamic discoveries. This portion of the book examines early aeronautical developments (testing prior to 1958), support to spaceflight, extremely radical wing designs (reflected in the book’s title), and more recent military and civil testing. The testing of 27 early aircraft led to the development of aeronautical advances such as low-aspect wing-ratio airfoils, all-movable horizontal stabilizers, advanced flaps, aircraft cooling, more aerodynamic cowlings, and laminar-flow airfoils. With the transition of the NACA to NASA, manned space exploration became the organization’s primary interest, as was the case with the Langley facilities. Researchers explored such concepts as the parawing, for landing after a visit into space; lifting bodies; and the lunar lander training vehicle. The truly radical wings and aircraft included tilt and tilt-duct wings as well as vertical-take-off-and-landing and tail-sitter aircraft. The book concludes by addressing more recent research on the civil and military fronts, including thrust vectoring and sonic booming.

The authors fill Radical Wings & Wind Tunnels with photographs of wind tunnels, aircraft, and spacecraft. Despite its technical orientation, the text is accessible to aviators and nonaviators alike. Pilots, for example, will immediately recognize the numerous aeronautical advances produced by Langley’s research efforts, but readers with no flight experience will also find the book fascinating. One should note, however, that even though the book seeks to document the “more interesting radical aircraft concepts” tested at the Langley facilities, the authors’ discussion of sources is lacking, reflected by the absence of a bibliography. Nevertheless, Radical Wings & Wind Tunnels demonstrates that NASA is more than just spaceflight and space exploration. Clearly, we have the Langley test facilities to thank for many of the aviation concepts and innovations that we enjoy today.

Lt Col Dan Simonsen, USAF, Retired

Ruston, Louisiana

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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