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AEDC's Tunnel 9 is the site of unique program debut
Tunnel 9 Director Dan Marren was the tour spokesman during the COTE kick-off event at the AEDC-managed Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9. Participants (left to right) included Michael Kendra, Eric Marineau, Edward Greer, Derrick Hinton, Patrick Carrick, Ricky Peters and Tom Russell. (Photo provided by Arnold Collier)
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AEDC's Tunnel 9 is the site of unique program debut

Posted 3/20/2012   Updated 3/21/2012 Email story   Print story


by Philip Lorenz III
Arnold Engineering Development Center Public Affairs

3/20/2012 - ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- Arnold Engineering Development Center's White Oak site in Silver Spring, Md., is home to a new and innovative program sponsored by the Test Resource Management Center and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

According to Dan Marren, White Oak site director, this program, called the Centers of Testing Excellence, was modeled after AFOSR lab programs and is the first of its kind for the test and evaluation commands.

"The first COTE pilot program is in the area of hypersonics and is located at AEDC White Oak because of the unique hypervelocity test facility (Tunnel 9) located there. The University of Maryland was chosen as the anchor university," he said. "The basic vision of this program is to bring together researchers, students and testing professionals working on U.S. Air Force priorities in a collaborative way that strengthens the vitality of both the research and the work force."

Dr. Mark Lewis, University of Maryland's Aerospace Department chair and former Chief Scientist of the Air Force, said collaboration between the two commands, a university and Tunnel 9 is critically important.

"AEDC's Hypervelocity Tunnel 9 is the foremost hypersonic test facility of its type in the free world and has had an important role to play in nearly every significant hypersonic weapon and atmospheric entry probe designed in the past 35 years," he said. "Having faculty and students working on problems that leverage this incredible facility, and in turn adding significant capabilities in instrumentation, modeling and simulation and analysis, will have a tremendous impact across the hypersonics field -- that includes both weapons and space applications."

Marren said the program will provide multiple benefits, both now and further out.

"The first research effort will investigate phenomena that will someday be important to the global strike community, so the research is not only timely but important to our current customer," he said. "This program is pairing researchers, students and testers to do something that's critical to the Air Force. In the end, the product that you get, while important, is not the end goal; the real 'product' is that everyone gets smarter.

"We end up with a workforce that is actually well suited to our mission. They get more intuitive on the physics and they're able to use tools that were not available to them in the past. So, the ultimate goal here is not the pieces that we get or even the validation of the research, although that's a great outcome. We end up with a workforce more suited to the future -- it's a workforce revitalization effort, by design."

Marren added, "It's just the beginning and we have much to do, but based on the success of this pilot, [the Defense Department] may decide to expand it, first of all to the rest of hypersonics and then to other speed regimes, to where every test center could be paired with researchers this way."

Marren explained why Tunnel 9 and the University of Maryland were chosen for this COTE program.

"The Air Force evaluated areas that are critical right now, and hypersonics was a hot area," he said. "They thought hypersonics was an excellent place to make an impact, and AEDC had exactly the right capability in Tunnel 9. Since the facility was already a critically necessary facility and the University of Maryland is a world-class research center in the area of hypersonics, it was a natural pairing."

Lewis said the COTE program offers unparalleled opportunities.

"Everyone involved benefits -- students are receiving an unparalleled educational experience [and] associated faculty are seeing their research work applied directly to real problems," he said. "And the current wind tunnel staff has the opportunity to work with students, whose fresh minds and unspoiled perspectives are simply energizing; and the USAF and DOD will benefit in having highly-qualified students with the motivation and skills to effectively support the test and evaluation enterprise. Both the Air Force Research Laboratory and AEDC will benefit as well, as this center is providing a link between the two organizations."

Marren said the first "tangible" payoff of the program at Tunnel 9 will involve specific challenges of hypersonic flight regimes.

"The original proposal had six topics over the next six or seven years," he said. "The first topic was understanding turbulence. In hypersonics, two significant challenges are transition and characterizing wake flow and drag. Better understanding turbulence can lead to more accurate transition predictions.

"When we design systems, boundary layer transition will impact performance directly. Creating tools that can reliably predict transition is a high payoff, and understanding turbulence at these speeds will get us there. We can design an experiment that investigates transition and collects data to understand turbulence; it will fit both goals. There will be a test article designed and fabricated this year, based on the research that was defined last year."

Marren said the test article would be a cone model, resembling a re-entry vehicle's nose.

"This model would be specifically designed to interrogate the physics of turbulence, and the instrumentation used on this cone would be relevant and adequate to describing the physics," Marren said. "At the end you would get measurements that could validate theories that then would be useful to re-entry vehicles in the future."

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