The world's largest wind tunnel recently began its first tests of a full-scale aircraft at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. The huge wind tunnel, measuring 80 by 120 feet, uses 135,000-horsepower motors to turn six fans to create winds powerful enough to reveal how an aircraft will perform in flight.
An F/A-18 fighter aircraft is being used in the first tests, which engineers hope will lead to a better understanding of how the plane performs at high angles of attack. The angle of attack is the tilt of the plane's body and wings relative to the wind. High performance "in that regime" is critical during combat, said Lewis Schiff, program coordinator at Ames. The tests are scheduled to last 12 weeks.