World's largest wind tunnel one step closer to reactivation
By Jose Navarrete
/ Published May 07, 2007
Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn --
After almost three years of inactivity, the National Full-Scale Aerodynamic Complex (NFAC) at Ames Research Center (ARC), Moffett Field, Calif., is preparing for it first test under Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC), which is tentatively scheduled for December 2006.
NFAC is being reactivated as an AEDC remote operating location.
Among recent accomplishments in preparing the facility for operation, was to inspect and do maintenance on the wind tunnel's system of eight vane sets.
"This was a rewarding achievement that brought together the efforts of a new NFAC work force and the irreplaceable counsel of former staff, combined with the expertise of a specialized contractor service," said Col. Vince Albert, NFAC director.
"It is an example of the resourceful approach the NFAC is taking to bring back the historical facility from the previous three years of facility mothball status."
The vane sets, which are both impressive and critical structural and aerodynamic components of the wind tunnel circuit, are located throughout the wind tunnel directing the airflow generated by the fan, drive system and to configure the wind tunnel to the 40-by-80 test or the 80-by-20 test section modes.
Consisting of as little as six large moving doors to as many as 162 fixed air foil-shaped columns, the vane sets span along lengths of up to 244 feet and ceiling heights to 132 feet.
After years of non-operation and as the date of activation - December 2006 - approaches, the system of vane sets had to undergo a thorough inspection and maintenance program.
To achieve this task, the NFAC looked to the specialized contract services of Remote Access Technology (RAT) based in Rodeo, Calif.
RAT specializes in industrial rope access methods to safely achieve elevated access of hard to reach areas for inspection, maintenance, non-destructive testing and more.
While a RAT crew of five managed the job of rigging, climbing and accessing vane areas, NFAC engineers and consultants on the ground communicated the working tasks, monitored safety procedures and addressed all reports on the spot. The combined team inspected the integrity of all vane set structures and associated mechanisms and assemblies, performed magnetic particle testing of critical weld locations and suspected weld cracks, cleaned and lubricated critical mechanical components, repaired faulty electrical and structural components, photographed abnormalities and documented their work.
"While demonstrating an impeccable safety standard, the NFAC and RAT team successfully completed a thorough inspection and maintenance program of the vane sets as well as repair tasks within a time frame of one month," said Nick Jize, NFAC contractor site manager. "That is a job that historically required several months for NFAC technicians to accomplish with the use of man-lift baskets and scaffolding."
Col. Albert praised the crews' efforts toward getting the facility operational again.
"The vane set project exemplifies the resourceful approach the new NFAC staff has taken in the endeavor to activate the aging wind tunnel facility," said Colonel Albert. "Working closely together with retired consultants and utilizing the expertise of RAT, the NFAC has developed a flexible and cost-effective option for specialized elevated access and servicing. With the job now successfully completed and the integrity and vitality of the vane set system established, the NFAC has now come one milestone closer to the eventual activation and operation of the wind tunnel."