Phenomena

Inside a Wind Tunnel

When I was in graduate school, I worked in a facility known as the High-Speed Wind Tunnel Lab. We were located next door to the Low-Speed Wind Tunnel, and every few months we’d receive a phone call asking whether we could film someone in the high-speed wind tunnel. This was impossible for several reasons – the size of human beings and the necessity of drawing the hypersonic tunnels down to vacuum-like pressures before initiating flow being only two of them – but what it really did was highlight the difference in definitions. 

What these (usually) weather forecasters wanted was to simulate hurricane force winds on a human being. And to an aerodynamicist, that hundred mile-an-hour flow is still low-speed. Because we’re comparing it to the speed of sound, not the normal range of wind speeds a human experiences. That said, watching humans struggle inside a wind tunnel is always entertaining. 

As you can see from the Slow Mo Guys here, counteracting the lift and drag forces from these wind speeds is tough. On the bottom left, Dan has managed to balance his weight and the drag forces to hold himself in a virtual chair. Meanwhile, Gav’s attempt to jump forward against the wind just pushes him backward as his lab coat parachutes behind him. (Image and video credit: The Slow Mo Guys)

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