Wind Tunnel Measurements:

Pressure Measurements:

The pressure distributions across the test model have historically been measured by drilling many small holes along the airflow path, and using multi-tube manometers to measure the pressure at each hole. Pressure distributions can more conveniently be measured by the use of pressure-sensitive paint, in which higher local pressure is indicated by lowered fluorescence of the paint at that point. Pressure distributions can also be conveniently measured by the use of pressure-sensitive pressure belts, a recent development in which multiple ultra-miniaturized pressure sensor modules are integrated into a flexible strip. The strip is attached to the aerodynamic surface with tape, and it sends signals depicting the pressure distribution along its surface.

Pressure distributions on a test model can also be determined by performing a wake survey, in which either a single pitot tube is used to obtain multiple readings downstream of the test model, or a multiple-tube manometer is mounted downstream and all its readings are taken.

Pressure across the surfaces of the model can be measured if the model includes pressure taps. This can be useful for pressure-dominated phenomena, but this only accounts for normal forces on the body.

Velocity and Temperature Measurements:

Air velocity through the test section is determined by Bernoulli’s principle. Measurement of the dynamic pressure, the static pressure, and (for compressible flow only) the temperature rise in the airflow, the direction of airflow around a model can be determined by tufts of yarn attached to the aerodynamic surfaces. The direction of airflow approaching a surface can be visualized by mounting threads in the airflow ahead of and aft of the test model. Smoke or bubbles of liquid can be introduced into the airflow upstream of the test model, and their path around the model can be photographed (see particle image velocimetry)

Aerodynamic forces on the test model are usually measured with beam balances, connected to the test model with beams, strings, or cables.

Force and moment measurements:

With the model mounted on a force balance, one can measure lift, drag, lateral forces, yaw, roll, and pitching moments over a range of angle of attack. This allows one to produce common curves such as lift coefficient versus angle of attack.


Fig: A typical lift coefficient versus angle of attack curve.

Note that the force balance itself creates drag and potential turbulence that will affect the model and introduce errors into the measurements. The supporting structures are therefore typically smoothly shaped to minimize turbulence.

Wind tunnel balance:

The wind tunnels main function is to provide flow simulation on a model introduced in a fluid flow. Global forces and momentums on the model are mainly obtained by using different wind tunnel balances; although in special tests, local balances or pressure distribution measurement can be used as well. Range, accuracy and response time of the measurements are the main parameters that define such systems. The wind tunnel balances are extensively used and are an accurate method for measurements acquisition, with a wide range of measures and a fast response to loads changes. This system requires an important initial calibration effort but once the measurements are probed to be correct, the system can be used to test several low cost models with a reduced effort. Other option for aerodynamic load measurements is the pressure measurement in several model points by means of a pressure scanner or scanivalve system. This system requires a very complex and expensive test model. The measurement points are built in the model surface by making holes and connecting them with the scanivalve by means of a tube that transfer the pressure. These holes introduce also modifications in the flow around the model thus modifying the real behaviour of the model.

There are several types of wind tunnel balances. The most important are:

– External balances: They are placed outside the model, inside or outside the wind tunnel chamber test section, but they always introduce some interference in the wind flow. However the possibility to change test models with almost no effort provides a high flexibility to the wind tunnel facility. There are several degrees of complexity for these balances, depending mainly on the number of measurement channels, which can vary between 1 and 6.

– Internal balances: They are placed inside the model, thus no interferences are introduced in the wind flow by the balance components, but a mechanical support for the model is always needed to maintain it in the test chamber and change the model orientation if desired. The complexity of the test model is comparable or higher than the models for scan valve systems, as the balance has to be installed inside. Thus this option does not provide flexibility in testing different models. These balances are normally supplied to the customer already calibrated and with the acquisition system. The number of measured components can also vary between 1 and 6. Figure 1 shows an example of internal balance.

– Rotary balances: Used for propellers, helicopter blades and other rotating models. We now focus our attention in the 6 components external balances, as they provide 3 forces and 3 momentums measurement and a high flexibility for a multi test wind tunnel. Nevertheless the results presented in this report can be applied to almost all types of balances.

Six components external balance

There are several wind tunnel balances manufacturers, who have solved the problems presented in section 3 and they produce internal, external and rotary balances from the range of some Newton’s up to some thousands of Newton’s. But expensive commercial balances are not the only option to get an accurate wind tunnel loads measurement system. Taking into account our university environment, we, together with the ITER, decided to manufacture our own balance for the ITER wind tunnel. The following chapters will show, as example to clearly explain the already mentioned key points, our experience, the problems we found during the calibration process and the solutions we have implemented, that will be beneficial for those who intent to build its own balance, as well as for those who want to understand the complexity of wind tunnel balance systems. The commercial balances are used to have 6 complete coupled channels and a 6×6 decoupling matrix is provided by the vendor. This means that the forces and momentums measurements are obtained through a complex combination of the 6 channel signals by the use of a completely full decoupling matrix. The main inconvenient of this concept is that a recalibration of the balance requires a special calibration facility that is very expensive (see Figure 2). The opposite balance design concept is a complete mechanical decoupling of the 6 loads components. Each channel output will be a unidirectional load signal (traction compression), and the composition of the signals will be the lift, drag, lateral forces and the pitching, balance, yawing momentums. One possibility could be to use three vertical sensors to obtain the lift force (which is the dominant force in aeronautical applications), the pitching momentum and the balance momentum, two horizontal sensors in the wind flow direction to acquire the drag force and the yawing momentum and one horizontal sensor perpendicular to the flow direction to measure the lateral forces. The calibration of these balances is much easier as the matrix is almost diagonal. Nevertheless, in practice the sensors absorb lateral forces and these results in a certain coupling effect. This coupling is particularly relevant between lift and drag.

Besides the model supports, a balance support is needed to fix the balance to the wind tunnel structure. These supports are placed outside the wind tunnel test chamber, so their dimensions and weight are not important, the requirement imposed on them is an elevated stiffness. Also important is to notice that once the external balance is providing good results for aerodynamic purposes, which are very exigent, it will provide also good results for most of other test models, as per example, cars, cyclists, buildings… so the use of this type of balance provides a multi-purpose test facility.

Wind tunnel balance calibration

At this point, the importance of the wind tunnel balance calibration for eliminating errors in the measurement acquisition is obvious. The calibration, and recalibration if needed, is absolutely indispensable to eliminate the coupling effect and to determine the DAQ behavior. Therefore the first step is to perform a static calibration, as explained below, and after that it is desirable to perform a dynamic calibration with the help of the already existent typical test models results.

Static calibration

The static calibration of the balance is not a trivial step in the chain to achieve reasonable system accuracy, although it could seem so in a first sight. As static suggest, this calibration can be done with a standalone balance, without the presence of the wind tunnel itself, and this is the standard procedure for industrial balance manufacturers.

Making a calibration with the balance dismounted from the wind tunnel is much easier than calibrating it attached to its mounting supports on the tunnel. The accessibility to the balance to test every axe, in every direction and in both ways, in order to identify the behaviour of the acquisition system (mechanics, load cells, amplifier, wires, DAQ, software) is definitely easier.

Nevertheless, as shown in Figure 2, the calibration facility is very sophisticated and expensive. As this chapter treats about a self-designed and constructed balance, such calibration facility is not available, so another procedure is necessary. The gained experience shows that, in this case, instead of a standalone calibration, it is better and more accurate to do it with the balance installed in the wind tunnel. This calibration philosophy ensures that the reference axes of the balance are the same that those of the test chamber. In principle it can be though that once the balance is calibrated outside of the test chamber, it can be mounted properly by determining the local vertical and horizontal directions of the test chamber, but this may be a big mistake due to the following two reasons:

a. The balance mounting actions could ensure a good alignment between balance axes and test chamber axes, but in any case some deviation could be expected. Although these deviations are rather small, in the case of wind tunnel testing were require very high accuracy, they could be catastrophic for the test results. To show the importance of an angular deviation, let’s assume that only a 1 degree deviation has occurred between balance and test chamber vertical direction. Let’s assume also that the test chamber vertical direction corresponds with the lift direction and, correspondingly, the test chamber horizontal direction corresponds with the drag direction. The drag measurement is where there is a major impact on results, for example, if a 150 N lift force is applied to the balance, around 2,6 N are incorrectly measured in the drag direction due to the misalignment. In a model of a medium speed aircraft, the drag corresponding to a 150 N lift would range from 10 to 12 N, meaning that the measured drag value has a deviation of roughly 25 %, which is an unacceptable error for aerodynamic model tests.

b. The wind flow direction inside the test chamber has to be determined. We cannot assume that the wind direction and test chamber horizontal direction are the same, as the risk of being committing a same order error as the presented in the previous step is not acceptable.

A correct wind tunnel balance calibration must be preceded by some steps that allow the determination of fixed and reliable axes. The first action has to be the installation of the balance in its fixed final position in the test chamber. The second action has to be an accurate determination of the local wind flow direction inside the test chamber.

The flow direction determination can be done with the help of different instruments; the most common are the cobra, the wedge, the five holes and the cylindrical probes. All of these probes based their detection method on the same concept. The probes are a bundle of tubes where the leading edge of one of them is perpendicular to the flow direction while the leading edge of the others, one or two pairs, are cut at a known angle to the flow direction. The probe is placed in the test chamber, making an angle with the flow direction, then the pressure measured in the external probes (see Figure 3) are different, and through a precalibrated curve or by reorienting the probe, the angle of the flow can be determined.


Fig. 3. Vertical cut of three tubes showing the leading edges and the angle determination concept

Both attack angle and yaw angle can be determined by using one probe (with two pair of external tubes) or two probes (with one pair of external tubes) (see Figure 4). The leading edge angle to the flow direction determines the sensitivity of the probes to the changes in the flow angle, the dynamic pressure or the Reynolds number (Glenn LTP NASA and University of Cambridge web pages).

Once the flow direction is fully determined, the lift and drag forces directions are now known. The lift force perpendicular and the drag force parallel to the wind flow. The axes in which the forces (and momentums) have to be measured are properly defined.

Once checked that the flow is horizontal, the system is now ready for the calibration process. As aforementioned, we do not have specific calibration facilities. To avoid this problem, we have implemented some special calibration procedures, which are time consuming, but they give very accurate results.

As the function of the balance will be the measurements of aerodynamic forces, the calibration method should introduce loads in the proper direction and sense. Thus, the loads are introduced in the lift direction and not in weight direction, as this is the most critical direction while working with low drag aerodynamic models (for other applications the load direction will be of no issue). In order to ensure that we are loading the balance exactly in the appropriate direction, a specific system has been design.


The procedure to be shown here takes into account, that we use standard and calibrated load cells to measure the forces on each bar. Nevertheless, we apply known forces in the direction of the three axes to check not only the calibration of the load cells, but also the signal amplifier and the data acquisition system. As we expected, the manufacturer cell calibration and our calibration had a very good agreement, differences were less than 0,1%.

It probes as well, that our philosophy of mechanical decoupling is a very good approach for the design of external balances.

It is important to point out that, at this moment, we were interested only in one direction each time. So small errors in the vertical or both horizontal directions (wind direction and transverse) did not introduce important errors on the true loads, because the cosines of the expected deviation angles are practically 1,0.

As abovementioned, for the current application, the only relevant coupling is between drag and lift. Taking into account that the flow in the test section is horizontal, an special device was designed to ensure that we apply a vertical load to the balance, with an error less than 0,1 mm in 600 mm. In these conditions, the coupling can be measured and corrected, and for a lift coefficient of 0,5, which is normal for cruise conditions of low speed aircrafts, the effect on drag is in the order of one drag count.

Figure 5 shows the results of the drag due to lift coupling tests, the x axis represents the loads in the vertical direction (lift) and the y axis the measured in horizontal direction (drag). It shows that the coupling effect is almost linear, being the drag 0,46% of the applied lift.


3.2 Dynamic calibration

Finally, to check all the system working in real conditions, we could use a reference model, such as a two dimensional model of the NACA 0012 wing section, to make final adjustment of the DAQ and coupling corrections. A well-known standard calibration model would be another option, but the L/D ratio is well below the range we expect to make our tests. In both cases, differences in turbulence level and/or surface smoothness may produce differences of the same order than those to be checked. Due to those reasons and the cost, in terms of time and money, it was finally decided to make a deep analysis of the measured results, to determine the DAQ requirements needed to get a high confidence level on the measured forces. The complete procedure is presented in the following paragraph.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s