Boeing Frontiers
July 2003
Volume 02, Issue 03
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Boeing in the News

Wind Tunnel tests provide edge to pro athletes


Boeing Philadelphia Wind TunnelWhen New York Giants quarterbacks take the field this fall, they'll be armed with a scientific edge, thanks to a visit to the Boeing Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing Wind Tunnel in Philadelphia.

On May 13, the team's quarterbacks—Kerry Collins, Jesse Palmer and Jason Garrett—visited the facility as part of an upcoming NFL Films documentary about the physics of football. The documentary, airdate to be announced, will include footage from the wind tunnel in a segment on aerodynamics and its impact on the game.

Bill Grauer, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems manager of the wind tunnel in Philadelphia, explained that this visit was unlike any other in his 24 years at the facility. "Every customer we've had in the past has come to us and said, 'I have a series of tests I want to conduct, and I'm looking for the right facility in which to conduct them.' After NFL Films scouted the wind tunnel last year, they said, 'We love how this facility looks on film; can you create a series of tests for us to use?'"

So Grauer agreed, and his team of engineers was awarded a contract to design a test that showed the effects of crosswinds on passing accuracy, which is a serious issue for many outdoor NFL stadiums and the athletes who play in them.

During the daylong test, each quarterback fired dozens of balls across the tunnel's air stream to a receiver, while technicians varied the wind speed from 5 to 75 miles per hour. The passers had to account for the higher crosswinds, and often missed their targets before they made the necessary adjustments. By way of comparison, the facility can generate wind speeds up to 250 miles per hour, the equivalent of an F4-level tornado.

"These are very talented athletes," said Grauer, who took the players on a tour of the facility before the tests began. "After making a few adjustments, they were all able to hit the mark. Even though they were having a lot of fun, they were serious about the tests and learned a great deal about the power of wind and its potential impact on their passing game."

Philadelphia's V/STOL subsonic facility—the largest privately owned wind tunnel in the United States—is one of three "flagship" wind tunnels at Boeing. A transonic facility in Seattle and a supersonic facility in St. Louis round out the company's Wind Tunnel Centers of Excellence.

Boeing uses the three facilities to test products from across the company, regardless of business unit or customer affiliation. The Philadelphia facility, which has logged more than 65,000 test hours since opening in 1968, is the nation's only facility that can test powered helicopter rotor models.

Grauer and his team spend most of their time testing Boeing products like F/A-18s, 737s and V-22s, but they are no strangers to non-aeronautical tests. Over the years, they have tested everything from racecars and model ships to billboards and bridges. And although they comprise just 1 percent of the facility's total business, legitimate non-aeronautical requests are welcome, as long as they don't interrupt test schedules for Boeing aircraft.

"Non-aeronautical tests help our team sharpen its technical problem-solving skills," Grauer said. "By working with unfamiliar test subjects, they often learn something that they can later apply to testing aircraft. The visit by NFL Films was an opportunity we just couldn't pass up."


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