Brendan O'Shaughnessy | February 17, 2017
In 1882, an ambitious Notre Dame student named Albert Zahm built what might have been the first wind tunnel in the United States so that he could study the lift and drag of various wing shapes.
Zahm built the hand-driven contraption by removing the vibrating screens from a farmer’s winnowing blower. Two decades before the Wright brothers’ famous flight in 1903, Zahm was among the first to conclude that slender, concave surfaces shaped like a bird’s wing would make the best wings and propellers.
A true pioneer in American aeronautical engineering, Zahm would later go on to launch glider experiments from the roof of Old Science Hall (now LaFortune Student Center) as a young professor, write influential aeronautics papers on stability and flow control, and build the country’s first large wind tunnel. He was the brother of Rev. John Zahm, C.S.C., after whom a residence hall is named.
Tradition matters at Notre Dame. So when the aerospace engineers involved in today’s Institute for Flow Physics and Control considered where to place future investment, they decided to build the country’s largest quiet Mach 6 wind tunnel as the next step in a proud heritage.
“Zahm is well-known for his contributions to gliders and flight, really fundamental aerodynamics,” said Thomas Corke, the institute’s founding director. “What we’re doing now fits that theme of doing fundamental research that will contribute to real applications in the future of flight.”
To achieve the goal, the department and institute hired Thomas Juliano, an expert in fluid mechanics who wrote his master’s thesis on how to make hypersonic wind tunnels work better.