$10.4 million upgrade increases test capability

  • Published
  • By Tina Barton
  • Arnold Engineering Development Center Public Affairs
With a $10.4 million test facility upgrade here, Air Force officials hope to make Arnold Engineering Development Center a "one-stop" shopping center for aerodynamic and propulsion test customers by providing Mach 8 capability.

The Mach 8 milestone, which equates to objects traveling about 6,000 mph, comes as workers install a new high-temperature and high-pressure burner in the center's aerodynamic and propulsion test unit, according to 1st Lt. Tim Budke, AEDC project manager for aerodynamic and propulsion test programs. This nearly doubles the center's current test capabilities of Mach 4.1 or nearly 3,100 mph.

He said the burner will increase test simulation capabilities with air pressures up to 2,800 pounds per square inch and temperatures up to 4,240 degrees Fahrenheit, just like an object would experience flying at Mach 8. It will also allow test experts to hold that condition longer which makes the upgraded APTU somewhat unique in the world, said Budke.

"AEDC's (aerodynamic and propulsion test unit) will be the only free jet test facility in the world that can test advanced hypersonic air-breathing propulsion systems over the entire flight range from subsonic to Mach 8 for extended periods of time," Budke said. "

Other facilities in the world can reach Mach 8, but they only hold it for up to 15 seconds. With this upgrade, we can expand that time from a matter of seconds to minutes which can tell us a lot in testing."

He said with this upgrade, AEDC test experts can run at Mach 8 for three to six minutes which allows them to test an object across the full-duration mission profile.

"When an object is launched from an aircraft, it reaches its top speeds and destination in about 10 minutes, so this upgrade project will allow us to put that object through nearly everything it will experience in an actual mission," rather than just capturing data for a certain moment, he said.

The department has already identified numerous customers who want to test at these Mach number ranges, said Sharon Rigney, test contractor project manager for APTU test programs here. She said experts in the Air Force hypersonic technology program, Navy hypersonic weapons technology program and the defense advanced research projects agency hypersonic flight program are interested in testing.

"One Navy customer requested simulations of Mach 4 flight conditions at sea-level conditions for a sea skimmer vehicle," Rigney said. "The operational flexibility of the new burner will permit us to expose these advanced weapon systems to the very large thermal and aerodynamic loads they will experience in flight."

The project also calls for adding an improved air ejector system to allow the APTU to simulate higher altitude conditions while minimizing air usage, Budke said. Installing the high-pressure air storage tanks and new liquid oxygen and isobutane systems are also included in the upgrade.

Spring 2004 is the targeted completion date.

Arnold Engineering Development Center is the nation's largest complex of flight simulation test facilities. The $7.3-billion complex has some 58 aerospace test facilities located here and at the center's remote operating location Hypervelocity Tunnel 9 in White Oak, Md.

The test facilities simulate flight from subsonic to hypersonic speeds at altitudes from sea level to space. Today the center is testing the next generation of aircraft and space systems.