Historical outline of the GALCIT Ten-Foot Wind Tunnel
- 1916: Harry Bateman joins faculty of Throop College at
request of President Scherer (President of Throop College),
and Robert A. Millikan. Bateman was a mathematical physicist from John
- 1917: Trustees authorize construction of wind tunnel for aviation
experiments. Southern California's first wind tunnel.
- 1918: Albert A. Merrill joins Harry Bateman as assistant.
Merrill was then working for Price Waterhouse in Los Angeles as a trained
accountant. Merrill gave his first aviation speech in 1892, and learned to
fly in 1911.
He was a founding member of the Boston Aeronautical Society in 1894, and
was performing gliding experiments and publishing papers on airfoil design
before the turn of the century. Merrill taught at Throop College and Pasadena
Junior College. He utilized a wind tunnel as an experimental tool at both
schools. He designed and built an airplane known as the "Dill Pickle."
A model of this airplane is in the J. Northrop reading room.
- 1925: Millikan appeals to Harry Guggenheim for funds to
establish a research center at Caltech.
- 1926: Funds are approved by the Daniel Guggenheim Foundation for
the building of the new Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory. Total funds
allotted for new laboratory totaled $300,000. Arthur A. Raymond, an
aircraft designer for Douglas Aircraft Company, joins the faculty at Caltech.
Raymond later became Vice-President of Douglas.
Theodore von Karman asked to visit Caltech to give talks on aerodynamics
and to review plans for the new wind tunnel. It was von Karman's idea to build
the wind tunnel in its final configuration. He returned to Aachen. In 1928 he
came back to Caltech for an exchange semester, and finally joined the Institute
in 1929 as a research associate in aeronautics. von Karman would later be
appointed professor of aeronautics and Director of GALCIT in 1930.
- 1927: May brings the groundbreaking for the new aeronautical
laboratory. Construction begins. People involved during construction of the
facility: von Karman, Millikan, Bateman, and Arthur L. (Maj.) Klein.
Klein designed much of the wind tunnel including the balances (now at the
Smithsonian Air & Space Museum), and the rigging system.
Others included in the staff at that time were Homer Joe Stewart,
William H. Bowen, Earnest E. Sechler, and Baily (Ozzie)
- 1929: The wind tunnel becomes operational in November. Many months
are required to get all of the machinery working, followed by velocity surveys,
energy ratio runs, and tuning of the air path. It was determined that the wind
tunnel had an energy ratio of 5.6:1. This information caused the redesign of
the propellers to take full advantage of the power of the wind tunnel. The
tunnel was operated at speeds up to 200 mph. Electro-mechanical balances for
data acquisition were being designed and fabricated at Caltech.
- 1930: December sees the fist complete scale model airplane installed
in the wind tunnel. The Northrop Alpha (Report 102) began design
and development testing. Wing fillets, and landing gear "pants" for
streamlining of the fixed gear were developed for the airplane. The wind
tunnel model was given to the Western Museum of Flight, Hawthorne, California,
for restoration and safe keeping in 1987.
- 1931: In January, the wind tunnel is turned over to the aeronautics
department as in condition to operate. On 24 July, a model of the Goodyear
airship Akron (ZRS4) was installed in the tunnel for developmental
testing of various tails and gondola shapes. Both the Akron and Makon
were tested at the facility. The Akron was lost in a storm over the Atlantic
on 4 April 1933. The Macon crashed in the Pacific, on 12 February 1935.
- 1932: Boeing Aircraft Company to test YO-31A airplane at GALCIT.
- 1934: Douglas DC-1, DC-2 development begins. Douglas used facility
more than any other company throughout the life of the tunnel.
- 1938: With the rattling of sabers around the world, work on new
aircraft for defense is accelerated.
- 1940: North American Aviation begins testing on NA-73-X, forerunner
of the P-51, and the first airplane to use a laminar-flow wing.
Original wing development carried out at NACA Langley wind tunnel.
The designer of the airplane was Edgar O. Schmued of North American.
At least two GALCIT alumni were involved with the development of this airplane:
Ed Horkey and Irving Ashkenas, then working for North American.
During this time, there were up to 60 faculty, staff and students working at
the wind tunnel. They were divided up into three shifts, working seven day
weeks for the duration of the war. This number does not include all of the
military personnel being trained in aeronautics during this time.
The testing of early jet aircraft and missiles was also begun during the
mid-1940s. Early delta wing development was accomplished on the
Consolidated-Vultee (Convair) XP-92. This was the forerunner of the
F-102, F-106 and B-58 aircraft.
- 1945: Construction of the new Cooperative Wind Tunnel
at Glenarm and Raymond streets in Pasadena. This was a dream of Clark
Millikan and was brought about with the help of Charles Lindbergh.
Numerous people from GALCIT worked at this facility, owned by North
American, McDonnell, Convair and Lockheed aircraft companies.
- 1950: Aircraft testing continued. 1953 saw the advent of a new
type of testing in the facility. General Motors began testing new
automobile designs. This relationship continued through 1996 with the
development of the EV-1 electric cars. Other types of testing were taking
place alongside aircraft and autos. They were missiles, torpedoes,
wind driven pumps, scaffolds, tow targets, parachutes, rescue capsules,
ship antennae, and gliders.
- 1960: This time frame saw the testing of VTOL and STOL aircraft
from Douglas and Aerojet. Parawings, a land speed record car (Summers Bros.),
street lighting, a sonar rocket, AWACS aircraft, motorcycles and building
structures were also being tested.
- 1970: Besides the items listed above, wind tunnel use became more
diverse with race cars, a watermelon, stack gas flow, the South African Marina,
a soapbox derby car, an augmented jet flap, rockets, a Venus probe, remote
piloted vehichles (RPVs), oil drilling platforms, motorhomes, a supertanker,
more V/STOL aircraft, trucks, trains, airport towers, wind turbines, and the
1903 Wright Flyer (by F. Culick).
- 1980: The '80s saw a full spectrum of testing from aircraft to most
of the items listed above. This also included the Leighton and Keck facilities
now on the island of Hawaii, a part on a PBS NOVA program on the 50th
anniversary of the DC-3, Olympic bicycles, nursery plant blow over testing,
dragsters, a luge with rider, and Walt Disney World projects.
- 1990: A variety of tests continue with the addition of agriculture
aircraft spray nozzles, an airship, freeway barriers, sailboat sails, an
electric speed record car, speed skiers, the Disney water park in Japan, a
tent trailer, and the last test, on 25-26 February 1997 was a portable
In May 1997, removal of various parts of the wind tunnel began. The upper
leg wooden sections, including the working section and a variety of electrical
equipment panels were removed for historic preservation at numerous museums
from California to Florida.