Reaping the Research Wind

By Koren Wetmore

With a moniker like “Windy City,” Chicago seems a natural choice for airflow studies. Yet Illinois Institute of Technology’s renown for aerodynamics research resulted not from its geographic location but rather the dedication of its faculty, students, and supporters.

Pioneering work done in the 1960s by engineering professors Mark V.  Morkovin and Andrew Fejer contributed significantly to the field. Morkovin furthered the understanding of instability, transition, and turbulence, and the relevance of fluid dynamics to the aerospace industry. Two key projects to which he contributed—the first transonic and supersonic airplane (the Bell X-1) and the first maneuverable re-entry vehicle—are displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Fejer’s achievements in wind tunnel design and research helped to advance jet engine propulsion, helicopter flight, and wind engineering.

In 1985 Illinois Tech established the Fluid Dynamics Research Center (FDRC) to forward the work begun by Morkovin and Fejer. Hassan M. Nagib (MAE ’68, M.S. ’69, Ph.D. ’72), John T. Rettaliata Endowed Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, served as the center’s founding director and also helped to design and secure funding for the National Diagnostic Facility, one of the nation’s largest academic wind tunnels.

Under Nagib’s leadership, the FDRC was chosen as one of three National Centers of Excellence by the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Today the FDRC houses several water channels and wind tunnels, including the Mark V. Morkovin Wind Tunnel, the Andrew Fejer Unsteady Wind Tunnel, and the National Diagnostic Facility (not currently in use). Illinois Tech faculty and students from around the globe conduct research at the FDRC for projects ranging from efforts to reduce drag on commercial planes to developing airflow controls for combat aircraft.

Through their work, the university’s contributions to defense and civil technologies tap into a variety of applications. Read on for a glimpse of some of the latest research being done on campus.