Header Bar Graphic
Shuttle Image and IconAerospace HeaderBoy Image
Spacer TabHomepage ButtonWhat is NASA Quest ButtonSpacerCalendar of Events ButtonWhat is an Event ButtonHow do I Participate ButtonSpacerBios and Journals ButtonSpacerPics, Flicks and Facts ButtonArchived Events ButtonQ and A ButtonNews ButtonSpacerEducators and Parents ButtonSpacer
Highlight Graphic
Sitemap ButtonSearch ButtonContact Button

Wind Tunnel Online Design

online collaborative project
(grades 8-12)


Take your students on a historical and scientific aeronautical journey as they parallel the turn-of-the-century research and design work of Orville and Wilbur Wright. Fall of 1901 found the Wright Brothers facing the dilemma of unresolved aerodynamic and design problems presented by their first full-sized glider. The technical assistance of their mentor and the "grand old man of aeronautics", Octave Chanute, the Brother's persistent problem solving, and their insightful use of engineering test apparatus propelled them to build a wind tunnel out of an old starch box. Their 18" wing tunnel was used to test wing shapes and curvatures which helped to unlock the secrets of lift and drag and shed new light on 20th century aerodynamics principles.

Ninety-eight years later high school students who participate in WTOD will replicate much of the Wright Brothers problem-solving process. They will do this through teamwork focusing on research, brain-storming, problem solving, design activities, collaboration with other participating classrooms and online experts, and data collection. They will bid on the best wind tunnel design (which they, themselves, select) and will engage in the actual construction of wind tunnels built specifically for classroom use. Through online interactions students and educators will work together to share information and resources, resolve design problems, tap online experts, and produce their BEST wind tunnel plan.

Through a bidding process similiar to the one used by NASA, interested classes will be selected to construct wind tunnels for their geographic region with limited financial support from sponsoring partners . These local wind tunnels will be built with the intention of using them for future education outreach and support of ADTO aeronautical projects.

Collaborative projects are those in which students, educators, project staff, guests, and experts come together online to share ideas and resources, ask questions, analyze each other's ideas, and work as a member of a larger community team to achieve specific goals. Sharing NASA projects have a long history of supporting online collaborative projects, most recent of which included the Planet Explorer Toolkit, a feature of Mars Team Online, which challenged students to develop a planetary exploration toolkit. See http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/mars/events/shoebox.html for an example of a collaborative project.

The purpose of collaborative projects is to enrich and expand the understanding of scientific and engineering principles behind NASA projects and to promote interaction between classrooms across the globe. Each collaborative project has clear goals and objectives with opportunities for interaction with NASA experts, project staff, and other classrooms. A specific common goal, based on the premise of the value of teamwork and consensus building, drives the online interactions. Timelines define specific weekly activities and logistics. Online interactions take place via email lists and the web.

All people participating in the WTOD project must join the online collaborative email discussion list. To do this, send an e-mail to marc@quest.arc.nasa.gov. In your message tell us who you are and why you are interested.

Participants will first introduce themselves by sharing information about their class, school, community, and selves. All messages should be sent to: tunnel-aero@quest.arc.nasa.gov

Each member of the discussion forum will receive a copy of all messages posted to this list address. Please be sure to always enter a clear subject and always add the following to all messages: teacher's name, school, and location information in the signature file. Students are encouraged to submit messages to the forum with their teacher's review and approval.

Please review the archive of messages already posted to discover where our discussion has already been.


  1. Students will use varied resources (books, online resources, articles, etc.) to research and explore the historical aeronautical work of the Wright Brothers. Student teams will identify the key events that led to the building of wind tunnels and explain how the wind tunnels expanded the understanding of aeronautics.

  2. Students will explore online web sites relating to wind tunnels and identify the key design elements of wind tunnels. Students will formulate a series of well-thought out questions relating to the scientific and engineering principles of wind tunnel design. These questions will be shared online via the email discussion list, tunnel-aero.

  3. Students will work in classroom level collaborative teams to design a wind tunnel prototype based on sound design principles using the pre-set parameters for size and cost.

  4. Student teams will present their design plan to their classmates and be prepared to respond to questions from their peers online. Classes will come to consensus on their BEST design plan and share this plan online via the email discussion list, tunnel-aero mail list.

  5. Students will participate in online discussions for the purpose of analyzing the design plans of all participating classrooms. Questions which promote further understanding of the scientific and engineering principles of the design plan will be formulated during class discussion and presented online.

  6. Students will participate in the online consensus building process for the purpose of selecting one BEST design plan. This BEST plan will become the basis for the wind tunnel bid. This process will enable select schools to bid and build the wind tunnel per design specifications with limited financial assistance from sponsoring partners.


Phase One:
Class introductions and informational exchanges. Each participating classroom posts introductory file.

  • Procedure
    Compose an email message which includes the following information and post to the tunnel-aero mail list:

    • Name of sponsoring teacher/educator
    • Grade level
    • Number of participating students
    • School or Club/Group Name
    • Location (City/State/Country)
    • Background: How and why class is involved
    • Goals: What students/educator hopes to learn/gain from participation

  • Other comments/info
    The above information should be sent to tunnel-aero@quest.arc.nasa.gov as soon as possible.

  • ONLINE: Moderator(s) and guest experts have already introduced themselves. Classes are also welcome to exchange questions about the project or comments and suggestions.

Phase Two:

Classrooms work in teams on wind tunnel designs; experts available online to respond to questions, address issues, and share insights the engineering and design principles.

  • Procedure
    As a group we should agree on limitations to the parameters below. Students are to brain-storm, use math and science problem solving skills to design a wind tunnel to the following specifications.

    1. Wind Tunnel Specifications

      • Test Section:
      • Contraction Cone:
      • Settling Chamber:
      • Diffuser:
      • Drive Section:
      • Fan Housing:
      • Fan Type:
      • Length:
      • Maximum total cost:

      See: http://observe.ivv.nasa.gov/nasa/aero/tunnel/tunnel_parts.html for details on the above components of wind tunnels.

    2. Each participating classroom keeps a log of questions, issues, concerns to share online with each other and the wind tunnel experts. Classes submit these online on a daily basis during this design phase. Experts will provide online guidance but will not tell students specifics on how to devise their wind tunnel design.


    • Classes are encouraged to exchange questions, issues, concerns about the specifications and design phase.
    • Classes should help each other out by sharing resources, web sites, and useful information!
    • Questchat with NASA Experts, student and educator wind tunnel facilitators scheduled during this time.
    • Announcements will be posted to the tunnel-aero list detailing participation procedure.

Phase Four:

Student teams present and defend wind tunnel designs within own classroom. Students come to consensus on their best design plan and submit via online web form. Online interactions focus on evaluating wind tunnel designs.

  • Procedure

    1. Each classroom team presents their wind tunnel design for critique phase.

    2. Students critique designs based on the following evaluation questions:

      a) Does the design fit the specifications given?
      b) Are the materials well-suited to demands that will be placed on the wind tunnel?
      c) Is the cost projection accurate?
      d) Is the design scientifically sound?
      e) Is the design logistically feasible based on engineering principles and test data needs?
      f) Will the wind tunnel work efficiently and reliably to measure the test data?

    3. Students should reach in-class consensus on their BEST wind tunnel design and submit this plan. Local incentives might be used to reward the team which submitted the best design. Guest engineers or local experts might be invited to participate in critique and discussion phase.


    • Wind Tunnel Experts, student and educator mentors participate in online discussions.
    • Focus on evaluation of wind tunnel design plans and critique phase of project.
    • Classes are encouraged to share questions, concerns, issues relating to the in-house critique process.

Phase Five
Classrooms analyze all wind tunnel design plans submitted online.

  • Procedure

    1. Classes are to review all designs via the online archive.
    2. Each class should formulate and post questions to pose to one another based on the wind tunnel evaluation criteria.
    3. Online discussions will be facilitated by wind tunnel experts (NASA experts, student and educator mentors). The goal is to critique all of the submitted designs and select the one best plan that fits the specifications, is logistically viable, will produce the best test data, and is within cost limitations.
    4. Via consensus reaching with the guidance of online experts determine THE "BEST OF THE BEST" WIND TUNNEL DESIGNS

  • ONLINE: Online interactions focus on identifying pro's and con's of all designs submitted and narrow the choice to the BEST Wind Tunnel Design which will be the basis for the four partially-funded tunnels to be built within a geographically diverse location in the US. NASA experts and project mentors provide leadership and input to facilitate the consensus-reaching process.

Phase Six:

  • Announce the winning Wind Tunnel Design Plan
  • Phase II begins: Be a NASA Contractor Bid on the building of a regional wind tunnel for your geographic region. Bid overview and procedure to be detailed.

Footer Bar Graphic
SpacerSpace IconAerospace IconAstrobiology IconWomen of NASA IconSpacer
Footer Info