July 28, 1997 Dwayne Brown Headquarters, Washington, DC July 24, 1997 (Phone: 202/358-1726)
John Bluck Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA (Phone: 415/604-5026)
NEW AEROSPACE COMPUTER WILL REVOLUTIONIZE THE DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION OF AIRPLANES
A NASA computer network tool promises great savings in time and money for airplane makers and the government by providing faster access to information to help shorten the aircraft design and test process by about 25 percent.
Called "Darwin," the network will revolutionize the way airplanes are developed by using wind tunnels linked with computers that send nearly instant test results via a network to geographically separated companies and laboratories.
Wind tunnels are chambers through which air flows during tests of airplane shapes. In the tunnels, air is blown around airplane and rocket models to simulate flight. "With Darwin, we're helping reduce the aerospace design cycle time by around a quarter, and we're providing information access to cut the number of independent design cycles," said Dr. David Korsmeyer, deputy project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. "Our purpose is to get results and data out of NASA wind tunnels faster. Previously, such knowledge had to be derived by scientists and engineers in the days and months following wind tunnel tests," he said.
The key to Darwin's success is its ability to funnel wind tunnel data into a server computer, and then send knowledge back to researchers in "near real time" -- within about 30 seconds to five minutes. Darwin is similar to the Internet, but Darwin is not open to the public. The system is able to link NASA, aerospace industry and academic centers that may be located thousands of miles from one another. A computer program that many people use to browse the Internet from their home computers is used in the Darwin system.
Pressure gauges, strain gauges and other instruments attached to the models take readings while air blows through wind tunnels during experiments. Data streaming from the model instruments tell aerospace engineers how much lift, drag and maneuvering performance an airplane model can generate through different angles of flight, and at various speeds, altitudes and conditions.
New knowledge about airplane designs gained during wind tunnel tests helps engineers to decide if their ideas are working, or if design changes must be made before expensive, full-size prototype airplanes are built.
Aerospace models used in the tunnels often cost more than $1 million each because they must be exactly to scale, and they must be extensively instrumented. Running a large wind tunnel can cost tens of thousands of dollars per hour, with the exact cost depending upon the tunnel, the number of personnel needed, as well as any special equipment required. Engineers would prefer not to have to return to a tunnel for follow-up test cycles with modified airplane or spaceship models.
"Engineers use supercomputers to try to predict how new designs will work before an airplane model is built. That works fairly well for straight, level flight, but even that kind of analysis is not perfect. What happens during take-off and landing is especially difficult to predict with supercomputers because air turbulence occurs. The wind sneaks back around and does unexpected things," said Korsmeyer.
"We're talking about eight-hour runs on the fastest computers on Earth to simulate wind flow over just a piece of the wing. That's where wind tunnel testing comes in. Testing a model in a wind tunnel, you get actual physics because you have real wind blowing over a wing," he explained.
"Before we began to use large computer networks to deliver data, wind tunnel systems were very good at capturing data for later analysis, but they were not good at 'serving' the data," said Korsmeyer. "Now, Darwin collects data, and it is translated into a useable form. Darwin also can provide access to data for researchers where they want it. The system can distribute data to many places at once, and it is secure," he added.
"The kind of data Darwin can provide to researchers is in a standard format so people can easily understand the data. In addition to the normal graphs and charts engineers use, they also can step through images like frames of a movie to see changes of colorized air pressure and wind speed. You can see changes more easily than if you were to study each image individually," he said.
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The above story is based on materials provided by National Aeronautics And Space Administration.
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