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New Mexico State University

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Completion of wind tunnel project celebrated

Students in New Mexico State University's new aerospace engineering program can explore aerodynamics thanks to improvements and refurbishment of the Subsonic Aerospace Wind Tunnel in the College of Engineering.

State Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, center, and state Rep. Antonio Lujan, right, talk with NMSU's Ricardo Rel at a grand opening celebration for the university's newly refurbished Subsonic Aerospace Wind Tunnel. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

State funding enabled the renovation of the building, upgrades to the tunnel and new instrumentation for flow measurement, as well as the development and upgrading of other aerospace laboratories in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The wind tunnel will be used for teaching and research in the state's only aerospace engineering degree program.

"This will now be a research-quality wind tunnel. We will be able to control the flow much better and to make precise measurements of flow velocities," said Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department Head Tom Burton. "The renovated wind tunnel will serve three main functions: It will be used for laboratory instruction in undergraduate and graduate courses. It will be used for academic research. It will also support needed flow experimentation by the aerospace community in New Mexico."

NMSU's aerospace engineering program was launched in fall 2006. The freshman class has 25 aerospace engineering majors, and the College of Engineering has identified 220 New Mexico high school students who have made aerospace engineering among their top choices as a potential college major.

NMSU offered the first aerospace engineering course to students at NMSU and New Mexico Tech in fall 2006, and two courses are scheduled for spring 2007. With the bachelor's level program in place, plans call for master's and doctoral programs to be added in the future.

The NMSU aerospace program will support Spaceport America and associated aerospace industry development through student interns, permanent employees and research support. The College of Engineering already has collaborative efforts with White Sands Missile Range, NASA and other government agencies and contractors. Current aerospace-related research being conducted in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace and the Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at NMSU encompasses satellites, robotics, telemetry, communications, signal processing, unmanned aerial vehicles, fluid-structure interaction, sub-orbital space and materials.

At a grand opening ceremony for the facility held on Tuesday, graduate student Scott Hightower and undergraduate student Will Garrard conducted a flow demonstration over a mechanical ornithopter, a mechanical bird that flaps its wings as if in continuous flight while smoke flowing over it creates patterns. The smoke makes the vortices created by the bird visible so that particulars such as speed, frequency and drag can be measured. This information will enable a better understanding of the mechanisms that allow birds to generate thrust so efficiently and may be applied in the design of small unmanned aerial vehicles.

"The completion of the wind tunnel facility ensures the long-term commitment of the state of New Mexico and NMSU to the growing aerospace industry statewide by providing quality facilities that support cutting-edge research and the education of tomorrow's work force," said College of Engineering Dean Steven P. Castillo.