Automation Company Develops Controls for Wind Tunnel Testing

In the world of aerospace wind tunnel testing precise feedback is crucial. A new control system from Hampton-based Industrial Automation Specialists Corporation (IAS Corp) addresses this issue, and more.

In traditional aerospace testing, engineers set up monitoring instruments, then bring the wind tunnel up to speed and measure the results. They then shut everything down, physically make adjustments to the surfaces, reset measuring devices, and repeat the process. The system designed by IAS Corp. automates those adjustments, and also provides the measurements, and even logs the data to a computer, saving time and providing precise recording.

Automated airplane control testing in wind tunnel

“Our system controls the motors to move flaps, ailerons, stabilizers and similar control surfaces to precise settings,” explains IAS Corp project manager Dave Wallace. “We control all the settings remotely. Then, when the wind is flowing across the surface, we also measure and record the actual position.” Wallace said the control system records the exact position of all moving surfaces multiple times every second.

This system allows engineers to not only make adjustments during the live testing, but also see the immediate impact of the wind force against the target movement. For example, the remote control might tell the flaps to move to 20 degrees down. The motors will move the flap to the requested position, and the sensors will record whether or not the flaps actually reached that position, or if the force of the wind resulted in the deployment only reaching 19.5 degrees, for example.

“We operate all the air surface controls from a laptop,” explains IAS Corp. owner Kathy Burton. “The laptop also records the data and provides a report at the end of the testing, so engineers can see not only what happened at a point in time, but also over the life of the testing.”

Wallace added, “We designed the controls, the software, the monitoring and data reporting system.” The system is currently being applied to a one-fifth scale model of a new plane that is in development with Advanced Technology Incorporated.

Wallace said they can provide systems for just about any surface control testing scenarios for vehicles such as helicopters, jets, prop planes, gliders, performance automobiles, high-speed trains and even some marine applications.

Industrial Automation Specialists designs and builds custom machinery and controls from its headquarters in the Langley Research and Development Park in Hampton, Virginia. The certified woman-owned company was founded in 1992 and has additional locations in Chester, Virginia and Houston, Texas.