In late April the MIT Aeronautic and Astronautics Department opened their doors to the public to celebrate 100 years of the program. In celebration, a number of special events were held in conjunction with the Cambridge Science Festival. I didn’t realize it was April vacation and the event was mobbed with school children. It was inspirational to see children getting involved and interested in aviation and astronautics. The events included touring the Gas Turbine laboratory, stepping into MIT Wind Tunnel, practicing your piloting skills on a flight simulator and talking with the engineers who are building the D8 “Double Bubble” aircraft that is funded by NASA to replace the 737. Below the highlights from the day:
MIT Flight Simulator
MIT AeroAstro’s International Center for Air Transportation had several flight simulation stations complete with yoke and throttle but no rudder pedals. It was great to see people of all ages trying their hand at flying. I originally thought MIT had devised their own flight sim software, but I was informed is was Microsoft FSX 2008. I have experience with FSX so I took a turn. I found the yoke and throttle very responsive and the dual monitors added to the experience. More fun than flying was watching the other people who didn’t know much about piloting, pitch nose down and dive bomb into a house or pitch nose up and stall from a couple thousand feet. It is always fun to see the joy on peoples faces when they get behind the stick, hopefully some will go on to pursue the real thing.
Wright Brother Wind Tunnel
Opened in 1938, the MIT Wright Brother Wind Tunnel has played a major role in the development of aerospace and architectural systems. The tunnel was used during WWII, when technicians worked in two shifts designing and testing military aircraft, which would go on to dominate the skies over Germany. Testing has evolved today to non warlike designs like examining ski suits and space suits in high winds and how different motorcycle configurations can reduce drag and save on fuel. The wind is created by a giant 2,400 volt 2000 horsepower engine that spins the 13 foot diameter fan up to 140 knots. Luckily when I stepped inside the wind was only blowing at 30 knots. It was enough wind to blow you over if you didn’t take a defensive stance. The wind tunnel also required participants to wear ear protection due the high noise volume.
Dubbed as the aircraft of the future, the NASA funded D-8 “Double Bubble” was created by an MIT lead team of engineers. The object is to create a replacement aircraft that will have the range and capacity of a 737 but will burn 70% less fuel while reducing noise and nitrogen oxide emissions. It is called the double bubble because of the twin tube fuselage designing. The wide body is supposed to increase lift while the low swept wings and centered engines will reduce drag. I spoke to one of the engineers and he showed me a plastic styrofoam mock up. The coolest part is both engines will be in the center of and beneath the hump of the fuselage. The engineer said the aircraft could enter service in 2035, quite a long time to wait.
Engines on Display
For an aviation geek, the sight of engines undressed is an especially interesting prospect. MIT was kind enough to have several types of engines on display for the crowd to enjoy. These distracted the parents while the children were off building model rockets and dropping parachutes from the second floor.
The less visited exhibits were the interactive robotics lab, a satellite flight demo and a tour of the space propulsion laboratory. Check out the full list of activities here. It was great to see what the geniuses that work at MIT are working on. Learning about the history of the program and how important it has been to American aviation and space exploration was fascinating. My only hope is they share progress of the “Double Bubble” as they get closer to a working prototype and don’t file it under classified.