The San Diego Wind Tunnel has been used to develop technologies in aerospace and Olympic sports for more than six decades. Two local companies, Aerial Mob and 3D Robotics recently used it to test their unmanned aerial vehicles.
“The potential is just unlimited really,” said Chuck Niskey, general manager for the San Diego Wind Tunnel.
Niskey said one of the many reasons for the boom among government agencies is the drones’ “life-saving” capabilities, especially in treacherous terrain.
“It can take the pilots of the helicopter out of the way (of things) such as flying into firestorm situations or police situations where the helicopters are in danger of being shot down,” Niskey explained.
Hollywood has also taken notice.
Steve Blizzard’s drone is used to fly cameras weighing at least 14 pounds, primarily on movie sets. He said that utilizing the smoke visualization reveals the wind’s natural tendencies, displaying how it rolls off the propellers.
“We’re trying to make the flight longer, faster, (with) less stress on it so it’s more safe,” said Blizzard of Aerial Mob, a San Diego-based company that uses drones for aerial photography and cinematography.
While wind in the San Diego Wind Tunnel can reach speeds up to 270 mph, engineers mainly test their unmanned aircraft from 15 to 30 mph, collecting data to get the most efficiency out of their product.
“So in this we’re looking for ramping up different air speeds figuring out the most efficient speed for this aircraft to fly at,” said Grant Lieberman, a flight test engineer for 3D Robotics.
Lieberman’s drone went down once wind speeds reached 35 mph, which proved to be the aircraft’s maximum speed.
Other data collected allows engineers to make the most out of their drones, as the technology continues to excel.