Saturday, February 8, 2014

Blown Away: Visiting Gustave Eiffel's Wind Tunnel

Part of Eiffel's wind tunnel

My desk is a mess. It's cluttered with notebooks full of scribblings hastily written during tours, interviews and my meanderings around the city. On one of the tattered pages, I had written the cryptic message, "Eiffel built wind tunnel. Rue Boillet. Can visit." It's something that I noted during our behind-the-scenes tour of the Eiffel Tower with Gilles last July and had intended to pursue at a later date. Fortunately, visiting the wind tunnel was one of the exceptional experiences offered by "Paris Face Cachée" ("Hidden Face of Paris") this year.

When Gustave Eiffel's company built the tower that bears his name for the 1889 World's Fair, many regarded the iron structure as either unsound or as an eyesore. Critics eagerly anticipated the day when Eiffel's twenty year contract would expire in 1909 and the “giant and disgraceful skeleton" (Guy de Maupassant) would be torn down and used for scrap metal. In the meantime, Eiffel put the tower to good use. He dropped objects off the second level to conduct wind resistance experiments, installed a meteorological laboratory on the third floor and used it as a giant aerial mast for the new science of radio broadcasting.

Fascinated by the resistance of objects to air, Eiffel constructed his first wind tunnel at the base of the Tower. From 1909 to 1911, Eiffel conducted over 5,000 trials, most of which he financed himself. When neighbors complained about the noise, Eiffel built two new wind tunnels in Auteuil, a former borough of Paris now part of the 16th arrondissement.

Thanks to Eiffel's reliable data and repeatable research methods, he produced the most accurate aeronautical data of the time. When aircraft manufacturers adapted his suggestion to reinforce the upper part of an aircraft's wings to prevent breakage, it greatly reduced the number of fatal accidents associated with early aviation.

Over the years, Eiffel's wind tunnel has been used to test the wind resistance of cars, buildings, cyclists and skiers. To achieve the desired windblown look in a portrait, a photographer even placed a model in the wind tunnel. It's currently being used for new studies on hot air balloons, like the one in the Parc André Citroën, and to test the pressure that wind puts on the facades of green buildings using natural ventilation, a sustainable resource technique that provides free cooling without the use of mechanical systems.

Eiffel's laboratory, which is the oldest surviving aeronautical laboratory with its original wind tunnel intact, is designated as a French National Monument and an Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.

Laboratoire Aérodynamique Eiffel
l67 rue Boileau
75016 Paris, France

Please click here to see additional photos of Eiffel's Laboratory posted on Facebook.

Related posts: 
The best way to visit the Eiffel Tower - "The Eiffel Tower Romance" with Visites Spectacles
Divergent points of view - the Eiffel Tower as seen by an engineer and his wife!

"Be careful for your glasses!" That's what our guide told us when we tested Eiffel's wind tunnel. The wind speed can go up to 130 km/h.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting thing to see. I like all the additional fotos on Facebook.

    jxg

    ReplyDelete