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© 1996-2008 by
Ken R. Noffsinger
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Lockheed Wind Tunnel Testing
By Ken R. Noffsinger

Probably the most important racing research conducted by Chrysler during the '60s Aero Wars took place in the wind tunnels at Wichita State University in Kansas and in Marietta, Georgia at Lockheed's wind tunnel. The Wichita tunnel was not large enough to house full-size cars, so 3/8 scale models were used. The Lockheed tunnel, however, was capable of full scale testing.

For his book Supercars - The Story of the Dodge Charger Daytona and Plymouth SuperBird, Frank Moriarty interviewed Chrysler engineer Dick Lajoie:

"So John Vaughn and I flew out to Atlanta and looked at the tunnel," remembers Lajoie. "We talked to somebody and they said, 'Right now, all we've got is this big hole in the ceiling where they drop the aircraft models.' We said, 'Can you do that with cars?'"

Lajoie and Vaughn went to Michigan and showed everyone photographs of the tunnel. Chrysler wanted to take advantage of the Lockheed tunnel's full-size testing capabilities, but there was a big problem. The hole in the tunnel through which the test vehicles were to be lowered was 14 feet long--and the cars measured nearly 18 feet. The problem had just one solution--a cradle would have to be tooled to angle the car and get it through the hole and into the tunnel.

Moriarty also talked to Chrysler aerodynamicist Bob Marcell:

Bob Marcell was involved in the first tests at Lockheed--a study of drafting....Engineering's H. Paul Bruns had allocated $50,000 for the testing.

"So we were going to do drafting tests," says Marcell. "Well, they charged $500 per hour down there whether you had the wind on or not. Hell, we spent two days just putting in the ground plane for the cars, trying to get the balance system to interface correctly. And I remember calling Paul and saying, 'Paul, we're here to find out about how cars draft, but I spent all of the money and we haven't even turned on the fan yet! I need another $50,000.' Back in the late '60s that was a lot. But we got the money and we ran there for two or three days. It took us forever to get the data reduced because they didn't have some of the capabilities that Wichita had because they hadn't run cars before.

Marcell had this to say about taking the cars to the Lockheed tunnel facility:

"You get down there in that part of the country, where it's a real hotbed for racing, and we had all of this security. But then when they backed the cars out of the moving van you could hear them about 25 miles away!" exclaims Marcell. "If you followed racing, you knew it was a Hemi--so they kind of knew who was in the tunnel."

The photos that follow were taken at the Lockheed facility in Georgia. Whether or not this is the first drafting test session talked about by Lajoie and Marcell is unknown. Cars are the Mario Rossi Plymouth driven by Darel Dieringer during the 1968 NASCAR season and the Dodge Charger 500 "mule car" test vehicle. All photos are courtesy of Greg Kwiatkowski.

Click On A Photo To View The Full-Size Version

The Mario Rossi Plymouth RoadRunner takes flight, moving from its first floor perch through a hole in the second floor.
After clearing the second floor hole, the Plymouth RoadRunner was apparently swung back, and then it began the journey to the third floor.
Just above third floor level, the RoadRunner is nearly ready to be guided over the fourteen foot access hole in the wind tunnel ceiling.
How do you fit an eighteen foot Plymouth through a fourteen foot roof hole?
You tilt it--very carefully--using your special harness and a few well placed ropes. And make sure you have another expensive race vehicle directly beneath it in case anything goes wrong.
The RoadRunner lands safely along side its tunnel mate, the Dodge Charger 500 test car. Presumably foot print dents in the RoadRunner roof sheet metal didn't adversely effect the test data.
Notice the tufts of yarn on the Charger in the photo at right. These tufts made it easy to see just how air flowed along cars' exterior.
The Mario Rossi Plymouth RoadRunner and Dodge Charger 500 mule car in tight formation, presumably for drafting tests.
At left, a test is in progress (notice how the tufts are blurred at the ends because of their rapid motion). The "driver" uses a headset/microphone to communicate with technicians observing through a window in the tunnel wall.