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Donated wind tunnel to fan engineering projects


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A 37-foot-long wind tunnel capable of generating a 90 mph air stream is getting its second wind at Sacramento State for aerodynamic research projects.

Wind Tunnel

The apparatus, valued at approximately $150,000, was donated to the Mechanical Engineering Department, within the College of Engineering and Computer Science, by businessman John Obermeier, who late last year shut down his wind tunnel test laboratory in Davis.

“It’s a wonderful gift,” says Tim Marbach, an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering. “It will elevate the possibilities, definitely. It’ll be used at all ends of our program, particularly for the graduate students’ experiments.

“In complicated geometries, it’s difficult to predict in any way how something is going to behave, and that’s where the testing comes in,” he says. “Most of it, I imagine, will be for power production, such as wind turbine technology, and some of our master’s students do work on reducing drag for vehicles. They’re looking at SUVs and 18-wheelers: How can you improve fuel economy in highway driving?”

A student will place a scale model in the wind tunnel’s test section – a 24-by-24-inch Lucite box – and rev up the fan to the desired velocity to see how it responds to anything from a gentle breeze to a Category 1 hurricane. The Obermeier wind tunnel is a decided improvement over the University’s old, and much smaller, wind tunnel.

Obermeier, a licensed mechanical engineer who started the consulting company Otech Engineering in 1981, eventually had three wind tunnels in his Davis lab. Otech performed more than 40,000 accredited air-flow instrument calibration tests on anemometers each year. The company’s annual revenues exceeded $1 million.

He told a story at the recent dedication of Sacramento State’s new Wind Tunnel Facility – once a dark and rarely used storage room in Santa Clara Hall – about how he tested anemometers before he owned a single wind tunnel.

“One of my side projects in the early 1980s was testing anemometers, which were attached to a vehicle running down the road,” he said. “As silly as it sounds, it became a sophisticated method of doing work. It fit the need at the time. I was running up and down the Central Valley of California, and that was my wind tunnel for quite a few years. We ordered this wind tunnel in 2004 and installed it in 2005 in the lab in Davis. Then life became easier because I didn’t have to stay up till 3 in the morning, when it got really calm in the Central Valley. We could use (the wind tunnel) in the daytime.”

Obermeier had planned to sell all three wind tunnels, but when a deal fell through with a purchaser in South Africa, the 2004 model came to Sacramento State as a gift.

“I hope you make good use of it in the future,” he said.

For media assistance, contact Sacramento State’s Office of Public Affairs at (916) 278-6156.

– Dixie Reid