Wind tunnels are one of the most common and effective tools for aerodynamic experiments, as well as the most reliable experimental means for the study of vehicles in the atmosphere. This tube-like experimental equipment can artificially generate and control airflow, simulate gas flow around aircraft or other objects, measure the effect of airflow on objects and observe the phenomena of flow around objects. All aircraft including airplanes, missiles, satellites and rockets must pass wind tunnel tests before they take to the skies. Therefore, wind tunnels have earned a reputation as being the cradle of modern aircraft.
The low-speed closed-return wind tunnel with a diameter of 2.25 meters constructed at Peking University in 1958 was China’s first experimental wind tunnel that could serve both aerospace engineering and scientific research, as well as the only wind tunnel in China capable of conducting aircraft model tests at that time. It was jointly constructed by the Institute of Mechanics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Department of Mathematics and Mechanics of Peking University, with significant guidance and support from Zhou Peiyuan and Qian Xuesen. With the joint efforts of all parties, the structural design of the wind tunnel was completed in September 1957, and construction began in November of the same year. At 3:45 a.m. on October 1, 1958, the tunnel was fully completed and began blowing air. For more than 30 years following its completion, as the only large-scale low-speed wind tunnel with a diameter above two meters in China at that time, it facilitated a large number of scientific experiments for many types of aircraft. As one of the main sources of data for China’s aircraft design before 1976, it was only gradually phased out in the 1990s after making great contributions to China’s low-speed aerodynamic experiments and aviation industry. It became one of the longest-serving, most efficient wind tunnels in the history of Chinese aviation, and made some of the greatest contributions to the design of low-speed aerodynamic characteristics of aircraft. The contraction section, diffusion section and fan cowling of this wind tunnel on display here were all wooden components made by workers of the logistics department of Peking University. They were important witnesses to the self-reliance and innovative development that characterized science and technology in the early years of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
The successful construction of China’s first large-scale low-speed wind tunnel shows that innovation is born from hard work. The older generation of Chinese scientific and technical workers overcame many difficulties. They built the contraction section, diffusion section, turning vanes and fan system (including fan blades and fan cowling) primarily with wooden components, fully demonstrating their dedication to serving the country with science and technology. The tunnel also proves that innovation comes from collaborative efforts to tackle problems. It is under the enthusiastic guidance of Zhou Peiyuan, Qian Xuesen, Lu Shijia and other famous scientists, with the strong support of all corners of society and the active participation of thousands of teachers and students from the Department of Mathematics and Mechanics of Peking University, that the outstanding achievement of the construction of the first large-scale low-speed wind tunnel in China was finally achieved. It is gratifying to see that through the persistent efforts and innovation of generations of scientific and technical workers, China has become a veritable major power in the wind tunnel field with its comprehensive wind tunnel testing capability ranked among the world’s best.