Colloquium: June 4, 2013

Modeling Flight: The Role of Dynamically Scaled Free-Flying Models in NASA’s Research Programs

Joe Chambers

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium

Video of the presentation


Many design challenges for aerospace vehicles include complex flight conditions that are not easily analyzed by computational methods or simulators. For example, predictions of aircraft motions at high angles of attack, during stalls and spins, and spin recovery involve complex aerodynamic properties that make such predictions extremely difficult. Likewise, the stability of capsules and parachute systems during reentry involve complicated aerodynamic and geometrical factors. The foregoing phenomena involve safety-of-flight considerations that must be addressed early in the design process. The presentation discusses how the NACA and NASA developed experimental testing techniques in unique facilities using free-flying scaled models that ultimately became vital analysis tools for NASA and the aerospace industry. Following a brief discussion of the model scaling laws required in the processes, the applications of dynamically-scaled, free-flying models will be illustrated by numerous video clips showing results of model tests in several facilities compared with results from flight tests of full-scale vehicles. The discussion begins with results from the biplane era of the 1920s and covers applications to today’s aerospace configurations. The scope of results includes military aircraft, civil transports, general aviation airplanes, spacecraft and capsules, and parawing vehicles.

The basis for the lecture is NASA SP-2009-575 Modeling Flight by Mr. Chambers.


Joe Chambers retired from the NASA Langley Research Center in 1998 after a 36-year career. He began his career in 1962 in flight dynamics research at the Langley Full-Scale Tunnel. In 1974 he became the head of the Full-Scale Tunnel, the Langley 20-Foot Spin Tunnel, and related outdoor free-flight and drop-model testing. In 1989 he also became head of aircraft flight research at Langley. In 1994 he was assigned to organize and manage a new group responsible for conducting systems-level analysis of the potential payoffs of advanced aircraft concepts and technology to help guide NASA investments in aeronautical technology. He served as a representative of the United States on international committees and has given invited lectures on NASA’s aeronautics programs worldwide.

His awards include the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, the Exceptional Service Medal, and the Public Service Medal. He also received the coveted Arthur Flemming Award sponsored by the Washington DC Jaycees in 1975 as one of the Ten Most Outstanding Civil Servants for his management of NASA stall/spin research for military and civil aircraft. He is the author of over 50 NASA technical reports and published eight NASA books on aeronautical topics. Mr. Chambers earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Georgia Tech and a Master of Science degree from Virginia Tech.