Since the 1950s, ONERA (Office National d’Études et de Recherches Aérospatiales) [French national aerospace research center] has had the world’s most powerful aeronautical wind tunnel, in Modane, Savoie. This wind tunnel, which is renowned for its huge facilities, has already received a number of aircraft that are well-known to the general public such as the Concorde (supersonic airliner), the Mirage (fighter jet), the Falcon 7X (civil aircraft), and even the Airbus A380 (passenger airliner).
The purpose of this wind tunnel is to test the aerodynamic properties of aeronautic, space and French military aircraft. Its outsize facilities make it possible to optimize the aerodynamics of aircraft of all sizes, as well as to assess new concepts for the future.
The wind tunnel is made up of a long tunnel approximately 400 meters (just over 1,300 feet) in length and 24 meters (almost 80 feet) in diameter. Within this tunnel are two giant fans turning in the opposite direction to each other. The two fans project constant streams of air until the speed of sound is reached, i.e. approximately 1,200 km/h (about 745 mph). Test durations in the wind tunnel vary according to models and types of tests but can last from three to seven years, for 10 to 30 million euros.
The Modane-based wind tunnel is not the only site to have tested major industrial programs. There are also sites in Mauzac-Le Fauga (Haute-Garonne) and Saclay (Essonne).
This wind tunnel is of great importance to ONERA because, in addition to being the most powerful wind tunnel in the world, it is part of France’s heritage which, for 65 years, has established itself as one of the most strategic aeronautical sites.