Ford GT and need for speed behind push for more sophisticated testing of future products
When you add a supercar like the Ford GT to your lineup and return to Le Mans, the sophistication of your product can outstrip the sophistication of your testing facilities.
To that end, Ford is spending $200 million USD on a new complex to improve product technology and design, and that includes a new wind tunnel for better aerodynamic data.
Construction of a new wind tunnel complex is slated to start by spring on 13 acres of land in Allen Park, Mich., and should be complete and in operation by the fall of 2019, said Jacqueline Shuk, Ford’s Chief Engineer for Vehicle Evaluation and Verification.
She is excited at the prospect of a wind tunnel that will more closely mimic the real world because vehicles won’t just sit static as engineers measure the impact of wind blown at them. Ford is building a rolling road aerodynamic tunnel with a series of conveyor belts that will move under vehicles of every size and description—making it more realistic by essentially bringing the road to the vehicle. “As the technology on our vehicles has been advancing, we need the capability of moving-ground simulation to validate design,” Shuk said.
Each vehicle will be put on a dyno with a moving belt under each of the four wheels and a fifth large moving belt under the center of the vehicle to get proper airflow underneath it. The tunnel will be able to test vehicles at simulated speeds of up to 155 mph (249 km/h) with all the belts in motion. Or engineers can turn off all but the big strip of conveyor and unleash 200-mph (322-km/h) winds—something Ford didn’t really need before it created the GT and returned to racing. Having won the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours, the team wants to add to the trophy case.
“This new wind tunnel facility will not only allow us to test our performance and racing vehicle lineup but will also enable us to share innovations across all our global Ford products,” said Dave Pericak, Ford Performance global director.
After a couple years of operation, phase two will add an advanced climate chamber that can dip to temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit or as high as 140 degrees, said Shuk. Ford is still working on the specs for that portion of the complex.
Ford is not first to invest in the latest in aerodynamic testing but neither is it the last. More accurate data, efficiency, and repeatability that can be applied to product development makes it a prudent investment, Shuk said. It will help with design, fuel efficiency and the ability to meet future legislative regulations.
Existing wind tunnels and climate chambers remain in place for the foreseeable future and there are no plans to retrofit them.
The new testing complex is not part of the larger plan to update Ford’s many facilities in Dearborn.