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Honda Winds Up a One-of-a-Kind Wind Tunnel

If the Honda Automotive Labs of Ohio facility is a marvel of technology and design, it is also a $124 million testament to the role of cutting-edge engineering in automobile manufacturing.

  • “When I started 30 years ago, few really cared about aerodynamics,” said Honda Development & Manufacturing of America Full-Scale Wind Tunnel Lead Mike Unger with a wink. “Now everybody wants to talk to me.”

New interest: Though wind tunnel testing dates back many years, the increasing emphasis in recent years on greater fuel efficiency has brought a new wave of interest in the field.

  • Honda owns three full-sized wind tunnels near its global headquarters, as well as several smaller test facilities around the world for examining scale models.
  • But in 2015, Honda—which for decades had been sending its U.S.-based people, cars and tools all over the world for wind-tunnel testing or else booking time at third party-owned facilities in America—began mulling constructing a North American wind tunnel, too.

Behold, HALO: The result was HALO, unveiled in 2022 in a 110,000-square-foot facility in East Liberty, Ohio.

  • To make it, the company had gathered its “wind tunnel road warriors”—Honda team members who boasted decades of combined experience in the world’s most advanced research facilities—and asked them how they’d do it better.
  • Among their top requests was the need for better, faster communications with the designers and builders of the cars they were testing. To facilitate this, HALO was strategically located just across from a Honda development center and a mere 10-minute drive from two manufacturing plants (including the Marysville, Ohio, facility where Honda has been building automobiles since 1982).

Wind-tested, Honda approved: Every new Honda passenger vehicle model undergoes extensive aerodynamic and acoustic testing during its design phase, and further changes are often made during the manufacturing process. Race cars, meanwhile, are tested primarily with an eye to managing the downforce caused by passing air.

The new digs: Now, instead of hashing out design challenges across oceans, everyone sits side-by-side in the same control room.

The state-of-the-art site also boasts a fully outfitted machine shop, custom loading bays and a car wash (the last a recommendation of Honda engineers who had more than once found themselves outside a wind tunnel with a dusty test car and a bucket of soapy water).

  • “Absolutely everything was designed with intention,” said HALO Business Strategy Lead Chris Combs.

The details: The tunnel itself is an elaborately engineered circuit. It comprises a settling chamber, a heat exchanger the size of a movie screen and a safety grill to catch any debris that might come loose and threaten HALO’s pulmonary system: a colossal, 6,700-horsepower fan with 12 hollow carbon fiber blades that are 26 feet long each.

  • Turning at 250 rotations per minute, the fan drives air through the tunnel and into an anechoic chamber.
  • On a recent day, that chamber held both a race car (for downforce testing) and an SUV from the plant across the field (for acoustic work).

Saving time: At most wind tunnels, switching from aerodynamic work to acoustic testing takes nearly two hours. At the HALO wind tunnel, however, technicians swapped the Indy car for the SUV and reconfigured the test chamber in about 20 minutes.

  • When it designed the facility, Honda focused on “simple things like that—things that really promote efficiency,” said HALO Operations Manager Jimmy Przeklasa.

Quiet and furry: HALO’s test chamber is lined with acoustic tiles and “teddy bear fur,” a soft, sound-absorbing material.

  • Even with the wind blowing, the room is so quiet that technicians working inside must don harnesses to prevent them from stepping into a gale they can neither see nor hear.
  • A software system translates the wind noises into visuals, similar to the way a weather radar displays a moving storm.

Complex but simple: Technologically and visually dazzling, the HALO wind tunnel can seem like a futuristic fever dream: color-coded maps of the whistling wind, a two-story fan more finely tuned than a jet engine and a scale capable of sensing a breeze.

  • In fact, from its inception, the goal of creating the HALO wind tunnel was simple: make cutting-edge aerodynamic and acoustic research as easy, intuitive and cost-effective as possible. And Honda’s done it.

The last word: “This is the latest and the greatest,” Unger said. “This place is unmatched.”

 

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