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LEFT: One of the six original 1938 pitch gear shafts (top) shows its wear, which includes grooves worn by roller bearing inner races, and shortening the threaded ends. The new shafts (bottom) were produced by MIT’s Central Machine Shop. RIGHT: The tunnel’s wooden blades spread out in the Building 17 control room, cleaned and ready for lubrication and replacement. (William Litant/MIT photograph)

Just before the Monday, April 18, 2016 Patriots’ Day holiday, Robertson and Drela fired up the motor, operated the pitch mechanism, and it worked perfectly. Timing was also important as the following Saturday was MIT’s campus-wide open house celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Cambridge Campus and WBWT is always an MIT open house main attraction. Thanks to Robertson, Letendre, Billings, and Drela (and with the additional assistance of research specialist Paul Bauer and department space manager Anthony Zolnik) hundreds of visitors experienced standing in the operating tunnel, where they each received a special certificate designating them a “Distinguished Wind Tunnel Model Subject.” In the not-too-distant future, the AeroAstro Department expects to launch a campaign to completely refurbish the WBWT and its associated mechanical systems and instrumentation. And, for the foreseeable future the venerable tunnel will continue to serve as an unparalleled teaching and research facility for MIT students, staff, and faculty. WILLIAM T.G. LITANT is the AeroAstro director of communications. He may be reached at

Pitch fix: Tackling eight decades of Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel hard use


MIT AeroAstro annual magazine 2015-2016Aeroastro 2015 16  

Annual magazine review of MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department research and educational initiatives.

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