Edit ModuleShow Tags

What Is It Like to Work at the San Diego Wind Tunnel?

Stephen Ryle oversees a team of nautical engineers at the world renowned testing facility


Published:

Photos by Robert Benson

Stephen Ryle

Company: San Diego Wind Tunnel
Title: Aerotest engineering manager
Age: 54

About 100 feet from the tarmac at San Diego International Airport stands a unique facility where many aircraft, from passenger jets like the Boeing 747 to the military’s F-16 fighter plane, took their first flights… at least, in miniature form. The San Diego Wind Tunnel conducts testing on scaled aircraft models, specifically measuring the forces like lift and drag that act on them.

Stephen Ryle oversees a team of five aeronautical engineers, each with an average of 30 years of experience in the field. Their work is world renowned, requiring extreme precision and adherence to the utmost safety standards—especially given that human lives are on the line. Passengers with a fear of flying may be comforted to hear that before a plane goes to market it spends “years and years and thousands of hours in the wind tunnel,” according to Ryle. “The new ones flying today were in the wind tunnel 10 to 15 years ago.” For example, the F-35 joint strike fighter, which has only recently begun deployment, was being tested in wind tunnels during the 1990s.

This tunnel was founded in 1947 and has seen a variety of owners over the years, from Reuben H. Fleet to Convair to its current owner, the San Diego Air & Space Museum. The fan, which spans 20 feet, can generate wind speeds of up to 270 miles per hour into a small testing room that looks like something out of the TV show Lost, intentionally unchanged by time. If something breaks, Ryle and his team consult the original manuals from 1947 to find a solution. “You don’t replace something,” he says. “You repair it.”

Although the tunnel’s bread and butter is aviation, it has recently branched out into sporting industries like cycling, downhill skiing, and bobsledding. They’ll test equipment, clothing, and anything else that’s affected by the wind. The tunnel has had visits from the American luge team and Olympian Bode Miller. Ryle says one of his career highlights was working with cyclist Kristin Armstrong, who went on to win three Olympic gold medals. “It was rewarding to see her do so well and knowing we had a part in that.”

Fun Fact

Before developers built Qualcomm Stadium, they tested its design at the San Diego Wind Tunnel to examine how offshore breezes affected the structure.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

Win Tickets to the 41st Annual SDCCU Holiday Bowl

This year’s Utah vs. Northwestern match-up marks the Holiday Bowl’s second straight paring of teams that are ranked nationally in the top 25

5 Things We Learned from San Diego’s “Future of Women” Panel

The women behind El Jardín, Wayfarer Bread, and other local female-run food businesses talk gender inequality in restaurants, the pay gap, and why it’s more important than ever to work with farmers

Tara Lipinski Goes Skating By the Sea

The Olympic gold medalist laces up her skates for a one-hour session at Hotel del Coronado’s Skating by the Sea this weekend only
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Win a Trip for Two to Yellowstone Country Montana
    Win a trip for two to Bozeman, Montana including roundtrip airfare and lodging
  2. Sushi’s Next Gen Is Here at Himitsu
    In La Jolla, a Sushi Ota protégé sticks to an age-old tradition of quality
  3. 10 Hot Plates: San Diego's Top Food News in October
    The latest restaurant rumors, openings, and coming-soons
  4. San Diego Events Calendar: October 2018
    How to be busy and important this month in San Diego
  5. San Diego Magazine's Travel Awards 2019
    Cast your vote now for your favorite hotels, travel companies, and attractions
  6. San Diego's Top Doctors 2018
    Our annual list of 717 physicians in 88 specialties, plus five physicians open up about the emotional burdens of their fields
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions

Vote Now for Your Orangetheory Winner!

Winners will be announced at our Sweat event on May 12

Not Your Grandma's Orthotics

New year, new – shoe? Staying on your feet for long hours at a time just got a whole lot more comfortable with Wiivv’s BASE custom insoles
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Sponsored

Win Tickets to the 41st Annual SDCCU Holiday Bowl

This year’s Utah vs. Northwestern match-up marks the Holiday Bowl’s second straight paring of teams that are ranked nationally in the top 25

Winter is Waiting in Montana’s Yellowstone Country

Win a trip for two that includes roundtrip airfare from Long Beach and a stay at the Element by Westin in Bozeman, Montana
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags