A wind tunnel and laser guidance helped the Olympic luge team learn about uniform tech

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Reaching speeds of over 80 mph, American athlete Chris Mazdzer zoomed ft first down the curvy luge monitor in South Korea on Sunday, coming in second place. That’s a historic first for the U.S. team, as no man had gained a medal in the male singles luge occasion at the Winter Olympics earlier than Mazdzer scored that silver.

But months earlier than Mazdzer grabbed second place, coaches for the U.S luge team visited a spot removed from PyeongChang, South Korea to check luge uniform materials: a wind tunnel in San Diego, California.

The key piece of kit at the San Diego Wind Tunnel is a 20-foot fan, powered by a 2,250 horsepower motor, that accelerates air as much as 270 miles per hour. (Technically, that makes them a “low-speed” wind tunnel.) The air travels in a loop from the fan, by the take a look at part—which is narrower, to assist the air velocity up, like water going by a canyon—and then ultimately returns to the fan, saving power. The facility, which dates again to 1947, has its roots in the aerospace business. “We’ve tested virtually every airplane that Boeing flies here,” says Martin Dine, the tunnel’s common supervisor. Because the testing house is simply eight by 12 ft by 15 ft lengthy, plane makers use scale fashions of their craft.

But in the fashionable period, Dine says, they’re throwing breeze at extra than simply mannequin planes. “Anything that has wind blowing across it, we’ll test,” he says. That record contains objects like photo voltaic panels, scale fashions of stadiums, even a McDonald’s signal. Then there are athletic pursuits: sports activities like luge, bobsled, and biking, through which the athletes wish to go as quick as attainable and cut back the drag of their gear. Dine estimates greater than 500 athletes have come by their doorways in the hunt for wind to check elements like the place of their physique and their uniforms.

“All of them are basically on a quest for speed,” he says. “The thing that they’re very, very interested in is their drag coefficient—[wondering] how can they make themselves the most efficient that they can through reducing drag?”

That’s key in a sport like luge, the place the instances are measured to the thousandth of a second. In December, officers from the U.S. luge team and one from the United States Olympic Committee visited the wind tunnel to check out uniform materials. That concerned considered one of them, a coach, donning totally different uniforms and attempting them out in the wind tunnel, guinea-pig type. “They had several different types of uniforms that they were considering using,” Dine says. “So we put all of those uniforms through some testing.”

“We taught them some things about the fabrics that they were using,” he provides. To preserve the individual sporting the totally different fits in the identical place and reduce variables, they used a laser guidance system, projecting the laser’s gentle onto a selected spot on the helmet.

“They put one [person] on the sled over and over and over again,” Dine says.

Whether the object being examined is an individual in a form-fitting uniform on a luge sled, or the rest, it’s mounted in the wind tunnel on an essential piece of kit referred to as a steadiness. It’s that delicate instrument, under the ground, that permits the wind tunnel to measure the drag that the athlete, or piece of kit, creates in the wind. And to get the take a look at object out of a turbulent wind space referred to as the boundary layer, which is about two-to-three inches deep, they use a splitter plate so as to add top above the steadiness.

One of the luge officers who visited the wind tunnel in December was Gordy Sheer, the director of selling and sponsorship for USA Luge. He’s not saying a lot about their closing uniform selection, although. “One interesting thing we keep learning over and over again is that the requirements for our sport are pretty unique,” he says, through e mail. “What may work for one speed sport may not work for luge. We have also zeroed in on a few of those unique properties.” Alas, he says, the particulars are secret.

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