Aerolab @ Faculty of Mechanical Engineering

Source of this page : March 2001 Issue of The Bridge

Taming The Wind in Malaysia

by Dr. Gary Elfstrom

Air surrounds us everywhere yet few of us stop to think how its motion affects our lives, directly or indirectly. On the one hand, there is wind, driven by thermal forces, which causes waves on the oceans; on the other hand, there are aircraft, driven by man-made engines, which fly through the air. In between, there is a plethora of natural and man-made situations where wind is involved. Sooner or later, scientists and engineers in every country need to develop expertise in taming the wind.

My indoctrination into the winds of Malaysia came in 1994 when the Canadian firm RWDI, which was engaged as the wind engineering specialist for the KLCC Twin Towers project, asked me if our firm could help with one aspect of the skybridge design. The challenge was to develop the detail design for a device to prevent destructive oscillation of the angled support beams in the event of a once-in-a-lifetime very high wind. We successfully managed to design this device, a tuned spring-mass damper, located inside the tubular structure of the support beams. This project affords me the opportunity to enlighten those readers who may have seen a certain movie starring Sean Connery. Contrary to what was portrayed, the skybridge support beams are not ventilation shafts through which a person could jump to escape pursuers; severe injury would result upon striking the mass damper!

In the end, it was the science and technology of a tool for measuring the effects of airflow, the wind tunnel, which physically brought me to Malaysia for the first time. We had been invited to discuss potential wind tunnel possibilities for the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) in Johor Bahru. My recollections of that first visit in May 1996 are of the intense mid-day downpour obscuring my navigation through UTM towards the mechanical engineering department. Fortunately, I was well received by the dean, Prof. Mohd. Afifi Bin Abdul Mukti, and the aeronautical lab head, Mohd Khir Muhammad. What started out as a short courtesy visit, ended up taking the entire Saturday afternoon and ultimately became the beginning of a long association between Aiolos and UTM. More on that later.

My return to Malaysia came in March 1997, when I presented a seminar on wind tunnel testing in Kuala Lumpur. This seminar, co-sponsored by our partner firm Velosi (M) Sdn Bhd of Selangor and supported by the Canadian High Commission, provided an introduction to all types of wind tunnel testing, including:

  •     aeronautical aerodynamics;
  •     automotive aerodynamics;
  •     aeronautical and automotive aero acoustics;
  •     automotive climatic; and
  •     wind engineering.

The attendees, like the topics, were quite diverse in their background: there were representatives from aviation (SME Aviation, AirRod Sdn. Bhd, and Malaysian Airlines), automotive industry (Proton and Auto Parts Manufacturing Sdn Bhd), to name but a few. I was pleasantly surprised at the technical depth and enthusiasm of the majority of the attendees. All this, in spite of an unavoidable last minute change in venue for the seminar!

After such an auspicious start, the roof fell in on our plans: the economic crisis virtually halted business for us in Malaysia, as it did for other ASEAN countries we traditionally enjoyed good business with. Fortunately, the Malaysian government decided to kick-start a few projects as the economy recovered and the UTM Aeronautical Laboratory was the first off the mark. In 1999, UTM selected Aiolos to design and supply this Laboratory, the flagship being a state-of-the-art low speed wind tunnel. In a bit of reverse indoctrination, the UTM staff experienced the shock of Toronto winter weather while being stationed here during the design phase of the wind tunnel.

The low speed wind tunnel (UTM LST) is the most recent addition to a family of premier aerodynamic test facilities, which started with the German-Dutch DNW facility, located in The Netherlands, the NLR LST also located in The Netherlands, the LAGG ILST located in Indonesia, and the ADD LSWT located in Korea. An important feature of all these facilities is the modularity to permit growth into areas of aerodynamic testing not originally planned for the facility. Of course, it is not feasible to launch into all potential forms of aerodynamic testing immediately upon completion of a facility such as the UTM LST; one must learn to walk before running. Training of scientific and technical end user staff is crucial for the long success of a wind tunnel. An extensive training program was carried out in Canada, beginning with introductory training at Aiolos which I heavily participated in, falling back into teaching mode which I once dabbled in during my stint in Ottawa. I think the UTM staff were relieved that their week of quizzes and assignments were finally over!

Following the introductory training, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) supported Aiolos by way of sponsoring additional training including hands-on instruction on specialized test techniques and future test capability. This instruction took place at Carleton University in Ottawa, at the Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel in the University of Western Ontario and, concurrent with the time of writing, at UTM by Richard Poole, formerly of Bombardier Aircraft.

Designing a wind tunnel is only part of the realization process. Someone has to build it: fabricate parts, purchase equipment, then erect and install everything. This effort is being handled by a team of Aiolos staff, headed up by our project manager, Ratko Dzoja. He, like myself, has faced the challenges posed by the characteristic rainy environment. We in Toronto have viewed with trepidation the many photos Ratko sent from the site showing workers up to their knees in mud, trying to pour concrete foundations. Fortunately, the site team prevailed and the building and wind tunnel elements have been rapidly appearing and are being erected. The photo, taken in July 2000, shows the skeleton of the building with some of the wind tunnel circuit elements installed. All of us look forward to the completion of the facility in 2001.

The UTM LST has become a national facility, and as such will be able to grow to support testing areas beyond aeronautics, as the need for indigenous capability grows in Malaysia. Prime candidate areas include wind engineering and automotive aerodynamics. We intend to support that growth as part of our continuing relationship with UTM. I personally look forward to many more visits to explore other test facility projects in Malaysia.

Gary Elfstrom is Senior Manager for Business Development at Aiolos Engineering Corporation in Toronto. He reports that Aiolos was the god of all winds in Greek mythology, an appropriate name for a company which deals with all forms of air motion. Gary has been involved with wind tunnels for his entire career, beginning with his undergraduate studies at the University of BC, through his doctorate at Imperial College in the UK, and a stint as research officer at the National Research Council in Ottawa. To learn more about Aiolos, visit their website at