Freightliner opens world's first full-scale wind tunnel exclusively for trucks

| 4/16/2004

Portland, OR – Oregon Gov. Theodore Kulongoski clicked the mouse on the master computer April 14 to start Freightliner’s new full-scale truck wind tunnel. The former truck-driver-turned-politician remarked on the progress made in trucks since he spent time driving in his youth.

Freightliner built the wind tunnel to learn more about aerodynamics and how airflow improvements can lead to other benefits, said Freightliner’s group senior vice president of engineering and technology, Michael Von Mayenburg.

“A 3 percent drop in coefficient of drag can improve fuel economy 1 percent,” he told the assembled group of dignitaries and trucking industry press.

“Freightliner’s goal is to lower Cd 15 percent in our next generation of trucks, resulting in a 5 percent fuel mileage improvement. If we can influence the design of 50,000 trucks a year, total savings for the industry could be 70 million gallons annually,” Von Mayenburg said. “With our own wind tunnel, we can now also afford to study how weather affects buildup on mirrors and wipers and splash and spray. We will examine component cooling and wind noise, among other projects.”

Portland Mayor Vera Katz was a driving force behind getting the 12,000-square-foot facility approved and built. Freightliner employs 3,100 people at its many facilities in Portland.

“In Oregon, we say (quoting Kermit the Frog) ‘It’s not easy being green,’” she said. “The efforts put forth in this facility will contribute to improving fuel economy and also reducing pollution. This is a facility Portland can take pride in.”

A team from Freightliner, Portland State University, the Mercedes-Benz Trucks Analysis Team and the NASA Ames Research Center jointly developed the new wind tunnel. Its 10 blowers are each powered by a 250 hp motor, adapted from commercial building HVAC units. When at full power, the combined 2,500 hp draws one megawatt of current and moves 2.5 million cubic feet of air per minute to achieve sustained airspeeds of 65 mph.

U.S. Rep. David Wu, whose district includes Portland, affirmed his concerns for trucking.

“I will do everything to fight for a properly funded highway bill,” the Oregon Democrat told the audience, “not only to have good roads for our trucks and families to drive on, but also to provide innovations to make those highways safer.”

Freightliner expects to operate its wind tunnel eight to 10 hours per day, which would be prohibitively expensive in commercially available wind tunnels that charge $30,000 to $100,000 per day.

--by Paul Abelson, senior technical editor

Paul Abelson can be reached at