May 3 marks 70 years since first jet engine test at AEDC

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks
  • AEDC Public Affairs

The payoff to nearly a decade of groundwork and work on the ground was realized 70 years ago with the push of a switch.

On May 3, 1954, the first turbojet engine test was initiated in the T-1 Test Cell of the new Engine Test Facility at Arnold Air Force Base.

Not only did this event mark the engine test in ETF, but it also represented the first simulated flight test of an engine at what was then known as Arnold Engineering Development Center.

This test was conducted on a J47 turbo jet engine. A simulated altitude of 30,000 feet at a speed of approximately 500 miles per hour was achieved during the initial run.

“Engineers and technicians operated the jet by remote control from a nearby control room where meters and gauges recorded the performance of the jet,” a news release issued on the date of the test reads. “The test runs with the J-47 are to shakedown and calibrate the test cell and the facility. Later tests will be concerned with development and operational testing of turbojet and ram-jet propulsion units for the aircraft industry and the armed services.”

The J47 engine was later used to power the B-47 Stratojet bomber.

In February 1952, the J47 was selected as the engine that would be used to calibrate ETF.

Shakedown work in ETF began in the summer of 1953 and was expected to take a little than three-quarters of a year to complete. On Aug. 27, 1953, the first engine was fired at AEDC during an outdoor, open-air instrumentation test near ETF. For this checkout, the engine, also a J47, was test fired using a specially designed and constructed thrust stand.

“Instrumentation testing of the J-47 engine will obtain engine performance data before calibration and shakedown tests begin in the Engine Test Facility this fall,” a news release issued on Aug. 31, 1953, reads. “The J-47 tests will probably require two months time in order to complete all the necessary engineering data.”

This open-air firing occurred just months after construction on the ETF was completed and a little more than two years after President Harry Truman visited the complex in June 1951 to dedicate AEDC in honor of Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold. In July 1953, the new facility was declared essentially complete. This followed around 10 years of planning, including three years of actual brick-and-mortar construction.

ETF was the first of what were considered to be the four major facilities in the early days of AEDC to go into full-scale operation. By the time the J47 was tested in the ETF T-1 cell, wind tunnels in two of these major facilities – the Propulsion Wind Tunnel and what would later come to be known as the von Kármán Gas Dynamics Facility - had been producing test data for several months. The fourth – referred to as the Ramjet Addition, which was designed to test ramjet engines at greater simulated speeds - made its first operational run several years later. 

The T-1 test cell is now inactive. The last test conducted there occurred in December 2000 on F100-PW-220 engine. The facility has been inactive since the conclusion of that test.