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Machine Design

Giant wind machine simulates Category 3 hurricanes

University of Florida engineers have unveiled the world's largest portable hurricane, wind, and rain simulator.

Mounted on a trailer, the industrial-sized behemoth comprises eight 5-ft-tall fans powered by four marine diesel engines that together produce 2,800 hp. To cool the engines, the system taps water from a 5,000-gallon tank aboard a truck that doubles as the simulator's tow vehicle.

UF civil and coastal engineers plan to use the simulator to blast vacant homes with winds of up to 130 mph (Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale). Highpressure water jets will mimic wind-driven torrential rain. The simulator uses an innovative hydraulic system, rather than chains or mechanical drive trains, to transfer power from the engine to the fans. Designed by Linde Hydraulics Corp. and Cunningham Fluid Power Inc., the engines spin pumps, which drive fluid through motors in the fans.

At full power, the fans turn at about 1,800 rpm, producing 100-mph winds. A duct reduces the space the air flows through, ratcheting winds up to a potential 130 mph.

This hurricane simulator at the University of Florida helps researchers study the effect of ground-level hurricane winds on structures.

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