NASA, Speedo build wind-tunnel-tested bathing suits

Most Speedo bathing suits aren’t for the faint-of-body among us so excuse me if this sounds a bit scary.  NASA said today Speedo swimwear is using a NASA wind tunnel to test sleek swimsuit fabrics that may be used by athletes in international competitions.  Of course such suits could find themselves on a butt facing you this summer, for better or worse.  

Aerospace engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center have decades of experience in fluid dynamics and drag reduction and while they usually reserve their expertise to help airplanes and spacecraft fly, they are now concentrating on  moving swimmers faster through the water.

"Air and water are both what are referred to as Newtonian fluids [anything that flows like water]," said Steve Wilkinson, a researcher at Langley's Fluid Physics and Control Branch in a release. "Air has different fluid properties than water, including lower density and viscosity, but it still obeys the same physical laws of motion. We were assessing which fabrics and weaves had the lowest drag."

Studies indicate viscous drag, or skin friction, is about one-third of the total restraining force on a swimmer. Wind tunnel tests measure the drag on the surface of the fabrics.

The materials tested come in the form of tubes. Wilkinson stretches the tubes over a smooth, flat aluminum plate and then secures the edges with smooth metal rails and tape to form a precise rectangular model shape. Wilkinson runs the material through a number of wind speeds and, with the help of sensors, measures drag on the surface.

Under a reimbursable agreement, NASA turns the wind tunnel data over to Speedo for their use, NASA said.

"It turns out to simulate a swimmer in the water at about two meters per second, we need to run the wind tunnel at about 28 meters per second, which is well within its capability," Wilkinson added. "The tests generally have shown the smoother the fabric, the lower the drag."

Speedo International's research and development team, Aqualab, took those results and used them to help create a new swimsuit the company says is its most hydro-dynamically advanced to date. 

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