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Hypersonic HORIZON

View on the back side of the tunnel shows the vacuum and compressed air systems.

One of the largest wind tunnels in academia has just begun operating in Tennessee, and if John Schmisseur has his way, it’s going to ignite intellectual and economic fire power across the state.

Schmisseur is a UT Space Institute professor of mechanical, aerospace and biomedical engineering and the H.H. Arnold Chair in Computational Fluid Dynamics. When he left the U.S. Air Force four years ago, he brought a vision to the “blank slate” of opportunity he found at the Space Institute. Firing up a brand-new wind tunnel is only the first phase.

For the last 13 years of a 23-year career in the Air Force Research Lab, Schmisseur ran the hypersonics basic research program, including selecting university proposals for Air Force funding.

“I had the luxury of interfacing with the best and brightest minds in hypersonics and building great relationships with pre-eminent researchers in their fields. That prepared me very well for the next half of my professional life, because now, instead of flying to Caltech and Texas A&M and Minnesota, I get to be here,” Schmisseur says. “I wanted to make a strong contribution in hypersonics, and Tennessee is a great match.”

True to his military roots, Schmisseur named his program—of which the new wind tunnel is a part—with an acronym: HORIZON, for High-Speed Original Research and Innovation Zone. The name also alludes to the military’s first post-World War II technology forecasting report, “Towards New Horizons.” Subsequent Air Force reports also have had “horizon” in their names.

“Knowing this,” Schmisseur says, “we named our research group HORIZON so our stakeholders in the Department of Defense would recognize that and realize we are forward-looking.”