McKinley Climatic Lab: Creating an “Ever Winter” in Florida
As far back as World War II, the U.S. Air Force realized that being able to test its aircraft in every conceivable weather situation was crucial to have a superior Air Force and to protect the country.
During the war, the U.S. Army discovered that Germany could not get its planes airborne during a spell of sub-zero weather. Realizing the importance of an “ever ready” fleet, the Air Force began designing weather simulators that could test any imaginable weather challenge. This led the U.S. Army Air Corps to establish the Cold Weather Detachment at Ladd Field, Alaska, in 1940.
Creating an “Ever Winter” in Florida
While managing the cold weather facility in Alaska, Colonel Ashley C. McKinley, U.S. Air Force, realized that instead of flying each aircraft to Alaska for testing, it would make more sense, and be more cost effective, to create a facility with weather on demand at a more geographically friendly location.
By 1944, the Air Force had approved plans for the first refrigerated airplane hangars capable of testing subzero temperatures at the Eglin Air Force in Northwest Florida.
Constructed by Bechtel, the facility spans 57,000 square feet. The steel framed, high bay hangar can accommodate commercial aircraft as well as any military aircraft and can mimic any climate on earth. The first operational test was conducted May 1947 and the facility is still being used today.
Since the original hangar was completed ten chambers have been added to McKinley. The lab now includes a temperature and humidity room, salt-test room, and rooms for wind, rain, dust, desert, tropic, and jungle climates.
Over its nearly 70 years, the McKinley lab has tested every military aircraft in the current U.S. inventory, plus many civilian craft. The facility has also tested missiles, bombs, Humvees, tanks, trucks, howitzers, ground-support equipment, hard- and soft-walled shelters, and even cars and snow tires.
This video shows how an aircraft is tested in the lab