Our understanding of animal flight benefits greatly from specialized wind tunnels designed for flying animals. Existing facilities can simulate laminar flow during straight, ascending and descending flight, as well as at different altitudes. However, the atmosphere in which animals fly is even more complex. Flow can be laminar and quiet at high altitudes but highly turbulent near the ground, and gusts can rapidly change wind speed. To study flight in both laminar and turbulent environments, a multi-purpose wind tunnel for studying animal and small vehicle flight was built at Stanford University. The tunnel is closed-circuit and can produce airspeeds up to 50 m s−1 in a rectangular test section that is 1.0 m wide, 0.82 m tall and 1.73 m long. Seamless honeycomb and screens in the airline together with a carefully designed contraction reduce centreline turbulence intensities to less than or equal to 0.030% at all operating speeds. A large diameter fan and specialized acoustic treatment allow the tunnel to operate at low noise levels of 76.4 dB at 20 m s−1. To simulate high turbulence, an active turbulence grid can increase turbulence intensities up to 45%. Finally, an open jet configuration enables stereo high-speed fluoroscopy for studying musculoskeletal control in turbulent flow.