Environment

Flying wing prototype takes wind-power to new heights

Flying wing prototype takes wi...
Tethered to the base station, Wing 7 flying wind turbine ascends to a height of 1,300 feet (400m) where it generates up to 20-kilowatt of power
Tethered to the base station, Wing 7 flying wind turbine ascends to a height of 1,300 feet (400m) where it generates up to 20-kilowatt of power
View 11 Images
Wing 7 has been taken to a series of test flights this year, including demonstration of power generation and autonomous flight modes
1/11
Wing 7 has been taken to a series of test flights this year, including demonstration of power generation and autonomous flight modes
Wing 7 airborne wind turbine's prototype taken for a test flight
2/11
Wing 7 airborne wind turbine's prototype taken for a test flight
Tethered to the base station, Wing 7 flying wind turbine ascends to a height of 1,300 feet (400m) where it generates up to 20-kilowatt of power
3/11
Tethered to the base station, Wing 7 flying wind turbine ascends to a height of 1,300 feet (400m) where it generates up to 20-kilowatt of power
Wing 7 has been taken to a series of test flights this year, including demonstration of power generation and autonomous flight modes
4/11
Wing 7 has been taken to a series of test flights this year, including demonstration of power generation and autonomous flight modes
Wing 7's schematic trajectory
5/11
Wing 7's schematic trajectory
Wing 7 takes off vertically powered via the tether and after reaching the appropriate height, it flies horizontally in crosswind circles
6/11
Wing 7 takes off vertically powered via the tether and after reaching the appropriate height, it flies horizontally in crosswind circles
Tethered to the base station, Wing 7 flying wind turbine ascends to a height of 1,300 feet (400m) where it generates up to 20-kilowatt of power
7/11
Tethered to the base station, Wing 7 flying wind turbine ascends to a height of 1,300 feet (400m) where it generates up to 20-kilowatt of power
Tethered to the base station, Wing 7 flying wind turbine ascends to a height of 1,300 feet (400m) where it generates up to 20-kilowatt of power
8/11
Tethered to the base station, Wing 7 flying wind turbine ascends to a height of 1,300 feet (400m) where it generates up to 20-kilowatt of power
Tethered to the base station located on the ground, Wing 7 flying wind turbine ascends to a height of around 1,300 feet (400m) where it flies autonomously generating up to 20-kilowatt of power in a 20mph (35km/h) wind
9/11
Tethered to the base station located on the ground, Wing 7 flying wind turbine ascends to a height of around 1,300 feet (400m) where it flies autonomously generating up to 20-kilowatt of power in a 20mph (35km/h) wind
Wing 7 airborne wind turbine's prototype
10/11
Wing 7 airborne wind turbine's prototype
Featuring a carbon fiber wing, the flying wind turbine prototype has a wing span of 8 meters (26.2ft) and weighs in at 58.4kg (128.7lbs)
11/11
Featuring a carbon fiber wing, the flying wind turbine prototype has a wing span of 8 meters (26.2ft) and weighs in at 58.4kg (128.7lbs)
View gallery - 11 images

Wind can be an unpredictable and unstable source of power, and high in the sky where it is more stable, it's difficult to exploit. Airborne wind turbines could provide a solution to this problem, but although the idea has been around since the 19th century, it's never been exploited on a larger scale. California's Makani Power aims to change that with its innovative flying wing turbine design. Wing 7 is essentially a cross between a UAV and a wind turbine that's tethered to a ground station from which it ascends to a height of around 1,300 feet (400m) and flies autonomously, generating up to 20-kilowatt of power in a 20mph (35km/h) wind.

Makani Power's designers have used carbon fiber to construct the 8 meter (26.2ft) wide Wing 7 prototype, keeping the weight down to 58.4kg (128.7lbs). The flying wing can move both vertically and horizontally due to its uniquely designed tail and rotors. It takes off vertically and after reaching the appropriate height, it becomes a sophisticated kite with onboard avionics that enable it to fly horizontally in crosswind circles. The electricity generated by its rotors is then transmitted down the electrically-conductive tether for storage purpose.

The circular path taken by the flying wing is designed to mimic the tip of a wind turbine blade (its most efficient part) and sweeps a much larger section of the sky than a conventional wind tower. This, along with less material and lower distribution costs, adds up to a more efficient renewable energy solution according to Makani.

Tethered to the base station, Wing 7 flying wind turbine ascends to a height of 1,300 feet (400m) where it generates up to 20-kilowatt of power
Tethered to the base station, Wing 7 flying wind turbine ascends to a height of 1,300 feet (400m) where it generates up to 20-kilowatt of power

Wing 7 is being tested in a series of flights this year and, with the backing of funding from the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and private investors including Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Makani Power hopes to develop a 1-megawat flying turbine - the Makani M1 - that's capable of operating at 1,800 ft (550m) altitude and bring it to market in 2015.

The video below presents a test flight made in July, that fully demonstrated Wing 7's power generation and autonomous flight modes:

Source: Makani Power via Popular Mechanics.

Makani Power, Autonomous Power Generation, July 8, 2011

View gallery - 11 images
20 comments
20 comments
Brian H
Great. Visual and real estate pollution by \'renewable\' off-again on-again hi-price power pseudo-sources has now reached the skies.
Just think! In optimum conditions, a GW of capacity will only require 50,000 tether-towers and kites. How many square miles did you say that would cover?
Jerome Thomas
I would sooner have the blimp fall on me than this 128lb weight! jt.
Dave Andrews
I hadn\'t even thought about the mobile implications of this until I watched the video. It could easily and quickly be brought to locations in emergency situations or remote locations to provide power where it otherwise would be difficult or impossible.
As far as Brian H\'s comment goes... I\'m not surprised. People CLAIM to want clean, renewable energy, but bitch and moan without end every time a genius new idea comes up. For Jerome\'s comment, a blimp would weigh far, far more than 128 pounds and would be more likely to hit you because it would cover so much larger of a space.
This concept has massive implications, especially in those situations where other energy sources are too slow to build or impractical.
Lsaguy
Dave, put me down as a bitcher and moaner, I guess, but \"genius\" new ideas are generally partly baked at best. For this one you have a major intrusion into the national airspace system and no mention of the logistics of accommodating it. 1300 feet puts you into class E airspace where planes are allowed to fly IFR (on instruments) Each time you put one of these up a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) will be required and adequate time for it to be posted into the system. Disaster zones are generally areas of high airspace occupancy so the idea of putting one of these things up there is just asking for an accident to happen.
tomsonone
How many Birds are gonna die Flying into the Tether?, This looks like a REALLY STUPID way to make Electricity.. I looks like Sky Pollution to me. ~impractical, obnoxious, and environmentally disastrous concept alert~
DnArturo2
Brian H - I think your assumption is off. This is a prototype, and no one\'s suggesting laying out 50,000 of these things. The megawatt version would require 100 towers to produce a GW. Keep in mind you framed production as a GW, most large windfarms top out at 500 MW. So we\'re only talking 50 towers for a major wind installation.
Tomsonone - Wind installations already have to complete comprehensive environmental impacts. The flight path of a single tether is likely to reduce bird strikes as compared to a traditional turbine.
Lsaguy - Completely valid point, a couple square miles of large wings like this flying around in circles in is going to cause waves with the pilot community.
Mark Evans
I really think air born wind generation is ONE of the ways we will replace fossil fuels. 20KW won\'t do it for utility\'s but would be great for emergency workers etc.
Everything is about scale, several high altitude units producing 25MW each would start being viable for taking the load off utility\'s.....
but then there are the hazards to aircraft..... over time it all will be worked out.
DnArturo2
Whoops :D Multiply those numbers by 10.
ebrush870
Would it not be easier to just have this plane act like a kite and be stationary with the propeller blades turning an onboard generator? If it just did that then it would be genius. The only thing you would have to manipulate would be the elevators. The plane would face the wind automatically because of it\'s tail, just like a windmill. Instead, this plane flies in a vertical circle to mimic a wind turbine. I sort of imagine it like putting a feather on the end of a string. If you blow on it, it buzzes around in a circle. But it\'s not reliable, so they had to waste time and money to program it to fly in a circle. Why? KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid.
kellory
Yakov has it right,there is no reason for the kite to \"harvest \" the whole sky. A tethered ballon with an improved vertical turbine suspended beneath it would be much simpler and much less to go wrong with it. mount the generator in the basket, the turbine beneath, the power leads follow the teather back to the base. You could launch it in remote locations, mountians, valleys, rooftops during flooding with helieum to keep it aloft (wind is unreliable) the entire package could be airdropped in problem areas. You could even use it in woods or jungle once you get it through the canopy. It could even be used on ships at sea in need of emergancy power. But the kite is un-needed.
Load More