An Aero-Structural Model for Ram-Air Kite Simulations

Paul Thedens, R. Schmehl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
36 Downloads (Pure)


Similar to parafoils, ram-air kites are flexible membrane wings inflated by the apparent wind and supported by a bridle line system. A major challenge in estimating the performance of these wings using a computer model is the strong coupling between the airflow around the wing and the deformation of the membrane structure. In this paper, we introduce a staggered coupling scheme combining a structural finite element solver using a dynamic relaxation technique with a potential flow solver. The developed method proved numerically stable for determining the equilibrium shape of the wing under aerodynamic load and is thus suitable for performance measurement and load estimation. The method was validated with flight data provided by SkySails Power. Measured forces on the tether and steering belt of the robotic kite control pod showed good resemblance with the simulation results. As expected for a potential flow solver, the kite’s glide ratio was overestimated by 10–15%, and the measured tether elevation angle in a neutral flight scenario matched the simulations within 2 degrees. Based on the obtained results, it can be concluded that the proposed aero-structural model can be used for initial designs of ram-air kites with application to airborne wind energy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2603
Number of pages18
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • airborne wind energy
  • SkySails Power
  • ram-air kite
  • fluid-structure interaction
  • dynamic relaxation
  • virtual wind tunnel


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