Electricity in the Air: Insights From Two Decades of Advanced Control Research and Experimental Flight Testing of Airborne Wind Energy Systems

Chris Vermillion, Mitchell Cobb, Lorenzo Fagiano, Rachel Leuthold, Moritz Diehl, Roy S. Smith, Tony A. Wood, Sebastian Rapp, Roland Schmehl, More Authors

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)
73 Downloads (Pure)


Airborne wind energy systems convert wind energy into electricity using tethered flying devices, typically flexible kites or aircraft. Replacing the tower and foundation of conventional wind turbines can substantially reduce the material use and, consequently, the cost of energy, while providing access to wind at higher altitudes. Because the flight operation of tethered devices can be adjusted to a varying wind resource, the energy availability increases in comparison to conventional wind turbines. Ultimately, this represents a rich topic for the study of real-time optimal control strategies that must function robustly in a spatiotemporally varying environment. With all of the opportunities that airborne wind energy systems bring, however, there are also a host of challenges, particularly those relating to robustness in extreme operating conditions and launching/landing the system (especially in the absence of wind). Thus, airborne wind energy systems can be viewed as a control system designer’s paradise or nightmare, depending on one’s perspective. This survey article explores insights from the development and experimental deployment of control systems for airborne wind energy platforms over approximately the past two decades, highlighting both the optimal control approaches that have been used to extract the maximal amount of power from tethered systems and the robust modal control approaches that have been used to achieve reliable launch, landing, and extreme wind operation. This survey will detail several of the many prototypes that have been deployed over the last decade and will discuss future directions of airborne wind energy technology as well as its nascent adoption in other domains, such as ocean energy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)330-357
Number of pages28
JournalAnnual Reviews in Control
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project https://www.openaccess.nl/en/you-share-we-take-care
Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


  • Airborne wind energy
  • Autonomous flight
  • Tethered aircraft


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