Soft-wing kites for airborne wind-energy harvesting function as flying tensile membrane structures, each of whose shape depends on the aerodynamic load distribution and vice versa. The strong two-way coupling between shape and loading poses a complex fluid-structure interaction problem. Since computational models for such problems do not yet meet the requirements of being accurate and at the same time fast, kite designers usually work on the basis of intuition and experience, combined with extensive iterative flight testing. This paper presents a fast aero-structural model of leading-edge inflatable kites for the design phase of airborne wind-energy systems. The fluid-structure interaction solver couples two fast and modular models: a particle system model to capture the deformation of the wing and bridle-line system and a 3D nonlinear vortex step method coupled with viscous 2D airfoil polars to describe the aerodynamics. The flow solver was validated with several wing geometries and proved to be accurate and computationally inexpensive for pre-stall angles of attack. The coupled aero-structural model was validated using experimental data, showing good agreement in the deformations and aerodynamic forces. Therefore, the speed and accuracy of this model make it an excellent foundation for a kite design tool.
- airborne wind energy; fluid-structure interaction; vortex step method; lifting line method; particle system model; membrane structures