Modelling Aero-Structural Deformation of Flexible Membrane Kites

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Airborne wind energy systems using flexible membrane wings have the advantages of a low weight, small packing volume, high mobility and rapid deployability. This paper investigates the aero-structural deformation of a leading edge inflatable kite for airborne wind energy harvesting. In the first step, a triangular two-plate representation of the wing is introduced, leading to an analytical description of the wing geometry depending on the symmetric actuation state. In the second step, this geometric constraint-based model is refined to a multi-segment wing representation using a particle system approach. Each wing segment consists of four point masses kept at a constant distance along the tubular frame by linear spring-damper elements. An empirical correlation is used to model the billowing of the wing’s trailing edge. The linear spring-damper elements also the model line segments of the bridle line system, with each connecting two point masses. Three line segments can also be connected by a pulley model. The aerodynamic force acting on each wing segment is determined individually using the lift equation with a constant lift coefficient. The particle system model can predict the symmetric deformation of the wing in response to a symmetric actuation of the bridle lines used for depowering the kite (i.e., changing the pitch angle). The model also reproduces the typical twist deformation of the wing in response to an asymmetric line actuation used for steering the kite. The simulated wing geometries are compared with photogrammetric information taken by the onboard video camera of the kite control unit, focusing on the wing during flight. The results demonstrate that a particle system model can accurately predict the geometry of a soft wing at a low computational cost, making it an ideal structural building block for the next generation of soft wing kite models.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5264
Number of pages24
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • airborne wind energy
  • kites
  • membrane structures
  • fluid–structure interaction
  • wing morphing
  • particle system model


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