Extracting Energy from Atmospheric Turbulence with Flight Tests


  • Chinmay Patel Acuity Technologies Inc
  • Hak-Tae Lee University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Ilan Kroo Stanford University


Atmospheric physics


Birds frequently use the energy present in the atmosphere to conserve their energy while flying.  Although energy in the form of thermal updrafts is routinely used by pilots of full-scale and model sailplanes, the energy in atmospheric turbulence has not been utilized to its full potential.  This paper deals with the design of simple control laws to extract energy from atmospheric turbulence. A simulation-based optimization procedure to design control laws for energy extraction from realistic turbulence was developed, leading to about 36% average energy savings for a ‘bird-sized’ glider. Flight test results are presented to demonstrate the energy extraction concept and validate the predicted savings. The emergence of ultra-light sailplanes has opened up the possibility of utilizing this form of ‘gust-soaring’ for a class of manned sailplanes, and the concepts presented in this paper can serve as a background for understanding and applying the techniques to extract energy from atmospheric turbulence.                      .