Flight trajectory optimization of Fly-Gen airborne wind energy systems through a harmonic balance method Articles uri icon


publication date

  • October 2022

start page

  • 2039

end page

  • 2058


  • 5


  • 7

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 2366-7443

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2366-7451


  • The optimal control problem for flight trajectories of Fly-Gen airborne wind energy systems (AWESs) is a crucial research topic for the field, as suboptimal paths can lead to a drastic reduction in power production. One of the novelties of the present work is the expression of the optimal control problem in the frequency domain through a harmonic balance formulation. This allows the potential reduction of the problem size by solving only for the main harmonics and allows the implicit imposition of periodicity of the solution. The trajectory is described by the Fourier coefficients of the dynamics (elevation and azimuth angles) and of the control inputs (onboard wind turbine thrust and AWES roll angle). To isolate the effects of each physical phenomenon, optimal trajectories are presented with an increasing level of physical representation from the most idealized case: (i) if the mean thrust power (mechanical power linked to the dynamics) is considered as the objective function, optimal trajectories are characterized by a constant AWES velocity over the loop and a circular shape. This is done by converting all the gravitational potential energy into electrical energy. At low wind speed, onboard wind turbines are then used as propellers in the ascendant part of the loop; (ii) if the mean shaft power (mechanical power after momentum losses) is the objective function, a part of the potential energy is converted into kinetic and the rest into electrical energy. Therefore, the AWES velocity fluctuates over the loop; (iii) if the mean electrical power is considered as the objective function, the onboard wind turbines are never used as propellers because of the power conversion efficiency. Optimal trajectories for case (ii) and (iii) have a circular shape squashed along the vertical direction. The optimal control inputs can be generally modeled with one harmonic for the onboard wind turbine thrust and two for AWES roll angle without a significant loss of power, demonstrating that the absence of high-frequency control is not detrimental to the power generated by Fly-Gen AWESs.


  • Aeronautics
  • Mechanical Engineering