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Effects of Wind Turbines’ Wake Turbulence on General Aviation Aircraft and Airports

Description:

Wind power has increased exponentially since the dawn of the 21st century. “The amount of operating wind energy capacity has increased more than 16 times from 2000 to 2012” (American Wind Energy Association, 2014). Every state in the United States has either an operational wind energy project or a wind-related manufacturing facility, or both. By the end of 2012, the U.S. had 45,100 operating wind turbines across 39 states and Puerto Rico (American Wind Energy Association, 2014). Wind turbines and wind farms are especially popular and common in states where there is a strong wind resource and other critical factors are present, such as access to land and access to the transmission lines. Examples include Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota.

Today’s modern wind turbines capture the natural wind’s kinetic energy from the atmosphere and convert it into electricity. “Most wind turbines have three blades and sit atop a steel tubular tower, and they range in size from 80-foot-tall turbines that can power a single home to utility-scale turbines that are over 260 feet tall and power hundreds of homes” (American Wind Energy Association, 2014). As the blades of the wind turbine turn, a wake downwind of each turbine is formed and the shear layer at the edge of the wake quickly becomes unstable. This instability acts to break down the organized spiral of the tip and root vortices within a rotor diameter downwind of the rotor plane. (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2012) The Airport Cooperative Research Program’s Synthesis 28 explains that “wind turbines disrupt uniform air flow causing unseen turbulence produced downstream of wind turbines.”

The turbulence impacts are primarily limited to General Aviation (GA) aircraft due to their lightweight airframes and propensity to operate at lower altitudes where turbulence could occur (ACRP, 2013). It is for these reasons that some general aviation pilots, agricultural and air ambulance operators, airports managers, aviation associations, and the available research on the topic express concerns about the wake turbulence that the spinning blades of the wind turbines are creating. The potential hazard caused by wind turbine vortex wakes seems to be viewed as two different types: the induced roll hazard on the aircraft and the gusty crosswind from the vortex (University of Kansas, 2013).

Objective:

The objective of this study is to understand the wake turbulence generated by wind turbines and wind farms; determine if these structures present any hazard and negative impact on general aviation aircraft, specifically including agricultural aircraft, air ambulance aircraft and operations around nearby airports; establish parameters for the safe operation of general aviation aircraft near wind turbines; and identify opportunities for improvement of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) Obstruction Evaluation process.

Sponsoring Committee:AV020, Aviation System Planning
Date Posted:12/12/2015
Date Modified:03/09/2016
Index Terms:General aviation, Aircraft operations, Turbines, Wind power generation, Electricity, Kinetic energy, Turbulence, Rotor blades, Renewable energy sources, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Subjects    
Aviation
Safety and Human Factors

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