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From Aircraft Wings to Wind Turbine Blades: NASA Software Comes Back to Earth with Green Energy Applications

Size Matters

In the search for greater efficiencies, how much bigger can wind blades go? Offshore turbine blades are already being built at 60 meters. And there are prototype and concept blades on drawing boards that approach a staggering 100-meter length, which, from tip to tip, is more than three football fields in length. This scale of blade length requires significant architectural changes because the loading involved is not only flapwise (causing lift, as with an aircraft wing), but also edgewise, such as a cantilevered beam.

These huge blades have no aircraft parallel. Wind engineers are now entering into a “clean-paper” area of design where innovative thought, supported by architectural trade studies that quantify reliability, is in high demand. Collier Research is currently working with Sandia on very large offshore wind blade designs to help establish their credibility so that industry can take them to the next stage of manufacturing. Software tools created for flight — but now are applicable to creative responses for more earthbound challenges — have come a long way from their NASA Langley origins more than two decades ago.

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