We’ve seen wind turbines fit for backyards, balconies, even oceans– and now pioneering wind-power engineers are looking to take wind turbines to new heights—15,000-30,000 feet in the air! Harvesting just 1% of the energy from jet-stream winds could produce enough power for everybody on the planet. Sky WindPower and Magenn Power are just two of the companies in the race to develop flying generators for high-altitude winds.

San Diego based Sky WindPower is developing a kite-like 1,100 pound Flying Electric Generator (FEG) capable of producing power for as little as two cents per kilowatt hour and flying between 15,000 and 30,000 feet. Four rotors at the points of an H-shaped frame provide the necessary lift to keep the platform floating in the air like a kite. Electricity generated by the spinning rotors is transmitted to the ground through aluminum cables tethered to the frame.

Sky WindPower hopes to build flying farms one day; the proposal calls for FEGs clustered in a 200-square-mile restricted airspace zone. Turbines constructed of aircraft materials would feature four 130-foot-diameter rotors and weigh in at 45,000 pounds. The FEGs would function like helicopters on liftoff, powered by the ground station until they can begin harvesting wind power. Once in the jet stream, the FEG’s vertical stabilizers would tilt the rotors at different angles to balance the platform and optimize wind speeds.

Canadian company Magenn Power has developed the Magenn Power Air Rotor System (M.A.R.S.), a helium filled wind generator that rotates around a horizontal axis and sends electricity down a tether that can be used immediately, stored in a battery or routed to the power grid. The M.A.R.S. flies at lower levels than the FEG, between 600 and 1,000 feet, and works with speeds from 4 mph to greater than 60 mph.

Another idea comes from Dr. Wubbo Ockels of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The Laddermill is a series of kitewings connected to rotate in a loop which generates energy, that electricity is then sent down a cable to the ground 30,000 feet below. Questions of cost and stabilization will no doubt play a big factor in whether any of these projects will succeed.

+ The Economist
+ Sky WindPower
+ Magenn Power
+ Laddermill
+ Wired News
+ Popular Science


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  1. hicketre2006 April 25, 2011 at 8:15 am

    I don’t normally respond to other comments. So therefore, this is going to make me sound horrible, but I have to say something.

    @aparr: #1: Spelling. #2: Punctuation. #3: The person that wrote this article is in no way related to the engineering or manufacturing process of this device. Also, all of your questions have probably already been analyzed and looked at by someone smarter than yourself. (And subsequently solved, I’m sure.)

    It just makes sense to me that if someone was investing so much time, energy, money, and manpower into something such as this, they would not one day say, “Oh crap. What about airplanes?”

    I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, and please don’t take this as an attack. If anything, it’s more of a compliment. Thanks for the laugh sir.

  2. aparr March 7, 2011 at 7:20 pm how do you plane to do this..concidering the strength og the wind at that high velosity and do are you going to prevendt any airplaine crashes in to the wind power source. and how are you going to make sure that the cable will be strongh enough to hold it and that it wont crash to tthe gound from a storm surge????

  3. jakenwalker January 6, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    I see a lot of people are talking about safety issues making this idea non-feasible. What if we could find a location on earth or a few locations where people don’t use airspace that often? Like Antarctica or something. Just remember you have to take into consideration the cost of getting the kites to the location and maintaining them. If it ends up more expensive than fuel oil whats the point? I know that humans could collectively come up with a solution to make this idea work. Think about how awesome it would be to offer wind energy to consumers at a lower price than conventional non-renewable sources! It would be revolutionary for this planet!

  4. abhy July 23, 2010 at 1:46 am

    this is a brilliant idea it will reduce the environmental exploytation and every house gat its own energy. but dear how is it wokr in heavy snow falls.

  5. kashiyer August 14, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Can we also build a car that may run on gasoline and electricity but electricity gets generated and stored when the car is in motion.
    Also my other question is without using the turbines or generators how do we convert wind energy into electrical energy. Basically I feel that when we use renewable energy sources we still need to use the turbines to rotate them in the magnetic field to generate electricity. The current sources like Photovoltaics dont have enough efficiency to power 10 homes leave alone entire cities.
    I would like to see ideas where in we convert Wind/Light/heat directly to electricity or mechanical without having to do Wind/Light/Heat to mechanical and then to electrical
    Dont know if I am making any sense at all folks as neither I am scientist nor a inventor

  6. Flying Wind Turbines Co... September 3, 2008 at 10:32 am

    […] read more | digg story […]

  7. Varianceof August 24, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Photovoltaic? NTY! These cells are only 25% efficient at capturing their energy source, photons. Wind works better, typically, on cloudy days and the windiest areas of the US just so happen to be the exact same areas where we pump all that black goo out of the ground. I recently, 4 months ago, installed a 10 Kw turbine on my .5 acre property in western Washington state and have been able to sell back 16$/ month, on average (during less windy summer months in this area), worth of electricity back to our PUD. The unit and battery storage cost me about 8k total and will completely pay for itself in 5 years and 2 months at my current estimates. The upfront cost hurdle is the thing we need to get over. I realize most homes can’t afford this initial cost, but through government incentives and tax deductions we can minimize this cost. If local government starts to dedicate the same lands they do for high-tension towers to wind turbines we could be green inside 10 years. It’s the pacs and lobbys you have to conquer first!!! We have a 1740 sq ft home with myself, my wife, and our daughter in our home and we use energy saving lighting and energy star rated appliances in our home, if that helps anyone gauge their needs a bit better. I am telling you, wind is the way of the future…period! The turbine is on an SSV tower at 28 meters with 7m blades and is unbelievably quiet. We average 13 mph wind speed in this area. I am using my batteries a lot in the summer months, but I figure this will stop during fall, winter and spring when our winds pick up drastically in this part of the state. We also have adopted an energy efficient living strategy. We don’t do ALL our laundry on the same day, we do one load 4 days/ week. We put our computer on stand-by every time we walk away from it. My daughter has been taught to walk around the house every hour and turns lights off. She is 4 and this is how we taught her how to tell time. She is a wiz at it now and is constantly reminding my wife (who seems to have the hardest time adjusting to the lifestyle) to turn off lights when she leaves the room! We get a kick out of it. My projections are for 23,000 Kw of energy by May of 2009. Which is actually 4,000Kw above the average projections for my area. My neighboors have all expressed interest after I showed them my first paymeny from our PUD. I can’t say enough good things about it! If you have the up-front capitol and even approach the suggested 11mph average wind-speed suggested for best operation you can say good-bye to your power company forever. I installed the tower myself which saved me 2k, and it wasn’t that hard to do due to the helpful nature of green-industry companies’ employees. There are cheaper options, such as the 1Kw turbines that are shockingly small and easy to install that supplement your power if you live in an area with less than desireable average wind-speeds. The residential market has taken leaps and bounds over the last 5 years and I may decide to upgrade my current turbine once this one pays for itself. Now if only I could get a company to make me an electric car so I can charge it off this thing and have a carbon footprint of near zero!!!

  8. Mekhong Kurt March 4, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    As has been pointed out, restricted airspace is common the world over. Just try piloting a small civilian aircraft over, say, Cape Canaveral, Edwards Air Force Base — or the White House. Ditto right around the world.

    Besides, such devices no doubt will be equipped with transponders and aircraft external lights. And the hoopla that undoubtedly will surround the launch of them, when [if] such happens, will ensure that just about everyone everywhere will be well-aware of their existence and location. Air forces and airlines will take note, and civil aviation authorities will be getting the word out to any Sunday fliers who may have missed the evening news.

    Someone asked how these things will be lifted. The article answers that: conventional powered helicopter technology until reaching operational altitude. Pretty straightforward — and, yes, requiring some use of fuel.

    There is one safety point the article does not address, one about which I’m curious. That is, a high-altitude wind turbine needs the capability of descending swiftly in case of violent weather. Even operating at 30,000 feet is no garauntee it won’t encounter such weather; I remember a number of flights I’ve been on at cruising altitudes of 27,000-35,000 feet during which the pilots had to go over or around thunderstorm systems, in which winds can be *extremely* turbulent, high-speed, and violent. Be a shame to see such an (undoubtedly) expensive contraption torn to shreds.

    Also, physical cables aren’t essential for energy delivery, but are only one option — and not a very good one, in my opinion. Nearly five miles of wire hanging in the sky? Why? What’s wrong with microwave or laser conveyance?

    Probably not something that will be deployed in the very near term, but perhaps in the mid-term.

  9. Flying Wind Turbines Co... October 16, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    […] read more | digg story […]

  10. Vince in Grand Rapids July 29, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Fellow contributors:

    I am impressed! Finally, a real discussion on the issues. Beats most other public comment sites I’ve visited.

    Another form of flying electric generator that might be practical would be a helium-filled tube that faces into the wind, funnelling the wind through the internal cavity, where the wind forces turbine blades to turn. The contours of the internal cavity could be designed to create maximum Venturi effect, enhancing the efficiency of the turbines. (The Canadian Magenn concept has the axis of the rotating helium balloon oriented across the wind, like an old-fashioned millwheel.)

    The Sky Windpower design gets its lift from a fraction of the wind pressure against the rotating blades. The plane of rotation is adjusted to maximize both power generation and lift. Rotating wing aircraft (not helicopters) have flown since the 1920s. See Wikipedia article on gyrocopters and gyroplanes, rotaplanes, and Autogiro (Autogiro is a trade name). Those things actually fly with a free-wheeling rotor, so long as horizontal motion through the air is sufficient.

    I agree with the comments that suggest that the fundamental challenge to the Sky Windpower concept is to manufacture a reliable, strong, lightweight, and highly conductive tether. Clearly, there is some altitude limitation at which the net power retrieved after deducting the lift component becomes uneconomical. The controlling variables are the mass and the electrical resistance and the drag per meter of the tether and the power of the wind and the efficiency of the rotor-generator apparatus.

    Sky Windpower has decided against a helium (or other lighter-than-air) balloon approach, because they figure that their gyroplane technique is more efficient. A gas-filled balloon creates a lot of drag, which the Sky Windpower design minimizes. One wonders, however, whether a gas-filled balloon might not be designed in the shape of an airfoil, to compensate for or overcome the drag.

    I would like to hear from anyone who knows of a manufacturer in Michigan who has relevant experience in aeronautical engineering and physics of catenaries and long-distance electrical transmission and characteristics and strengths of cables. Maybe if Sky Windpower can be convinced to build and test its flying electric generators here, Michigan can once again have a world-leading industrial base. (Has anyone seen the Mackinac Bridge and not marvelled at the engineering skill?)

    Vince in Grand Rapids

  11. Eric July 28, 2007 at 12:18 am


    My mistake, you’re correct. If planes would rely on hot air, you’d make a hot-air balloon instead. What I was trying to convey was that you would not want to burn jet fuel to keep these turbines up.

    My comment about some of the energy produced that doesn’t make it to the power grid was not regarding friction or unwanted heat. I meant some of the energy from the turbines that could perhaps remain stored in a battery. This energy could then be used to keep the turbine up when wind speeds reduce. It would essentially be a system that stores energy to keep itself up from their own source, a self-maintained engine if you will.

    All in all Dave, I think we’re both agreeing that these things can and will fly one day. This just needs a little more media and corporate attention. Once industries realize how profitable this can be, they might jump on it. It wouldn’t hurt to have political recognition too… but that might be asking for too much. Either way, the reign of the oil industry will inevitably end. I just wish that happens before we’re up to our heads in floods and hurricanes.

  12. Brian July 26, 2007 at 7:54 pm

    Wow, first space elevators and now this!

  13. Dave S. July 26, 2007 at 4:06 pm


    While some of what you stated is true the is a huge flaw in your logic for how planes fly. You stated that planes use hot air to lift the wings and fly. This is completely incorrect. Planes fly by its engines to move air over the wings causing a low pressure to form across the top of the wings and produce lift. An easy way to prove your hot air statement incorrect look at the first airplane, the wright brothers, flew with out an engine of any kind. Also jets vent all air behind the wing not under it, the heat from the engine, in some cases, would actually melt the skin of the wing if it were in direct contact.

    But you are correct that not all the energy produced would be used to power the grid. There would be a loss in the generation of power from the drag of the blades as well as the friction of the barring with in the generators / motors.

    John thanks you are correct about air space being restricted.

  14. Michael July 26, 2007 at 8:16 am

    To the skeptics:
    Prototypes of all these systems have already flown.
    A few years ago I had a large kite 8×8′ that broke the flying line and took off. I found it 4 days later still flying with the end of the line tangled in a tree, and that was only at 400 ft or so. The winds in the higher altitudes are far stronger and nearly constant, which makes these schemes less challenging than they seem. As materials science progresses and highly conductive or even superconductive carbon nanotube cables are made the amount of weight needed to be lifted decreases dramatically.

  15. john1940 July 25, 2007 at 1:04 am

    These are great concept ideas and with some time and money may be practical. To correct some airspace comments above — all airspace in the US is now restricted and has been for years and long before Bush. The restrictions allow for layers and corridors of use for aviation primarily but that is very restricted. There is substantial airspace dedicated to military use for testing and training. Erecting towers and tall buildings may violate airspace limitations. Most of these have been worked out over time and there should be no problem to a well conceived wind energy plan.

    My one big question is the weight of the tether and power cables. At some height this is going to be a limitation.

  16. Eric July 24, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    Dave, I think you have some good points there. However it’s difficult to relate these flying wind turbines with airplanes as far as gaining height goes because airplanes use jet engines and burn expensive fuel to heat the air under it’s wings. It’s not like these turbines will burn fuel.

    That being said, it is not that hard to keep these turbines airbound. In fact, the engineers behind these concepts have already looked into it much more than you and me. Just visit Sky Windpower’s website or see the article “Harnessing High Altitude Wind Power” and hopefully it’ll put most of this discussion to rest.

    To sum up how these turbines can stay in the air, there is more than one method. First, not all the energy produced from the spinning turbines will be intended to feed into the power grid. Some of it will be used as power to maintain it in the air. In that respect, it is similar to an airplane, in that it’ll produce hot air that lifts the system.

    Second, these turbines can act as balloons, much like the Magenn model, which uses helium. However gas balloons can leak and would need patching up or more gas. An alternative to feeding it gas, these balloons can also harness the energy of the sun to heat the air inside the balloon, which would lift like a hot-air balloon. I find it hard to believe that none of these systems can fly.

    Altogether, it’s a wonderful idea! It only needs more attention, which it might gain one day when people realize how this energy would cost less than ANY OTHER METHOD! …With the exception of hydro of course, but hydro power has its limits. Food for thought…

  17. Dave S. July 24, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    You know it really amazes me how many people don’t think before they type. There are people that have talked about air crashes, these would be in RESTRICTED air space. Air space for altitudes above 15000 feet is limited to a very small number of routes and altitudes. Planes flying east – west are at one height and west – east at another. Most people don’t realize it but planes fly in routes similar to highways for cars. There is a lot of open space where planes never fly.

    Some have talked about how much copper wire would weigh at 30000 feet in length, in the article it only talks about ALUMINM cable. The amount of lift from these would types of systems would generate would actually cause more issues with making a base that could take the pressure. Also think about this the typical commercial jet weights in at about 300 500 tons, that’s 600,000 to 1,000,000 pounds fully loaded with passengers and luggage and fuel.

    This type of technology could be placed in almost any state as there are places where most of these questioned issues most likely would not be issues. On the east coast these could be flown over the ocean with bases on the shoreline. In the mid west these could be mounted in large farm where there are few occupied locations. On the west coast there are the tops of the mountain where you would only need 1/2 to 1/3 of the cabling to extend them up.

    As for issues with storms and maintenance these could be pulled down and anchored with little issue.

    Only major issue I see is if one of the 4 blades or mechanical stops spinning. This could send it down in a spiral with possible issues. But good maintenance would help protect from this.

    But this is only my 2cents.

  18. reeder July 24, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    How about a combination Space Elevator/Wind Turbine? Seems the most logical and cost effective.

  19. Someone July 24, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    Has anyone counted how heavy 30,000 feet of copper cable would be ? It wouldn’t be able to hold itself up, let alone a generating platform holding itself AND the cable. Yes, a cable that long would break under it’s own weight. And for the copper cable to be able to cope with 1.5MW of power, it would need to be pretty thick.

    A great idea, yes, but the delivery method of the power has to be solved.

  20. Eric July 24, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    To all the people that are predicting mid-air collisions,

    I think some of you may forget how much volume there is in the troposphere. This is the layer of air that commercial airplanes occupy, as well as birds, and at some points around the world, it can be 17km in thickness. Bearing this in mind, there is a lot more potentially useful space in this layer of the atmosphere, compared to land space.
    If you were to take all the cars on the face of the Earth and make them “flying cars”, there would never be traffic congestion again. Never even the need for traffic lights perhaps. That’s not to say that you can fly a commercial airplane anywhere… That’s why there is such a thing as restricted airspace. Think of it as traffic lanes in the sky. Back to the flying cars analogy, in such a case, you have to have quite the controlled set of guidelines to avoid collisions, which can be achieved with modern communication technology.
    However, for the time being, we’re talking about ONE flying wind turbine. How hard is it to tell and aircraft “DON’T FLY HERE!!” There is still plenty of space to fly in.

  21. Lexx Greatrex July 24, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    Restricted airspace means no helicopters or planes allowed.

    I think this technology could be particularly useful in the developing world,

  22. Personne July 24, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    What about microwaves ? I read once that there were studies to transport energy from sunlight from space (satellites) to earth using microwaves, wouldn’t it be possible to transport the energy from the wind using microwaves ?

    Thanks (from an absolute ignorant) !

  23. Steve July 24, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    What about in hurricanes?

  24. Steve July 24, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    With an “invisible” vertical power cable here and there in the sky, I could imagine spectacular plane and helicopter crashes :-(

  25. Vince in Grand Rapids July 22, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    Correction: The comment that is to be translated is dated July 19 at 4:02 pm.

    Vince in Grand Rapids

  26. Vince in Grand Rapids July 19, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    Dear Mr V:

    I do not share your apparent despair. The winds at mid-troposphere altitudes will still be there long after the present US administration is history.
    Is it still true that you “love the concept and thinking behind flying wind power?” If so, I encourage you to make some serious inquiries and consider how you might contribute to the effort to free our country and others from our unsustainable dependence on petroleum and natural gas. The appeal of the Sky Windpower proposal is that it is an example of talented and ingenious people who are putting their time and energy and resources into solving problems rather than disdaining the effort.
    Nothing is free, but some things are cheaper than others. Sky Windpower estimates that under favorable conditions, its flying electric generators will deliver electricity at less than two cents (US) per kilowatt hour. Do you know of any other comparable prospective source of power that also promises to generate power without emitting carbon dioxide or leaving toxic and radioactive waste for future generations to dispose of? (Hydroelectric dams come to mind, but the really practical and effective sites are already taken, at least in this country. Further, I cannot envision our current political leaders ever taking the audacious route of the Chinese autocracy to build anything on the scale of the Three Gorges Dam, displacing millions of households and submerging so much productive land.)
    Have faith. The management and stockholders of such capitalist power-industry giants as BP (“Beyond Petroleum”) and United Technologies Corporation are not fools. If they see a potential profit, even in a visionary technology, they will seek a way to implement it. I cannot speak for Sky Windpower, but I predict that its owners would not refuse a generous offer for the right to develop and improve their concept.

    Vince in Grand Rapids

    PS Would someone be kind enough to translate the comment dated July 29 at 4:02 pm?

  27. 风力发电新高度 a... July 19, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    […] 来源 高空风力发电 […]

  28. Michael V. July 19, 2007 at 11:49 am

    Vince: Nothing in this world is either “CHEAP or FREE”. Let’s see if the energy companies, their stock holders and the corrupt governments around the world including the US government and our beloved Georgie Bush Jr and Dickie Cheney will give people inexpensive and clean energy, will NEVER happen as much as I and other would like, need or hope for. Your “SKEPTICS RANT” sounds like as if you work the PR for this ground breaking environmentally “green wash” friendly of an energy dream. You should become a lobbist for them!

  29. Vince in Grand Rapids July 19, 2007 at 2:06 am

    O, you skeptics! People were unwilling to believe that messages could be transmitted by undersea cable from England to North America until Cyrus Field (on his second attempt) accomplished it in 1866. We will see this technology demonstrated within the next ten years. After some of the technical challenges are overcome, such as protection from lightning strikes, we will find that flying electric generators are much more economical and efficient than many of the other alternative power sources now in use.

    Some NIMBY (not in my back yard) resistance is to be expected, but the demand for electric power will settle most controversies in favor of the deployment of the devices, at least in carefully selected locations near large markets but out of essential air traffic corridors. Among the advantages: the generators will be high enough to be invisible and inaudible (not seen and not heard). Maybe the platforms will perform multiple functions, such as weather monitoring and relaying of microwave transmissions, as well as generating electricity.

    Let’s embrace the prospect of nearly unlimited cheap electricity. Read the website

    Vince in Grand Rapids

  30. J July 18, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    michael – there are restricted air spaces all over the planet. especially over government property – the white house has the tightest restricted airspace, gaurded by the finest the airforce has to offer. that is the one obvious example, there are innumerable others (another one regarding the late yankees player who died flying a plane into a building, that was in restricted airspace). airliners obey the current air regulations in place now, and anything else designated by our government (or my U.S. government) in the future will be obeyed as well. I love these concepts…but I too am skeptical if I’ll ever see them in action. not that they can’t work, but because some certain people won’t allow them to work.

  31. marina s. July 18, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    interesting idea and i love the idea of wind power (the north sea wind turbines and nyc east river underwater turbines are incredible). however, i’ve got a concern about these: weather. tornadoes? hurricanes? lightning? these are just the first things that came to mind.

  32. Lucy in the sky with fl... July 18, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    […] Link […]

  33. Michael V. July 18, 2007 at 10:42 am

    I would like to see anyone or any country restrict airspace, in what country?
    The airline insudtry is growing 13% a year globally and will only increase as globalization grows and spreads…
    Maybe in Arctica or Antarctica. BTW: I love the concept and thinking behind flying wind power, these particular concepts will never be realized.


  34. Wind power « Econ... July 17, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    […] Today, I saw a competitor for this genius (it’s cool: I’m not the judge or anything): airborne wind-turbines. I.e., plugging wind into your house. From the makes-me-green-with-envy blog Inhabitat: […]

  35. Stephen B July 17, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    Looks awesome can’t wait to see it in operation. Naysayers and wind-haters be damned, this is one idea that has wings and might just fly.

  36. Charles S. July 17, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    I have been doing research on these generators for as long as the idea has been around, and believe me all the questions and doubts about the flying electrical generators have been thought about years ago. The weight of the teathered cables has been calculated into the entire scenario. The airspace that they would fly in is restricted so a commercial or jet airliner wouldn’t ever get close to them. The whole reason for flying these generators 30 thousand feet in the air is that there are constant high winds that are much more predictable than ground based winds. To answer the question about safety, if for some reason a flying electrical generator fell out of the sky, it would fall out in an uninhabited area far from any town or city in restricted space. I believe that flying electrical generators are the next step in electrical energy, and I can’t wait for it to happen.

  37. michael B July 17, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    The article says the airspace would be restricted- therfore no jetliners running into the generators. The maintnenace would be easy- just pull the things down to earth by the cable. The lighter thanair idea (magenn) seems very feasible to me.

  38. Michael V. July 17, 2007 at 9:23 am

    The first visual is absolutely stunning and beautiful, however getting such a wind turbine to fly/float 15-30 thousand feet off the ground is just a fantasy at best. How do you manage to get this heavy object off the ground? How many miles of cord/cable is needed to elevate the turbine 3 miles up? What if there is not enough wind power or lift to keep this heavy kite in the air? How do you keep the kite stable and in one location? What happens when a Boeing 767 collides with the wind kite?

  39. Christian July 17, 2007 at 8:20 am

    Interesting ideas, but I have to wonder about the safety of having something as large and heavy as the FEG operating up there. Maintenance has got to be an interesting challenge too.

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