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05/09/13

Photos of UTRC-Windtech by Paul Gipe

Like Grumman, McDonnell Aircraft, and Kaman, United Technology Research Corporation (UTRC) was an aerospace development company that specialized in military hardware. They too won a contract to develop a wind turbine from the US government’s research establishment. (I can’t remember if this was ERDA, NASA, Rockwell, or DOE and that’s why I am vague here.)

UTRC’s angle, an angle is always necessary to win a research contract, was the “bearingless rotor”. That is, the blades could change pitch without the need for a spindle and bearings on the blade shaft where it joins the hub. The pultruded fiberglass blades would twist about their longitudinal axis by the large fly weights at the end of metal straps.

The blades would pitch to stall in high winds. The blades were also highly flexible and the blades on the downwind rotor would sweep away from the tower like the ponds on a palm tree in a hurricane.

Carter developed the same concept independently of the federal research program.

UTRC installed a few prototypes: one in Boston harbor and at least one at Rockwell’s Rocky Flats test station.

There are photos from Rockwell’s Rocky Flats test site dated 1980 and 1982 showing the turbine in operation.

When the turbine in Boston harbor failed, the resulting bad publicity panicked United Technologies and they dumped the program and the technology.

Kip Cheney took his design from UTRC and commercialized it as Windtech.

15.8 meter diameter, 75-80 kW. Windsharks 16.4 meter diameter 80-90 kW.

At one time 220 Windtechs in California’s Tehachapi and San Gorgonio passes. There were also another 176 Windsharks, a derivative.

The rotors were unfortunately far too flexible and flapped in strong gusty winds, occasionally striking the tower. This and no doubt other issues affected the reliability and the availability of the turbines in the field.

There was a small shop at the Mojave airport where Windtech serviced and repaired their machines.

In the end, the turbines were used on some very rugged sites at projects built by small, poorly funded developers. Neither Windtech nor the developers had the financial wherewithal—nor the time—needed to solve all the problems inherent in the design and the turbines were all eventually—and at long last—removed.

In my 1995 book Wind Energy Comes of Age, I classified them as “unsalvageable” with most other American-designed wind turbines of the period.

 


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