SkySail's aerofoil is designed to maximise thrust whatever the wind conditions. It uses a computer autopilot and patented wind sensors coupled to the ship's steering system to calculate the kite's optimum position. Then the autopilot manoeuvres the kite using motors in a control unit suspended beneath it to change the trim of the aerofoil by adjusting the tension in its control lines. The kite can move along a rail around the hull to maximise its towing efficiency and a winch on the ship adjusts the length of the kite's main line to fly it where the wind speed and direction are most favourable.
"One surprising result from the trials was the vessel's stability in heavy seas," Wrage says. Unlike conventional sails, the kite tends to stabilise the ship instead of making it heel over. This is partly because it is tethered to a rail close to the vessel's centre of gravity, and partly because the horizontal tug of the kite is counterbalanced by the vertical pull it generates, which tends to hold the vessel upright. "The sail acts like a damper so the ship moves smoothly, which will prevent passengers being sick." This is significant because Wrage sees cruise liners, and the growing number of cargo ships that carry passengers, as important markets for the technology.
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