Ill-Fated Windmill Just Outside Boone

The Mod-1 windmill. Image from NASA.On July 11, 1979, Boone celebrated “Windmill Day” with a street festival to dedicate NASA’s Mod-1, the world’s largest megawatt industrial windmill on Howard’s Knob.

The windmill was installed on the 4,400-foot peak as part of a program run by NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy to study wind power in response to the petroleum shortages of the 1970s OPEC oil embargo. The mammoth steel structure—which was 140 feet tall, 200 feet wide across the blades, and weighed more than 350 tons—had propellers supplied by Boeing and generator by General Electric.

The Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation ran the project locally to return electricity, anticipated to power 500 homes, to the energy grid.

A harbinger of the project’s fate, the winds only blew at about 6 miles per hour that first day, requiring manual rotation of the propeller blades. The windmill was soon plagued by terminal structural issues, inconsistent winds and negative public perception from complaints of noise, disrupted television reception and wasted public dollars.

Too costly to repair, the federal government dismantled and sold the windmill in 1983.

The windmill also became the centerpiece of pranks by Appalachian State University students. In one account, TV news cameras were met by students dressed in sheets, calling themselves “Wooshies” who worshipped the god Nay-zuh.

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