This article presents a numerical method for predicting unsteady aerodynamics of horizontal axis wind turbines (HAWTs). In this method the flow field is described by the unsteady incompressible Navier–Stokes equations. The rotor and tower are idealized respectively as actuator disc and flat plate permeable surfaces on which external normal surficial forces are balanced by fluid pressure discontinuities. The external forces exerted by the rotor and tower on the flow are prescribed according to blade element theory. Dynamic behaviour of the rotor aerodynamic characteristics is simulated using either the Gormont or the Beddoes–Leishman model. The resulting mathematical formulation is solved using a control volume finite element method. The fully implicit scheme is used for time discretization. In general, the proposed method has demonstrated its capability to adequately represent the field data. It has been demonstrated that the accuracy of the predicted results depends primarily on the dynamic stall model as well as on the turbulence model employed. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.