Can wind kite and isle aircraft coexist?

A team of representatives from the research and development company Makani spent Wednesday evening in Waimea assuring pilots that an experimental wind project won’t interfere with flights.

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A team of representatives from the research and development company Makani spent Wednesday evening in Waimea assuring pilots that an experimental wind project won’t interfere with flights.

The Google-sponsored project aims to harness the winds of the Waimea plains to power an experimental kite capable of generating 600 kw of electricity, enough to power 300 homes.

The kite will be located about 5 miles south of the Waimea Airport on Parker Ranch land, at about the 4,100 foot level. Alden Woodrow, business team leader for Makani, told a group of pilots, aviation officials and residents that the project is located outside the airport’s airspace and procedures.

The tethered airfoil spins to mimic the turning of a wind turbine blade. The kite reaches 1,100 feet compared with the 500 foot height of a conventional turbine.

The lighted kite will be manned continuously, Woodrow said. It is unclear if the carbon fiber device will be flown at night. Makani would like to do night operations but is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to make sure that would be safe, Woodrow said.

The prototype would be deployed in 2015, tested for one year, then decommissioned.

Former pilot Derek Salmon questioned whether the project site is truly away from aircraft and asked how the tether would be made visible.

“People going from Kona to Hilo go right through there,” he said.

Another pilot wanted to make sure the kite is highly visible to aircraft. Paul Ponthieux was concerned that pilots would fixate on the kite and not realize it was tethered.

“The tether needs to be really visible, even more so than the kite,” he said.

Visibility can deteriorate in the area, especially during vog conditions, and conditions are extremely changeable, pilots warned.

“Anything you can do to raise visibility,” said Hawaii Life Flight pilot Britton Hartman.

Reflective paint may be placed on the tether, and engineers are working on other measures to make the system stand out, Woodrow said.

“Everything that is an obstruction to pilots would be lit up like a Christmas tree,” Woodrow assured the group, which met at the Waimea Aiport. “It’s very important to us to be safe and conspicuous.”

Pilot Joseph Loewenhardt noted the wind reverses direction frequently in the area.

“You want to go somewhere like Upolu Point where the wind never changes,” he said.

Woodrow said engineers were aware of shifting winds and had selected the site partly for that reason.

“If we’re going to build an effective technology it needs to respond to changing wind conditions,” he said.

The machine, being built in a hangar in Alameda, Calif., is equipped with four small turbines. The turbines can also be used to steer the kite back to the ground when the wind dies, Woodrow said.

Makani is seeking a way to harness the wind without massive infrastructure.

“We can eliminate hundreds of tons of glass, steel and concrete. The big benefit is access to these stronger winds,” Woodrow said. “Over the course of a year we can generate lower cost energy.”

Makani has successfully tested 10-hour runs of similar machines in California, Woodrow said. But the kite which Makani hopes to test next year is three times larger and capable of generating 20 times as much power.

“The next steps are to generate something that works in the real world and generates power at a low cost,” Woodrow said. “We think we found the best place in the world to do this and that is here.”

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Anyone with questions can direct them to makani@google.com, Woodrow said.

Email Bret Yager at byager@westhawaii today.com.

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