Tomorrow kite enthusiasts from around the country will converge on the National Mall for the 41st annual Smithsonian Kite Festival. Kite makers can can test their creations in a contest with rules and regulations you would expect in the nation’s capital:
By order of the Federal Aviation Administration, the weight of a kite must not exceed 5 pounds and altitude of flight must not exceed 500 feet. When informed that a Presidential helicopter is approaching, all kites must be pulled down immediately, and not re-flown until the all-clear announcement.
Kites have been a pastime since 3,500 years when they were invented in China. There is also some evidence that Malaysia, Indonesia and South Pacific islands developed kites for a more practical purpose: fishing. This clever technology mashup - still practiced today - enabled them to reach fish in shallows where there boats could not.
But fisherman weren’t the only ones to recognize the utility of kites - so did surfers. Kite surfing, also known as kite boarding, powers surfers through and above the water with a large inflatable kite usually attached to the user by a harness. Although the sport is only 13 years old, there are now more than 200,000 kite surfers around the world.
And if you’re more likely to pilot a large boat rather than a surfboard, you can just attach a Sky Sails to your ship. Cheaper than retrofitting large ships with sails and masts, these enormous kites can help reduce energy costs by taking advantage of ocean surface winds.
While the average five & dime kite is lucky to use all 500 feet of its discount cotton string, more serious kite enthusiasts upped the ante a few years ago. They started with a kite 30 feet in width, tethered it to a 3 inch thick Kevlar line and flew it to a record-setting height of 13,500 feet - more than two and a half miles in the atmosphere.
But recent research into using kites as a renewable energy source would shatter that world record.
Environmentalists were quick to hail wind turbines as a viable alternative to our reliance on fossil fuels, but bird lovers hated them. It seems that Don Quixote’s giants were swatting down some of their favorite feathered friends. So why not build the windmills farther from the ground?
Indeed there are several companies considering this. Treehugger reported that a Canadian company called Magenn has invented a wind-powered generator that is a cross between a kite and a helium balloon. Held aloft by helium 1000 feet in the air, winds cause the Magnus effect where “rotation increases, lift increases, drag will be minimized because of reduced leaning, and stability increases.” Electricity generated by these floating turbines is then sent to the ground via an electrical line.
Another idea takes windmills and attaches kites. The Italian company Kite Wind Generator uses kites 1000 meters in the troposhere that “are anchored to a revolving structure on a vertical axis, analogous to a giant merry-go-round, which conveys the energy… (to a) power-plant.”
And if kites pulling a merry-go-round isn’t innovative enough, imagine if Thomas Edison invented a kite today. Recent research proposed that flying electric generators (FEGs) could harness kinetic energy in jet stream winds. These winds more than six miles above the surface of the earth produce up to 100 times more energy than winds on the ground. According to the Washington Post, “just tapping into 1 percent of the energy in high altitude winds would be enough to power all of civilization.”
Of course, if none of these other kite-based solutions solve U.S. energy problems, President Bush can just go fly his What Would Jesus Do? kite.