Extended Dimensionless-Analysis- Reynolds Numbers are dimensionless, allowing confidence in scaling predictions between viscosity and structural limits. In KiteLab's work, it became clear that dimensionless analysis also applies to time, funding, and staffing of research.

Obliged to work at small scales, KiteLab found its design and experimental cycles were highly accelerated--compared to, say, Makani Power, Inc. [a major player in the commercial kite power field], which boasted it could e-mail a CAD file to China and get a prototype expressed back in 2-4 days, whereas KiteLab often does a novel kite concept in minutes or an hour or two. Several experiments a day is the norm.

Makani had 10 million bucks; KiteLab had 10 thousand (rounded #s)--three orders-of-magnitude difference. More crudely, Makani kites spanned the 100 sq. meter range; KiteLab ruled the 1 sq. meter world (two orders of magnitude difference). Makani had 30 employees; KiteLab was one guy helped by many great kite masters/volunteers/advisers; so in dimensionless-staff terms KiteLab was surprisingly advantaged.

A key to rapid progress was developing good experimental method. A leading kitemaster was aghast at my filthy habit of making numerous simultaneous changes to a design, and then expecting results to sift out--by some inner voodoo Fourier Transform, which served me well enough before. His method was one change at a time, which gradually gave certain results.

Heeding the leading kitemaster's critique, but not wanting to slow down, KiteLab developed a protocol of using matched kite elements, making a change to one, and directly comparing performance in a fly-off format (later I would even change one side of a symmetrical kite; and its lopsided response indicated a result).

Direct fly-off was a major tool to compare disparate complex solutions, leading to the development of a large kite-arch with halyards where varied components are to be run up, compared, and run down in record time. Debugging goes very fast. A dozen or so ground-based work-cells compare electrical generation, pumping air/water, traction, and other applications.

KiteLab's location at the mouth of the Columbia River (Ilwaco, WA) is a decisive advantage, a virtual Fermi Lab of fluidic environments--perhaps the best such place in the world. It is paradise compared to other kite research areas, with exceptional quality-of-life. Nearby is the World Kite Museum, whose collection and library is a major asset no other development project has had (much kite knowledge is not online). The use of salvage to make prototypes was important--COTS from birth.

These advantages and methods led to rapid progress; KiteLab was able to offer an advanced first-to-market kite energy product in '08 (Sputnik Flipper-Wings) while Makani was predicting five years of wait-&-see (dimensionless-time). KiteLab is scaling-up with confidence, almost overnight.

The world's-first Flying Wind-Farm continues as an open research tool to compare and validate major published concepts. In the rush to create open-source knowledge, KiteLab cuts corners in documentation, and left many alleys unexplored. It is still not clear which major kite-energy concept is the ultimate winner; they all work, only that the flipper wing was so elegant (~six parts), while the superb airborne-turbine was much more complex and expensive (~200 parts).

Dave Santos
Ilwaco, WA
Austin, TX