Reinhart Paelinck – FLYSURFER Kiteboarding R&D 2011-2016
Our former colleague Reinhart Paelinck is a mindful and creative character, a person who inspired my personal thinking. He graduated with a Master in Product Development with his thesis on the conceptual development of an offshore kite power plant. At the same time, he wanted to finish his PhD in optimization-based kite design (K.U.Leuven, 2010-2011) but got hired by Skywalk GmbH & Co. KG. Reinhart took the chance to fulfil a childhood dream, building kites. He loved playing with them on the local beach of De Haan, in Belgium.
When we first met in 2014, he was already responsible for unconventional wing designs, control- and safety systems at FLYSURFER. He quit his job and founded “kiteswarms”, a company that specialised in building a multi-kite tethered airborne wind energy generator. His open-minded, problem-solving approach in kite design climaxed in a product truly “ahead of its time”, the PEAK. I got on a call with my dear friend between family life and his passion, the development of the next-generation Airborne Wind Energy Technology. Enjoy our conversation.
CH: Hey Reini, happy we finally make it. As usual, both of us are very focused on our projects, but it’s always great talking to you after a while. Where are you now? How is life?
RP: All good as you can see! We are busy with our children and have plenty of work to do. I am also very happy to see you, even if it is just an online meeting. I am in London for a change. The past few months have been tricky during the pandemic, but for sure, you can relate to that.
CH: I think everybody understands. I don’t recognize the background, but the noise sounds familiar. 😉 What are you up to, anything brand new you want to talk about, an exciting project?
RP: I am working on a kite with 12m of wingspan to harvest high-altitude wind energy. For once I am not optimizing the weight of a wing and therefore it’s the heaviest flying object I’ve ever built! It weighs nearly 400kg, it’s truly challenging. 😊
CH: What?! No way, that sounds ridiculous and super exciting at the same time. Let’s talk about the past and your time at FLYSURFER. Recently we presented our brand-new PEAK and the CONNECT Control Bar. You were once responsible for both product groups. What were your initial thoughts and the vision of the PEAK?
RP: Simplicity and minimizing the users time for setting up a kite. For sure marketing played a big role, and it was very fashionable to have minimalistic gear. Weight mattered! Safety and durability were big points of our discussions. The logical step was to focus on a single skin project, a system that fulfils all requirements. My personal vision was simple, I always wanted to build the lightest depower kite to date.
CH: Fun fact, it still is fashionable to have the most minimalistic, cutting-edge equipment on the spot. Many purists out there, maybe because of their carbon footprint or global warming or their social media fame. Life under restricted circumstances. 😀
RP: Trust me I know them too well. But they have a good point and I always believed that the single skin has the potential to change the way people approach this sport. All I did was build a cool kite 😉
CH: Exactly, go out and have a good time, like “the fox” (Reinhart’s nickname) did and still does. I think many still do not know about the “Easter Eggs” on our kites!
RP: I am sure nobody saw “the fox” on the PEAK2.
CH: Maybe a few people will start searching for them on a FLYSURFER kite now. Let’s get back to designing your cool kite.
RP: It is actually a very funny story. It was my creative project. At that time there was one single skin glider and some mini wings as an inspiration on the market. I had some experience in building and playing with “Nasawings”. It was almost a clean slate development, and the first generations of prototypes were flying horribly. Some months later, I was still fighting with front stalls or wingtip collapses. I had to convince our CTO so I could keep going and got approval for one last prototype. Guess what?!
CH: You made a lucky punch?!
RP: Exactly, after receiving number 6, I took my skis and went out at sunrise to catch the valley wind. It was minus 10 degrees Celsius, and I froze my ass off. The good thing was, setting up the kite took me no time. Surprisingly it was FLYING well, with folded wingtips, but still controllable. 😀 I went straight back to the office and told Thomas, Manfred and Peter to follow me. After trying the kite, they were positively surprised, and I kept developing the product.
CH: I heard a rumour about you cutting the wingtips off of prototype number 6. Is that true?
RP: Yes, it is. 😊 It was the quickest option to avoid the wingtips from folding. It worked like a charm and the kite was flying better than ever before.
CH: Not the first time a designer cuts the unnecessary parts! You kite designers must love your optimization tasks. What I take away from your story is that the PEAK is initially designed as a snowkite. Lately, the product found a huge following in hydrofoilers.
RP: I still believe this type of kite will become the most popular of all. Low aspect ratio, good depower, small packing size, easy handling, strong pull and great working safety features are the ingredients of the perfect kite. It honestly blows my mind that it took the kiting scene such a long time to recognize the potential of the PEAK. A classic case of technology adoption and awareness. The only thing it is still missing is a reliable water relaunch probably because I never had the time for it. 😉
CH: On point analyses. I was going to ask you about the future of the sport, but that was a good answer to this question. Well, Reini, it was a pleasure and hopefully, I see you soon in person. Take care and thanks a lot.
RP: Likewise, ciao!
Always fascinating to catch up with old friends and it felt like we’ve met yesterday. See you soon and enjoy the holidays with your family.