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Indoor kites take flight

Watching a college friend fly a stunt kite that traveled 80 mph through the whipping wind transformed Mark Reed’s latent interest in tethered aircrafts into a full-blown “obsession.”

In 1992, he founded Prism Design Inc., a Seattle-based kite design and manufacturing company, which, he said, created the concept of indoor kites.

“We wanted to build something different,” Reed said, noting his company’s philosophy of bringing specialized tools, machines and production techniques to an ancient art.

Last week, Reed helped more than two-dozen Northeastern students in a 3-D design course assemble — and then test fly — lightweight indoor kites.

The kites — designed using Prism’s signature materials, including Mylar laminates, polyester string and carbon fiber tubing — achieve flight by using wind generated by the motion of the aircraft, which moves when users walk slowly backward or pull on the kite line.

Edwin Andrews, an associate professor of art in the College of Arts, Media and Design who teaches the course, praised the project’s utility. “This is a good fit for our class because the students are using a lot different materials and working with their hands,” he said.

Will Herbert, a freshman combined major in digital art and game design, took a break from assembling the kite to discuss its unique challenges.

“There are a lot of little details that you have to pay attention to,” he explained, noting an earlier class project in which he designed a human sculpture out of plastic wrap. “You have to keep making small adjustments and it will usually work out.”

Last Thursday, more than a dozen students in the class flocked to Cabot Cage to fly their kites in a windless environment.

Prior to the test flights, Reed offered a few prescient words of wisdom. “Flying is pretty easy, but it’s not a no-brainer,” he told the students. “It takes practice to get pretty good at it.”

“The goal,” he added, “is to get the kite flying for longer and longer periods of time.”

Herbert, who took his kite for a successful spin around the gymnasium, plans to keep his new toy. “My dorm is pretty full right now, but maybe I’ll hang it up on the ceiling,” he said. “That would work pretty well.”

Nolan Manning, a freshman combined major in digital art and game design, compared the project to designing tree houses and carpenter benches as a boy.

“Flying kites reminds me of being a kid,” he said.