Volume 17 • Issue 17 | SEPTEMBER 17 - 23, 2004

Downtown Express photo by Ramin Talaie

Buteo Huang was able to get 32 kites attached to a piece of string, a half-mile long, up in the air Tuesday. He pulled them in after they got in the way of helicopters.

Kite man worries air control, delights spectators

By Melanie Wallis

The airspace over the Manhattan skyline is always busy with helicopters and jets, but last Tuesday, if you looked up, you would have seen a half-mile string of kites flying among the clouds.

It took kite builder Buteo Huang, 42, two hours to successfully fly 32 kites, all attached on a single piece of string. In an event sponsored by World Financial Center Arts and Events, Huang had originally intended to fly 52 kites, which would have reached one mile into the sky, but he pulled them in when he noticed that they were flying too near to helicopters and airplanes. Huang, however, was confident that he would have reached his target had it not been for the air traffic.

Spectators, who had seen the kites from inland, had come to Wagner Park to get a better look at where the string of kites was coming from. Bus driver Anthony Palombella had seen the kites from Battery Park City and walked further south to the waterfront park to see the event. “I can’t get one kite in the air and he has 32,” said bus driver Palombella, 50. “I’ve felt the power of the string. You have to be very strong to hold that kite for this amount of time. It was like I was lifting weights. It makes you feel like you have hold on the wind.”

It was the wind that Huang had been battling with all day. Having attempted to start flying kites at 2 p.m., it wasn’t until 4 p.m. that he managed to keep the kites in the air. “There were about a dozen failed attempts,” said Bruce Cohen, an event spokesperson. “He tried flying a variety of kites — a large kite and one with a face. About three went into the water, then the wind steadied and the smaller kites worked.”

The $30,000 kite that took Huang three months to make could be seen from all over Manhattan. “I could see the kites from the eastside when I was riding home from work,” said Jamie, a Chelsea resident, who was cycling home from Wall St. “It’s pretty amazing. It’s a nice change to everything else usually flying in the air.”

Following Jamie’s comment, as if on cue, two police officers approached Huang, who was already in the process of bringing the kites in, to inform him that his kites were causing a problem. “It’s 100 feet in the air,” said one of the officers who declined to give his name. “We can’t have that. We have a heliport nearby.”

The officer said he had been instructed to intervene following a call from a Newark Airport official who was worried about the interference with air traffic. Huang, nevertheless, did have a permit for the task.

His kite passion led Huang to tour Europe, where he reached the one-mile target, wining first prize at 2002 Holland International Kite Festival. Huang, who has never visited New York before, said it was the surroundings that made this event his most exciting yet. “I usually perform as part of a kite festival and usually on a seaside location. Its exciting to fly the kites with a city view, with the skyscrapers in the background,” he said.

Born in the mountainous region of Sanxia, near Taipei, Taiwan, Huang has been flying kites since he was 11. A trained architect and interior designer by profession, Huang gave up his job to pursue kite design and is in talks with large corporations such as Kmart to mass produce his kites for them.

Huang’s ambition is to help organize a museum of kites for educational purposes. He also hopes to return Downtown to put on a kite exhibition at the Winter Garden.

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