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KU study: Wind farms could endanger small aircraft

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 18, 2014 at 12:44 pm •  Published: January 18, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Wind energy turbines could pose safety problems for small aircraft, according to a new University of Kansas study.

"These turbines can set up a circular vortex that can roll a plane if it gets in there," said Tom Mulinazzi, a KU professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering. The study was done by the university's engineering department for the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Mulinazzi said another problem is that the turbines "can increase crosswind speeds above what's expected, which can be a real danger to small aircraft, which don't typically take off and land with crosswinds stronger than about 12 mph."

The study was commissioned about two years ago after the Transportation Department's aviation division started hearing more pilots complain of unusual turbulence as they flew near wind farms, The Kansas City Star reported ( ). Kansas is one of the leading states for wind farm developments; there are 16 wind farms across Kansas, with proposals for 58 more, including some near airports.

Those complaints led regional aviation officials to think there might be something to the idea that wind turbines pose a potential safety hazard.

"It is an issue nationwide," said Jesse Romo, director of KDOT's aviation division. He said the study is the first of its kind and a first step toward getting additional regulations on the proximity of wind farms near airports.

"This study makes it clear that wind turbines create some level of turbulence," he said. But he said more study is needed to determine how big a hazard the turbulence is for small aircraft, such as planes that spray crops.

Before the study, several pilots who use the public airport in Pratt petitioned against plans for a wind farm to be built within three miles of the airport's runway. They said the more than 400-foot height of the proposed 68 turbines could obstruct takeoffs and landings, and possibly create winds causing dangerous turbulence.

The university's researchers looked at the pilots' objection at Pratt and another airport south of Stockton. Researchers concluded that at both airports pilots could potentially encounter a crosswind or "roll upset" generated from a wind turbine.

Reid Bell, airport manager at Pratt, said the Pratt wind farm project has been relocated farther away from the airport, and city officials approved an ordinance protecting airspace around the airport from any future wind farm hazard.