Kite Flying

I used to make and fly paper diamond kites when I was a kid, before all the kites you could buy in a dime store were plastic covered delta forms with a keel instead of a bridle and some kind of photo image on them.  I'd buy the forty-nine cent High Flyer kites and three balls of kite string, for a total of about a dollar and a half, and happily run the kite out until it was a tiny diamond dot in the sky, with over two thousand feet of Dacron string hanging under its own weight until I could just barely hold it high enough in my hand to keep the bottom of the catenary off the ground.  I did the same trick again in high school, putting a new sail on an old frame.

Kites have changed a bit since 1977, though -- I didn't know it then, but the change had already started before I last put three balls of string on a paper diamond.  The first maneuverable kites date back at least to the Second World War, when they were used as gunnery targets, and modern type stunt kites were patented in the 1950s.  And further back, there were patents issued as far back as the nineteenth century for innovative designs of kites to lift loads or fly in particular ways.  Don't forget, the Wright brothers started off making kites long before they started trying to put engines on their creations.  These days, there are several kinds of maneuverable kites for precision, trick flying, or to power a device such as a buggy, small boat, or surf board -- and of course a plethora of single line kite types that can be used to lift various objects on the line, fly combat, or just to hang up in the sky while the flier relaxes.

For myself, I have a group of inexpensive kites that serve me well.  Chronologically, the oldest kite in my stable is a Malay type diamond with a durable cloth sail and easily replaced (if needed) flexible dowels for the spine and spar, for which I paid (IIRC) $2 at a thrift store.  As I understand it, the Malay is distinct from the traditional flat diamond and bowed or dihedral Eddy by way of having a cross spar that is curved in the plane of the sail -- that is, the spar fits into pockets so that the ends are parallel to the leading edges, and crosses between the spine and sail.  This allows the spar to flex in the wind, slackening the sail and creating a dihedral effect that both serves to stabilize the kite and extends the wind range in which it can fly.  My particular Malay is on the heavy side, with a cloth sail much thicker than the thin ripstop commonly used for kites, so it requires about five miles per hour to fly (a similar kite made with light fiberglass or carbon spars and light ripstop might fly in as little as three miles per hour), but will tolerate wind up to about fifteen miles per hour -- perhaps more if I added a stabilizing tail, as the primary failure is that the kite falls off to the flier's right when the wind is too high.  I don't have a picture of this kite at this time, and I wasn't able to find a web page that clearly shows the forward bowed cross spar that I associate with the Malay kite design, but I'll put up a picture of mine, showing the spar layout on the back side, when I can.

Newer (to me) than the Malay are a couple commercially made, inexpensive kites.  One is a Pocket Parafoil made by Go Fly A Kite that I got on the Oregon coast several years ago.  It's a very compact kite, with the kite, twenty feet of multiple tails, and the line on a hoop spool all fitting in a small bag; I can take the kite out of the bag, fasten the line on with the included snap swivel, shake the kite out, and release it in less than two minutes.  It flies well in a range of wind from about five mph to twenty, though the pull gets pretty strong for the thirty pound line that came with the kite in the upper ranges.  It also stays inflated in slightly turbulent air better than the soft sled I got in a package with a book, How to Make and Fly Stunt Kites, by Jeremy Boyce.  I'm told soft sleds (simple single skin kites with ram tubes replacing the spars on the classic sled design) have a tendency to fold the leading edge inward and collapse in turbulence, and from recent experience, I can say that they don't reinflate on their own.

No photo of the soft sled yet.

About a year ago, I ran across another kite in a local thrift store -- this one is much larger, a variant on a Delta Conyne but with double delta wings, larger in the rear.  After rebridling, it lost the tendency it originally had to try to fly over my head and lose the wind, but the kite pulled so strongly in heavier winds that the lower longeron bent far out of shape, sending the kite off to one side and almost into the ground.  Once I got that spar replaced with a stiffer one (it had apparently been switched from 1/4" down to 3/16" before I got the kite), I found the tendency still existed for the kite to fly off to the right, though it does stay in the air.  Recent experiments have traced the fall off to the right to the upper left spreader riding higher than its counterpart, leading (I think) to a slot effect that enhances lift on the left side, causing the right to fall off.  I took a temporary tuck in the forward cell, shortening the left side by about an inch and a half (3 cm), and the kite now flies nearly straight until the wind gets strong enough to bring back the problem with the keel longeron bending -- which I think is caused by compression between the forward bridle attachment, at the extreme nose, and the rear attachment, slightly aft of the leading edge of the rear cell.  I may try changing all the longerons to the same kind of fiberglass tube spars that are use for the spreaders, or I may just declare this kite one that flies in a narrow range of wind.

And most recently, on the 10th of April, 2002, I built a simple paper covered bowed diamond, the bowed version of the classic Eddy design -- unfortunately, it turned out the wrapping paper sail wasn't up to the strong winds at the local kite gathering on April 13th, but I have more of that paper, and can easily replace the sail as well as making some minor upgrades to the frame; it will fly again (hopefully in lighter winds).  Here are a couple pictures showing the spar holder I made (originally intending to be able to disassemble this kite and roll it for storage, as I do my Malay) and the complete kite hanging on my wall -- and yes, Bert and Ernie are upside down; since I had the paper face down when I was cutting it to fit the perimeter string, I didn't realize this until the kite was fully assembled and I turned it over to attach the bridle.  I'll fix that when I replace the sail.

I took a couple pictures of other kites at the Washington Kitefliers Association monthly fly on April 13, 2002.  The one on the left is a big dragon; in the brisk wind, it was pulling hard enough to be a bit of a handling problem, but it flew stably and well in spite of that.  On the right is a Flowform with a face graphic (which you can't quite see in the image -- I have a cheap digital camera with a wide angle lens), lifting a spotted cow as line laundry.  I didn't get any good pictures of some of the odder kites at the gathering, but there'll be more such, and kite fliers tend to like eccentric and just plain strange stuff.

For those looking for lots more information about kites, try here:

Google Directory of Kite Plans
Virtual Kite Zoo Catalog
Flying Circus Kite Plans Page

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