Step 1: Single-Line Kites: a basic glossary.
Kite flying is a popular hobby with many faces: traditional family pass-time; art form; traditional craft; science; extreme sport. Unfortunately, people new to kiting sometimes get confused by the great variety of technical terms that can be used. This article provides kite flyers with simple definitions of the main terms used when flying kites that have just one line, and with generally-accepted names for the main kinds of kite.
Parts of a Kite
Line: the string you hold when the kite is in the air.
Reel or Winder: The object that stores the flying line, similar in some ways to a fishing reel. They can be simple sticks with the flying line wrapped around, plastic handles with a pair of projecting forks to wrap the line around (the most common form), or winders that look a lot like a fishing reel. Whatever form they take, it is vital that you make sure that the end of the flying line is actually tied to the winder, or you will get to the end of your flying line and simply lose the kite to the wind.
Sail: the fabric or paper that makes up the horizontal (or nearly-horizontal) parts of the kite. Sails provide lift.
Leading Edge: The front edge of the kite sail, that hits the wind first.
Trailing Edge: The back edge of the sail.
Frame: poles, rods or sticks that hold the kite in shape. Parts of the frame have many different names, but the most common are spar (a rod that goes roughly side-to-side; longeron or spine (a rod that goes front-to-back); spreader (a rod that holds other rods apart); riser (small rod that lifts part of the kite out of the flat plane).
Bridle: the loop or loops of string that join the line to the rest of the kite. On some soft kites, the bridle can look like the complex lines of a parachute. Simple bridles control the angle the kite flies at, complex bridles also hold the kite in a certain shape. Some kites do not have bridles at all.
Tail: used to keep kites stable, pointing the right way, or just for decoration, tails are long, narrow and flexible.
Drogue or Basket: bucket or bowl-shaped objects on the end of a line behind the kite, they are sometimes used instead of a tail as they do not need to be so long.
Dihedral: a bend or curve in the kite that helps keep the kite stable.
Keel: A vertical piece of sail material beneath the kite like the keel of a boat. Keels help keep the kite stable, and provide a place to attach the flying line without a bridle.
Line Laundry: objects fastened to the flying line to look nice in the air. They could be flags, extra tails, inflatable shapes or baskets. Line laundry has no lift, and the kite itself is often just there to hold up the laundry.
Things the Kite Does
Pull: Simply, how hard the kite pulls against its anchor or the person holding it. Technically, pull is a combination of the upwards lift of the kite and the force down-wind due to the kiteÃ???Ã??Ã?ÃÂ¢Ã??Ã?ÃÂ¢?Ã??Ã?ÃÂ¬Ã??Ã?ÃÂ¢?Ã??Ã?ÃÂ¢s drag.
Pitch: The motion a kite makes when its nose moves up or down. The pitch of a kite can change the way it flies. A kite with too much pitch will not lift as well as it might, a kite with too little pitch will stall and nose-dive out of the sky.
Roll: A 'wiggle' along the length of the kite where the right or left sides move up and down. A slight roll will make a kite move to the side - that is how two-line kites work.
Yaw: A twisting motion made by the flat kite, where the nose of the kite turns left or right.
Put your hand flat on the table. Pretend it is a kite in the air. If you lift your fingers or the heel of your hand off the table, that is pitch. If you twist your hand flat on the table, that is yaw, and if you twist your wrist so that just your thumb or little finger lift off the table, that is roll.
Wind Shadow: The area behind an obstruction (such as trees or buildings) where the wind is not blowing. The wind shadow can be much longer than the height of the obstruction.
Turbulence: 'Mixed up' wind, with flows in more than one direction (sometimes even down!).
Beaufort Scale: A way of measuring wind speed.
Kinds of Kite
There are only eight basic forms of kite, although there are many variations on these themes:
Flat: Flat kites are just that, flat. The frame holds the sail completely flat, and often surrounds the edge of the sail. Popular flat kites are the three stick or barn door kite and the dragon or serpent, which incorporates a long tail as wide as the kite.
Bowed: Bowed kites have frames that cross the kite, left to right and top to bottom, but do not surround the sail. The cross-wise parts of the frame are bent or curved upwards. The bend can be built into the frame, or held in using cords that pull the frame into a curve.
Box or Cellular: Three-dimensional kites which often look like flying boxes. They are often made of a repeating shape or cell. The two most common shapes of cellular kite are rectangular boxes and tetrahedrons.
Delta: An extremely popular and useful kite, triangular in shape (hence the name). Deltas have a single spreader, a spine down the middle, and rods long the leading (front) edges of the kite. They can fly in a wide range of winds, and lend themselves to a range of variations on the theme, such as seagull or swallow shapes. Most sport stunt kites are based on the delta form.
Sled: Sled kites have little or no frame. Most kites (those mentioned above) have a dihedral that goes up at the sides, but sled kites are higher in the middle. The pressure of the wind holds the kite open, so no frame is required across the kite, and many do not have frames running up and down the kite. They can be folded up very small, so are often sold as 'Pocket Kites'. They are easy to make and fly and do not break if they crash, so they make good starter kites for children.
Foil: Foils are similar to sleds, but lack any sort of frame. They are dual skin kites - air enters between the skins at the front of the kite and inflates the kite. Careful design means that the kite then takes on a shape and profile very similar to a wing. This generates a lot more lift than a usual single-skinned kite. Most foil kites have bridles with lots of 'legs', similar to the shroud lines of a parachute. Foils are also known as parafoils and flowforms, especially if they have been designed to resemble other objects. Famous flowforms include the giant kites of New Zealander Peter Lynn. He has produced trilobites, octopi and geckos the size of trucks and houses.
Rotor: Rotor kites are rare. They do not gain lift from sails. Instead, they spin to gain lift. Typically, they will use the wind to make a horizontal rotor to spin (vaguely like the blade of an old manual lawnmower). This spin generates lift by a process known as the Magnus Effect. Some rotor kites have helicopter-style rotors and fly in the same way as a gyrocopter. Rotor kites fly better in high winds, but are often unstable.
Compound: The constant effort to create new and interesting kites often results in compund kites, that share aspects of the other seven groups. Typically compound kites include winged boxes (a box kite with delta wings) and various combinations of sled and framed kite to make interesting shapes, such as the Stingray by Adrian Conn (a delta kite with a centre section made of a parafoil).
Of course, it's not really as simple as that - there are kites with 2 lines, 4 lines or (rarely) 3 lines instead of just one, but they are still variations on the themes above.
Stunt Kites: Kites that can be steered around the sky for entertainment purposes. The majority have two lines (pull the left line to turn left, the right to turn right), but some have four lines. The second two lines allow the kite to be stopped in the air, spun on the spot or even to be flown backwards.
Power Kites: Stunt kites that are flown to experience the sheer power of the wind. Typically having two lines, they are usually foil-type kites that exploit wing-type aerodynamics to generate a lot of lift and/or drag.
Traction Kites: Large foil-type kites that are usually designed to have more drag that lift. This means they can pull the user at great speed in a buggy, on a land-board (an off-road skateboard) or on a snowbaord. There is also a whole sub-set of traction kites designed for use by surfers. These kites usually have inflatable sections so that they can be recovered and launched from the water's surface, and have a distinctive tightly-curved arch profile. Traction kites always have four or three lines to allow for braking.
Although surf kites are, technically, "foil" kites, they are different enough that some people class them as a separate, ninth form, the LEI (Leading Edge Inflatable).
Step 2: Single Line Kites: Essential Equipment.
To Start With the Obvious:
Some flying line.
A handle or reel to wind the line onto.
You would be surprised by how many people buy a kite and open the packet on the beach, only to find one of those three things missing.
After that, things get a little more complicated, depending on the sort of kite you are flying. If you are flying a fairly small or simple single-line kite, usually all you need is somewhere to fasten your kite.
Some Choices for Securing:
Bits of the scenery, such as handy rocks or small bushes.
Furniture, such as beach-shelters, deck chairs and the like.
A bag of sand or gravel. This is quite convenient, since all you need to do is have a carrier bag in your pocket.
A ground stake. This is a spike that you hammer or screw into the ground, with a loop at the top to fasten your kite onto. A good style looks like a corkscrew and can be bought from pet shops, intended to fasten dogs to.
A carabiner (climber's "crab") is also useful, as it can quickly clip your kite to a handy object (beware, though, that cheap key-ring crabs are not strong enough for large kites). Never fasten a large kite to a pushchair, especially if it holds a small child! Of course, you could always be boring and hold the handle in your hand.
If you are flying larger one-liners, or it is windy, gloves are essential. A taut kite-line can cut to the bone, and at least one person has got the line tangled around their ankle. Several people are killed every year by kites, mainly from line-related injuries. Ordinary gardening gloves are good, and cheap enough to leave in your kite bag. A good rule of thumb is to never pull or hold your line with a bare hand, just to avoid falling into bad habits.
Spare tails are useful if wind conditions are variable, or if the tail of your kite is long and liable to get caught and torn. It is also useful to bring along something to wind your tails onto, such a pieces of heavy card, hardboard or thin plywood. This is particularly useful for the easy storage of dragon kites.
Stuff to Have in Case of Emergency:
It is useful to have an emergency repair kit, even for a kite you only paid 99p for.
Scissors: pick a sharp pair, small enough to be convenient to carry, yet tough enough to cut through several thicknesses of line and sail material.
Tape: Sticky tape is useful for fixing small cuts or tears, especially in plastic kites, but if a rip is large enough to need gaffa ('duck' or 'duct') tape, then it is large enough to warrant packing up and going home to fix it properly.
Glue and paper: paper kites sometimes come unstuck at the seams, so a glue stick will help to attach a small patch. Rips in paper can get worse quickly, so gluing small patches over rips helps to greatly extend the life of a kite.
Step 3: Tails for Single-line Kites
How Does a Tail Work?
Some tails keep the kite the right way up by simply making the back of the kite heavier, but most tails use a combination of weight and drag or air resistance to provide stability, forcing the trailing edge of the kite to, well, trail.
A Selection of Common Types of Tail
For a large kite, it is worth considering buying a pre-made tube tail. These are simply long, narrow tubes of strong plastic. They can be purchased from most retailers with a good supply of kite materials, or from one of the many online kite retailers.
A drogue is a small windsock, shaped rather like a bucket with the bottom cut out. The wider mouth of the drogue is held open by a loop of heavy cord or thin bamboo, and attached to the rear of the kite by a relatively long line. The exact length is a matter of experimentation, but may be between one and five metres long, depending on the exact size and design of the kite, the size of the drogue - small drogues need longer lines - and the wind conditions at the time.
Decorative windsocks, typically purchased from sea-front stalls to mark your territory on the beach, can also be used as drogues.
Plastic bags cut into strips make good, all-round tails. The strips can be taped end to end until the desired length is reached, which can be anything up to ten times the length of the kite and can easily be trimmed if they prove to be too long when the kite is actually flown. For wide kites and sled kites, tails like this can be looped and each end stuck to the kite, with one end of the tail at each end of the trailing edge so that they look like a letter 'U' when in flight. This has the advantage of requiring a shorter tail, as the bend provides extra drag, but the loop can catch on things if the kite flies low.
Paired tails can be used to balance wide kites. If you attach a separate tail to each end of the trailing edge, they can be trimmed if the kite has trouble flying true. If the kite tends to drift to the left, trimming some of the tail from the left side of the kite can correct the fault.
Ladder tails are made of two parallel lengths of line, with regular 'rungs' of paper or ribbon strung between them. They provide a great deal of drag so do not need to be very long, but can be difficult to balance correctly. Because they are rarely used, they make an interesting talking point for a home-made kite.
The traditional image of a kite tail is a length of line with bows tied along its length. They do work, but invariably draw comments about Charlie Brown and kite-eating trees.
A very visually-effective tail can be made using videotape. Retrieved from broken cassettes, the tape is very light and smooth, so it is best suited to small kites but can also be used in very long lengths, up to 20 times the length of the kite itself. The tape snakes and writhes in the air, but can get easily tangled and it is not biodegradable, so do not be tempted to leave it tangled around scenery after an accident. Abandoned videotape is a hazard to wildlife.
Other less-than-traditional materials that make good tails are boundary tapes, as used by surveyors and the emergency services. Ribbons come in many colours, widths and lengths, so can be used for most kites.
Micro-kites the size of your hand or smaller need even lighter tails, and great success has been had with lengths of ordinary knitting-wool because its rough surface provides plenty of drag, lengths of audiocassette tape or carefully-cut strips of tissue paper. The smallest micro-kites use single strands of silk, teased from lengths of embroidery thread.
Step 4: Launching and Landing a Single-lined Kite
Where to Fly a Kite
The first thing to do is select a suitable location, but please also check this article on kite safety. It is well-known that successful kite-flying needs a decent breeze, but it is less well-known that the breeze should be as smooth as possible. Select an area that is not only clear, but has clear approaches: if the wind has to come over a solid wall of buildings, trees, cliffs or hills then it will be turbulent, with gusts blowing down as well as along. Not good for kites.
The High Launch
Once you have selected a suitable area to launch, the easiest launch to try is known as the high launch, because the kite gains altitude quickly. The high launch usually needs an assistant (spouses or reliable offspring are often able to be 'persuaded' to take on this role). Stand with your back to the wind, and with your assistant holding the kite as far away as possible, holding the kite.
The way the kite is held is important. The assistant must be behind the kite, holding each side of the kite with enough space between the kite and their body so that the kite does not snag on their clothes, head etc. The line between you and the kite must be slightly taut, but not taut enough to pull the kite out of your assistant's hands.
An important point: you do not want to get your tail tangled. The ideal way to ensure this is to lay the tail along the ground back towards you as you are standing ready to launch. The tail can blow around quite a bit on the launch, which is why your assistant needs to stand with space between themselves and the kite.
At a signal from you (usually a yell along the lines of "now, I said now, yes, let go!"), your assistant lets go and takes a step back and to one side. That's all. They do not throw the kite up. Throwing the kite makes it unstable and robs it of some of its vital lift. At the same time, you take a single step backwards (remember to read the safety instructions) and the kite will soar upwards. Once the kite is as high as it will go, you may pay out as much line as you wish.
The Solo Launch
Dedicated kite-flyers will eventually have trouble finding somebody to help them perform high launches, as wives and children eventually get bored waiting for you to get bored. This is the time to perfect the solo launch.
Safety note: the solo launch requires you to hold the flying line directly, so wear tough gloves.
Unwind three or four metres (ten to 12 feet) of flying line, and hold the kite by the line (hence the gloves) about one metre (three feet) from the kite, with the rest of the line in a loose loop across to the winder held in your other hand. Stand with your back to the wind and hold the kite out to the side, out of the wind shadow created by your body. As the wind catches and lifts your kite, let the line slide through your gloved fingers until the kite reaches the height allowed by the loop. You should now be able to fly your kite as normal, but look out for any sudden changes in the kite's flight, as even a level area has low-altitude turbulence. Try and get the kite to the desired height as quickly as possible, but remember to keep tension in the line or it will lose height instead of climbing.
The Solo High Launch
Some cellular kites can be launched solo, but still with a high launch. This is particularly useful for tetrahedral kites. If your kite is sensitive to dirt or water (for instance, if it's made of paper), then you should make sure the ground is dry.
Stand the kite on the ground, with the bridle facing into the wind. As you walk back towards the point where you intend to stand, unwind the flying line. You must keep the line slightly taut, or your kite will roll over in the wind and be impossible to launch, and make sure that it does not get snagged on anything lying on the ground. When you are ready, a steady pull on the flying line will tip the kite towards you until it reaches a flying angle and climbs skywards. You should be careful launching cellular kites in this way, as they can develop a lot of pull very quickly.
Landing a Single-Lined Kite
However you launch your kite, there are only really two ways to land it. The most usual way is to wind it down, winding the line around your reel until the kite is low enough to be simply plucked out of the air. If your kite is particularly powerful, or the wind is especially strong, simply winding the kite down can put excessive stress on the reel and the line, either crushing the winder itself, or keeping too much tension in the line whilst in storage. If this is the case, the kite can be 'walked' down.
To walk a kite down, the winder needs to be anchored (either held by your trusted assistant, or fastened down with a ground stake). You then hook a walk-down device (see below) over the flying line and walk towards the kite. This will pull the kite down to ground level without putting any extra tension on the line or winder. When the kite is low enough to be plucked out of the air, the tension is lost from the flying line and it can be easily and safely wound up.
Safety note: while walking the kite down, the line will be low enough for people to walk into, as well as thin enough and taut enough to do harm to anybody who does walk into it. You must keep a watch out for passers-by and shout a warning should they look as though they are going to walk into the line.
The Walk-Down Device
The complexity of the walk-down device depends on how often you need to use it, how much you are willing to spend on it or how much effort you want to put into making it. The simplest form is a tent peg (the kind made of a bent piece of thick wire). You hook the short end over the line, hold the long end that usually goes in the ground, and walk towards the kite. More complex kinds use pulleys that go over the line (the rolling pulley wheel reduces wear-and-tear on the line) and have a handle on each side to make it easier to hold. At the very simplest level, you can simply use your hand if you are wearing gloves, sliding your open hand along the top of the flying line. You must never use this method without gloves. To do otherwise would be about as sensible as running your hand firmly along the serrated edge of a hacksaw blade. You have been warned.
Step 5: How to Launch a Two-Lined Kite by Yourself
The Beach Launch
This launch method involves weighting down the trailing edge of the kite. It works well on sandy beaches but you can also use it in non-sandy areas by using small pebbles instead of sand as weights. It works in most winds but not if there are low-level obstructions (such as long grass or low dunes) to stop the wind at ground level. It is particularly useful for soft kites with no rigid frame or for kites like the Flexifoil Stacker 6, which only has a single spar (rod) across the leading edge.
Stand with your back to the wind, holding the kite leading-edge up and with the side that faces the kite-flyer facing you. Kneel down and lay the kite on the ground (bridles facing up) in front of you. If your kite is triangular, the long edge (trailing edge) should now be nearest you.
Pile sand or small pebbles along the trailing edge of the kite to hold it down. Don't use large or sharp stones, as these will damage the sail.
Walk away from your kite into the wind, laying out your lines. It is vital that both lines are exactly the same length.
Stand with your back to the wind, holding the handles at about chest height, with a light tension in the lines.
Take a step back, pulling the kite slowly upright. The sand or pebbles ensure that the nose of the kite lifts first. As it lifts, the sand or pebbles spill off and the sail fills with air. As the kite tips just past the vertical, the sails will fill properly and the kite will rise into the air. Keep the tension equal on both lines until the kite is well clear of the ground, and then start your stunt routine.
Launching Using Stakes
If you don't have sand, or your kite has a rigid shape that does not allow its trailing edge to be weighted down, you may want to try using stakes.
Hammer two stakes (sticks, poles, etc) into the ground, about one-third of your kite's width apart (so if it's a three-foot (90cm) kite, put the stakes one foot (30cm) apart). The stakes should be long enough so that they are slightly taller than the kite when it leans on them.
Rest the kite against the stakes so that it is leaning backwards slightly and facing the wind. The pressure of the wind should keep it in place.
As with the weighted launch, walk away, stand back and take a step back. The kite will tip towards you, and as it passes the vertical the forces holding it down will start to lift it upwards instead and your kite will launch.
The stakes present a significant hazard - imagine tripping over one and landing on the other! Make sure they are blunt, maybe even topping them off with an old tennis ball. Also make sure the stakes are visible by tying strips of plastic bag or lengths of reflective tape to them. The flapping strips will not tangle your kite as they will blow behind it.
Step 6: Kite Safety
If your kite is large, or your flying line is thin, wear gloves. Kite string can cause burns and deep cuts. It is best to avoid holding the flying line in bare hands at any time, this way safe handling of taut lines becomes a habit.
Avoid loose loops of flying line hanging from the reel or winder. A sudden gust of wind can tighten them, causing tangles in the line or around things you would rather not get tangled (Fingers, feet or passing strangers). These loops can cause deep cuts that may well end up needing stitches.
Never fly a kite in wet or stormy weather, or with wet lines, with a metal frame, or with a wire flying line. This is all like flying your own lightning conductor.
Never fly near overhead cables, substations or antennae. If your kite does get caught up in power lines or goes behind the fence of a substation, leave it there. No kite is worth dying for.
Never fly in public streets, crowded areas, or across roads.
Always watch where you are going. Choose a flying area without trip hazards, and look where you are going if you are walking backwards. Never run backwards.
Wear a brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. Remember, over-exposure to ultra-violet light can cause skin cancer and cataracts.
If you are flying a power kite, switch the brimmed hat for a properly-fitted helmet and pads.
If you are on wheels (a board or buggy), you may want to consider wearing impact armour as well.
Remember the law: kites must not be flown more than 60 metres high, and you must not fly the kite where it can be a hazard to aircraft, such as near airports, gliding centres, or areas where others are hanggliding or paragliding. Only a fool would fly a kite at an air-show.
Step 7: A handful of links.
Into the Wind (commercial site): http://www.intothewind.com/index.html
The Drachen Foundation: http://www.drachen.org/default.html
The Virtual Kite Zoo (lots of plans): http://www.blueskylark.org/zoo/index.html
Windfire Kites (commercial, but pure art, in my personal opinion): http://www.windfiredesigns.com/index.html
Raindrop kites (my local kite-maker, and a very talented woman): http://www.raindropkites.co.uk/index.html
Instructables Group ("Sky High Kiting" - come and join, if you fancy): http://www.instructables.com/group/kiting/