Introduction: The Stoopid Thing: Kite-powered Personal Flight

About: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through understanding, and strives to inspire others to learn …

Do not attempt! Fortunately, the first time I tried this it worked and there was a video camera running, so I've never had to try again.

The video footage is from Nahant Beach, MA in the summer of 2003. Saul, Tim, and I were convinced that using a large kitesurfing kite it would be possible to "fly" a human anchored to some point on the ground. It's not exactly an original idea, and had been used for hundreds of years for military reconnaissance, but when you haven't done it yourself, anything can seem like a new and exciting idea, right?

In 15-20 mph of wind, I flew a 20 sqm kite that I could just barely keep under control when it was fully de-powered. On the back of my harness, attached with a quick-release, was a 100 ft rope with a waterskiing-like handle at the end. Tim held on to me, helping to hold me down, and we waded out into the water. Once I could barely touch the bottom, I powered-up the kite and shot into the air. Tim held on to the handle and wakeboarded behind me.

The initial launch into the air was intense, and I suddenly had a spectacular view of the beach and pretty much all the way to Boston. After some practice, I was able to control my height and speed dipping my feet into the water and then soaring into the sky. It was as close to personal flight as I've ever gotten, and was simply amazing.

Lots of things could have gone wrong, which is why you shouldn't try this, and why I haven't repeated it. Some of the many dangers include falling, getting knocked out, wrapped up in lines or rope, and drowning. After 10 minutes of flight, my arms were so tired that swimming was near impossible and treading water difficult - good thing Tim was right behind me to take the kite as soon as I reached the shore.