Sunday, March 23, 2008

Apple #306: Kites

Since it's been a full week since my last entry, I thought I'd give you all two Apples today (see the entry on Easter Lilies below). And I'm continuing my series of entries on stuff that I did when I was in Florida.

One of the things my friends and I did was go to the beach and fly a kite. It was pretty windy that day, which was what gave me the idea, and though the wind made it tough to put the kite together, when it came time to get the kite up in the air, it was a breeze (oh, me, with the puns today).

I've tried to fly kites a couple of times before, but the wind would die down and so would the kite, and it just wasn't that much fun. This time, one of us would have the strings, the other would let go of the kite, and zip, it was up in the air.


This is a Delta kite, which has a triangular shape and essentially a straight long side. This particular variety also has sort of a rudder, but not all Deltas do.
(Image from Let's Fly a Kite, which sells this kite for $15.95)


  • Different kites fly better depending on the wind speeds.
      • Light to medium winds (6-15 mph):
          • Deltas (triangular shape)
          • Diamonds (the kind Charlie Brown flew)
          • Dragons (one really long, wide tail)


Dragon kites are typically long. They can be simple like this 30-foot one which is available from Akira Toys, or they can be more complex like the one below (which only looks small because of that perspective thing). In any case, dragon kites are usually flown using one line, and they are considered relatively easy to fly.

(Photo by Danarah from Flickr)

      • Stronger winds (8-25 mph)
          • Box
          • Stunt (triangular, but with three points on the longest side)
          • Parafoil

Typical stunt kite. Notice the three pointy places. Note the two lines extending from the braces.
(Image from HiflyKites, which also provides a guide to assembling and flying kites)

  • You can also add tails to your kite to help its nose stay pointed skyward and to give it more stability in higher winds.
  • Here's a guide to help you estimate the wind speed:
      • 0-5 mph: light breezes, leaves rustling
      • 6-10 mph: leaves in motion, light flags extended
      • 11-15 mph: dust and loose paper get picked up, branches as well as leaves moving
      • 16-20 mph: trees begin swaying, crests forming on waves
      • 21 mph: umbrellas difficult to control, large tree branches moving. Some people say that at this point, it's too windy. But I think it was probably about this windy when we were out, and we actually had fun.

This is a diamond kite -- a pretty fancy one, but a diamond, nonetheless. It's good for flying in lighter winds. This one is called the Prism Stowaway, and it comes already assembled, for $26.
(Image from WindPower Sports)


  • As you're standing facing your kite, make sure the wind is at your back and blowing into the body of the kite.
  • Here are some tips on launching your kite, depending on how windy it is and whether you have someone with you or if you're flying it by yourself:
      • Friend holds the kite and lets it go (quite windy)
      • Friend holds the kite and at a gust of wind, lets go and you take a step or two backwards (fairly windy)
      • Friend holds the kite and you both begin to run into the wind. When the friend feels the kite begin to lift, friend lets it go and you play out the lines (barely breezy or fitful)

(Somewhat hard-to-read diagram from KitesOnline)

      • If you're by yourself, position the kite standing on its points in the ground or against a picnic table. With your arms holding the lines straight out in front of you, take a large step back and at the same time bring your hands straight down along your thighs. This will pull the lines down and lift the kite. (quite or fairly windy)
  • Once the kite is in the air and all you want to do is keep it flying, the important thing is keep the tension in the lines. As the wind moves the kite about, your line or string may tighten or slacken. When the line droops, reel it in a bit to tighten it. Or you can tighten the line by pulling your arms down, which will make the kite fly higher. If your kite has more than one line, you'll want to make sure the tension is equal in all the lines.

Box kites look pretty much what they sound like, though some of them can get fairly decorative. This one rotates as it flies. It's available from Let's Fly a Kite for $35.89.

  • If the kite is drooping and won't stay up, try letting out the line and pulling your arms down to make the kite fly higher. Winds are generally better and more consistent about 50 feet up.
  • To make the kite do stunts, you need to be flying a kite with two or more lines. Most stunt kites come with two lines.
  • To make your kite turn left, pull down on the left line. The kite's nose will point left and it will swoop downward to the left. To make the kite turn right, pull down on the right line.

(Diagram from KitesOnline)

  • Following a turn in one direction with a turn in the opposite direction will keep your lines from getting wound around each other.
  • To land the kite, first reel it in so it's fairly close to the ground. Then with the nose pointing up to the sky, take a few steps forward without tightening the lines. The lines will slacken, and the kite will drop.
  • Sometimes your kite will crash and that's okay, except if that happens too many times, your kite can get damaged. More importantly, you want to make sure your kite doesn't crash onto a person or an animal because that can cause serious injury.


Parafoil kites have a flat surface to which the lines are attached. On top of that surface is another layer, but this one is curved into several channels, or aerofoils, which help give the kite considerable loft and stability. The result looks sort of like flying pillows.
(This Prism Stylus parafoil kite is available from WindPower Sports for $139)


And of course, observe all the rules of good kite safety:
  • Don't fly a kite near power lines
  • Don't fly near airports
  • Don't fly over roads or sidewalks
  • Don't fly during thunderstorms, even if you think you are Ben Franklin
  • Find an open area away from buildings and power lines and kite-eating trees



Sources
Gomber Kites, How to Fly a Kite and more tips available here
American Kitefliers Association, Professor Kite and the Secret of Kites
Let's Fly a Kite, A Handy Little Wind Scale Chart
Kite Flyer Info, How to Fly a Kite
KitesOnline, How to Fly a Stunt Kite

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