Category Archives: Kiting

No Smithsonian Kite Exhibition this year

Every year since 2006, I’ve participated in a unique event.  The week before the Cherry Blossom Kite Festival (Formerly the Smithsonian Kite Festival) has been Kite Day at the National Air & Space Museum on the mall. There have been exhibits, kite building for children, and demonstrations of indoor kite flying by some local and some out of town guests.  It was always fun to do. Imagine flying a kite inside a famous museum among the exhibits!

Indoor_Kite

My indoor fighter kite design. This kite flew inside the National Air & Space Museum in 2017.

I design my own fighter kites. My indoor designs have been flying in different parts of the National Air & Space Museum for the last 11 years. I tried to make my flying a change of pace from the other flyers.  Generally, you have to back up to put air pressure on the sail of your kite.  It’s best at a constant speed. With my fighter kite, I can also pull on my line to move the kite, so I enjoyed playing faster, more modern tunes and basing my performance on speed. I loved every moment of it.

This year, due to budget difficulties, and the desire to fund other priorities, the Museum decided not to hold Kite Day.  I hope they resurrect it.  I’ll miss that unique opportunity.

Advertisements

Indoor Kiting 2017

Every year, I’m offered the privilege of participating in with the indoor kiting exhibition at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum on the mall in Washington DC.

No fans are used; we generate pressure on the sail by walking backward or manipulating the line. Since I build and fly fighter kites, I’m flying on a single line and I can use my feet as well as line manipulation to fly the kite.  My flying style is very kinetic; I tend to use faster music to fly to, and more modern music than most. Usually our indoor flyers prefer slower music that keeps a steady pace; many of them are on fixed lines.  I like to be a change of pace, moving constantly and quickly.

National Air and Space Museum - Indoor Kite Fly 2017

The photo is courtesy of Andrew Albosta.

The kite itself is my own indoor design. I use a bamboo spine and a graphite rod as a bow. The sail is made of Orcon, with a curved trailing edge. The kite I used this year (2017) was built the week of the event, and I tuned it before the museum opened and the actual demonstrations began. The photo above was shot at a downward angle from a stairway, but above my head are a few drone aircraft that we had to be careful not to tangle our kites in, and because my line length was always changing, I had to be particularly careful. While this let me fly over the heads of the crowd, it also limited the space I had to work with. It was still a thrill to do. The NASM has been supporting this event for years, and I’ve participated since 2006. It may be threatened by budget cuts eventually,  but I find it a unique and pleasurable event to attend, and to say that I’ve had the opportunity to do such a unique thing as fly a kite between the exhibits at a national museum is a rare delight.

Celebrating Uttarayan at the KID Museum

Years ago, quite by accident, I discovered kiting. I love flying kites, and the kite form that I was most fascinated by was the Fighter Kite. Through a combination of research, good luck, and meeting others who found Fighter Kites as fascinating as I did was enough to make building and flying fighter kites a joy and passion for nearly 20 years. I’ve become something of a local authority on these kites. I was recently contacted by my local kite club to see if I would volunteer to help a local museum with their program celebrating Uttarayan, the Indian festival celebrating the turn of the sun Northward. Uttarayan is celebrated in a number of ways, but among them is the flying of Fighter Kites. I eagerly agreed.

The Kid Museum is a wonder – it is about experience, and teaching children about science and technical things through experience, all while having fun. Among the ways that the Kid Museum chose to celebrate Uttarayan for the children were dancers performing traditional dances from the Indian province of Gujarat, a gentleman teaching about the Hindi language and helping the children write their names in Hindi, and of course, fighter kite building and fighter kite lore, which I handled with the aid of the Museum’s dedicated and tireless staff.

I had a chance to show kites I’d built, and some examples I’d collected over the years, and I talked to adults and children about the way fighter kites fly, and I demonstrated how cutting line works, and of course, I helped the museum in their kite building classes. I had such a good time doing this, and if the Kid Museum wants me to come back and help again, I’d eagerly accept.

The Kid Museum is a wonderful place, and deserves a look for anyone who knows and loves a child between 5 and 12 years of age.  http://kid-museum.org

Kid_Museum_1

At my table, showing kites, cutting line, and talking about Fighter Kite culture.

Kid_Museum_2

Helping with the kite building classes.

My Variant of the Classic Indian Fighter Kite

Tomorrow I’m going to a Kite Festival in Cambridge, MD.  I specialize in designing and building fighter kites, but I wanted to build a new kite to fly.  I’ve always liked the look of the classic Indian Patang, with it’s distinctive triangular tail. I’ve designed my own variant.  While the classic Indian fighter kite’s tail is a separate piece, my design has a single sheet of sail material.

Sail_Pattern

The photo above shows my sail pattern on the left, a hot-cut Orcon sail on the right, and a bamboo spine I split for this kite, and cut down to size.

Build

As I built the kite, I smoothed the sail down on a damp sheet of tempered glass. I put reinforcements down at the front edges of the kite above the bow, installed the bow and the spine, and reinforced areas on the spine. I use battens as part of the triangular tail part, and the battens also reinforce the lower bridle point.

Sail_Back

Once the sail is complete, the nose has been reinforced, as have the shoulder area where the bow is no longer connected to the sail. I’ve also reinforced the battens where the trailing edge of the sail meets the triangular tail part.

Decoration

I used Sharpie markers on the White Orcon Sail. Orcon is a ripstop film that is flexible and strong. This kite has a bamboo spine and a Carbon bow. I used a stiffer bow than I might normally for this design. Usually I use a .05 Carbon Rod for the bow normally, but I’m expecting high winds tomorrow, so I used a .06 Carbon Rod for the bow in this kite, hoping that the stiffer kite will handle high winds better.

Bridled

Now the the kite is finished. You can see from the front that  the kite has the profile of a classic indian fighter kite, but the tail is actually part of the sail, and the triangular shape is defined by the sail decoration.  The design flies well normally, and I’m expecting good things from this variant.  The spine of this design is 16″ long, and the width is 18″.  A line drawn between the wingtips (wingtip line) would cross the spine 1/2″ above the spine center. The bow crosses the spine 2.5″ down from the nose. The lower bridle point is 4.75″ from the base of the spine. The battens meet the spine 3/16″ above the lower batten point. This allows the batten ends and the lower bridle point to share the same reinforcement.  The battens themselves are .03 Carbon Rods. This design works well using paper or mylar as a sail material. With a .05 Carbon Bow, the wind range is approximately 3-15 mph, with the “sweet spot” at a wind of 5-8 mph.  The kite uses a 3 point bridle to adjust for balance and wind speed.

The Flight of the Fighter Kite

Many years ago, on a cool morning in late March, I was flying a Firefly fighter that I’d built the night before on kite hill in Magnuson Park in Seattle. A man approached me to ask if he could film me flying my kite.  While he said there was no wind, there was actually a very light breeze, but fighter kites fly well in light winds that other kites may not be able to launch in. I thought I’d share that video with you.

The Simple Joy of the Fighter Kite

For many years now, I’ve been building and flying fighter kites. To me, they are beautiful in their simplicity and their motion. They can be a thrill when flown on a short line or in competition. They can be a kind of mobile mandala or meditation target when I fly alone. They connect me to the sky.

As kites go, fighter kites don’t get a lot of notice. They don’t make a big display and they aren’t easy to capture in photos or film because of their quick, darting flight. They do not pull hard like many multi-line stunt kites. They maneuver on a single line through line tension, and a flyer needs to know when to pull the line and when to give the kite slack line. It’s much like flying a leaf on a thread. They’re not complicated. A simple diamond shape with a spine and a bowed spar from wingtip to wingtip is the most common form, though there are other variations. They usually aren’t much more than two feet across, and they don’t have much surface area for decoration.  They can be temperamental, and getting one to be consistent takes some patience and care.

Once you get a fighter kite in the air, you are rewarded with a lively little dragster that responds quickly to your inputs, moves with unmatched speed, and changes direction in an instant. It is designed to be unstable on a slack line, and stable on a taught line – the secret to the kite is it’s flexibility. A fighter kite is the high performance race car of tethered flight.  When you fly one on a short line, it is quick and reacts in an instant, when you fly on a longer line a fighter takes longer to react and becomes more tame – you can fly one in any way that fits your mood. A fighter’s motion can be hypnotic.  The speed and adaptability of a fighter kite is part of it’s charm. While a stunt kite is always the same distance from the flyer due to fixed line lengths, a fighter’s single line gives the flyer options. You can fly on any line length you choose. Once you master the skill of flying one, that simple kite can be a source of great joy.

I found fighter kites through a combination of curiosity and luck. It started with a kite catalog that interested me in flying kites. A fighter kite peaked my interest, but fighter kites aren’t commonly mass produced for sale in the west. In India and southeast asia, where they originated, the kites are made of bamboo and tissue paper, and flown on cutting line. The line is coated with rice paste and powdered glass, and when two lines come in contact, one is cut. Therefore, the traditional fighter kite is commonly a disposable object. There aren’t many that are mass produced from fabrics or more durable materials. I found books about building them, and that had appeal to me, but I really  began to understand them when I met a group that had just formed to build and fly them. Since that time, I’ve been a fighter kite specialist, and they’ve been a source of entertainment and joy for many years.

I have flown fighter kites in competitions, I have flown fighters on cutting line and felt the joy of cutting and being cut, I have designed and built kites to fly indoors (you have to back up to keep the kite flying) and I have won prizes at kite festivals for my kites. That simple kite form has been very kind to me over the years. I enjoy designing and building fighters. I’ve always been proud to fly my own creations.  I build my kites out of Mylar or Clearphane (a plastic film that is semi-opaque, a colored cellophane.) and I also use a material called Orcon, which is a lightweight, flexible ripstop plastic material that was once used as a vapor barrier in aircraft.  I use graphite rods for my bows (the flexible spar from wingtip to wingtip) and bamboo for my kite spines. I build them with three point adjustable bridles so I can adjust the balance of the kite and adapt to wind conditions. I’ve been pleased with the results over the years.  I don’t rush my kite building, but I can build one quickly in a few hours. I have experimented with sail shapes and materials, and I have my favorites, but in the end, they all produce the same result, a kite of speed, simplicity and pure joy to fly.

The photos below are of a swallow-tailed fighter I call a Firefly. This example is made of mylar, using a bamboo spine, graphite rods for the bow and the tail battens, contact cement, packing tape to reinforce the places where the sail is under strain, and loose-leaf page reinforcements at the place where the bridle lines go through the sail to attach to the bow near the front of the kite. This example isn’t bridled yet, but in the sky it will be kinetic art.

Firefly_Front      Firefly_back

The front of the kite.  Red mylar is very visible.       The back side. Fighters are designed to flex.