Kite Blog Posts

August 2008

August 4, 2008 16:16 - Barn Door Kite Explores The Limits Near Tall Trees

Some distance away from our usual flying fields today, we stopped at the Holden Hill reserve off NE Road. This is a rather small area for kite flying, ringed with tall trees. It makes things interesting! First up was the 2-Skewer Barn Door kite, since some of the gusts coming through at tree-top height were quite fresh and I didn't think the 2-Skewer Diamond would cope very well. At ground level, this small reserve is in quite a bit of wind shadow from houses and trees. Also, the surrounding suburbia is not on totally flat ground. Some wind directions here are better than others.

Taking the barn door from the boot (trunk) of our car, I noticed that my kite had been noticed by another guy in the car park. He wasn't impressed and gave a bit of a smirk "that thing'll never fly here - there's not much wind". Or something like that - I'm only an amateur mind-reader! Maybe he thought I was a sorry piece of humanity for having nothing better to do than fiddling around with a kid's toy, who knows really. Anyway, I walked out onto the grass and launched the kite.

Down low there was only the occasional light-to-moderate gust, but that was enough to climb the kite to tree-top height after a minute or 2. It was a case of pulling the kite up several meters when tension was on the line, then just maintaining height or losing a little while slowly letting out line, until the next gust. In this way, the kite went up in steps. Doing this effectively is one of the pleasures of single-line kite flying! It's definitely a skill that gets easier with practice.

Soon a bit of rising air came through, despite this being a rather cool winter's day. Taking full advantage, I urged the kite right up overhead, way above the trees. For some reason I turned around at that moment to spot the same guy in the gravel car park. He was craning his neck gawking at the barn door, looking rather surprised to see it there! Now it was my turn for a little internal smirk!

The barn door kite enjoyed the fresher breeze up at around 100 or 130 feet for a while. My wife May had a turn, while I supervised our toddler Aren on the play equipment. Eventually we brought it down to try the 2-Skewer Diamond.

To cut a longish story short, the wind picked up quite a bit and the diamond really started to struggle, even with extra tail attached. With the towing point shifted forward a bit, it was still looping to the right in the spar-bending gusts. For the first time, I actually noticed the normally straight sided diamond go decidedly curved as the wind pressure bent both the spars! No damage done though. At least the Barn Door had a good fly.

August 8, 2008 13:35 - 1-Skewer Sled Kite Video In The Can

Despite the generally rainy weather around here lately, the afternoon was sunny with a giant blue hole centered over Adelaide. Time to get out and get some video! Aren and I went down to the Old Reynella reserve, where a moderate wind was blowing. For the first time, I tried flying the 1-Skewer Sled with the spars on the back. No problems. The little kite willingly floated up on a short line, which I secured to the pram so I could have hands free for the camera.

The little sled climbed, sank and darted around in the gusts close to the ground. Conveniently, there was a sizable puffy cumulus cloud right behind it, from the camera's point of view. Every now and then, the clear plastic sail would pass in front of the cloud. During these times, the kite was somewhat easier to see. As I get the chance, I am trying to get a 20 second movie clip of every kite in the series to put at the top of its How To ... page on the website. After going home, I put up the video of the 1-Skewer Sled.

Next up was the 1-Skewer Diamond, recently re-made according to my standard construction technique. Annoyingly, this little diamond simply wouldn't behave itself, looping to the right with very little provocation! At home, I checked the balance and the symmetry, that is, equal area of sail both left and right of the vertical spar. Both these factors looked fine. However, I must have been a bit careless during construction since one side of the sail billowed noticeably more than the other when under wind pressure. That's a good way to make a kite pull to one side!

On a very small kite, these kinds of errors aren't hard to make. Come to think of it, keeping the sail flat is probably easier with paper than with lightweight plastic! Anyway, I later tightened up the loose panel by putting in a tiny fold and securing it with a strip of clear tape. We'll see how it goes next time. If any good, the video will soon follow!

Back to the flying field now... After putting away the diamond in disgust, it was time to give the new barn door a test fly. Like the diamond, this early design has been remade using the standard construction technique. After a few short flights to get the bridle adjusted, it was apparent the barn door was not stable enough to fly. Then I remembered our experience with the original 1-skewer Barn Door. Dihedral was not an option! Strange, since it's basically just a diamond with an extra stick... So I put a bend in the horizontal spar by bending it until it started to crack. Yep, this seemingly crude approach is simple and effective on a bamboo BBQ skewer. If you do happen to overdo it, it's nothing a bit of wood working glue won't fix. After putting in about 20 degrees or so of dihedral like this, the kite started to fly much better.

The original 1-Skewer Barn Door kite had a shiftable knot on the upper bridle loop. That's another rather fiddly knot to make, which I was hoping to spare the kite-making hopefuls who visit my site! However, it seems to be necessary on 1-skewer sized kites. The new barn door pulls to the left, and the only possible reason seems to be that upper bridle loop. Hence I'll be updating the instructions to include that extra shiftable knot. More memories coming back - I can now remember making a tiny adjustment to the knot on the upper bridle loop on the original 1-skewer Barn Door kite, which made a big difference to how it flew!

Not the most memorable day's flying, with only 1 kite out of 3 actually flying well! But at least it's all fixable.

August 10, 2008 18:40 - New 1-Skewer Barn Door Trimmed To Perfection

Still chasing some decent flying footage of the updated little barn door kite! Hence, when the sun popped out from behind the clouds this afternoon, I couldn't resist taking a chance and heading down to the Old Reynella reserve. There had been rain squalls several times during the day, and by the time I got the kite in the air the sun had disappeared again.

My wife is fond of telling the relatives in Singapore that I fly kites 'rain, hail or shine'. Not exactly. The first spot of rain, or even an approaching mass of dark cloud will cause me to get my kite packed away! However, I do tend to fly regardless of personal comfort sometimes. Like today, when the there was a freezing moderate-to-fresh breeze blowing outside.

No luck with the video footage today, since the wind was too wild to let the kite fly low for any length of time. Also, there was very little sunlight and the video would have been pretty poor anyway. However, the test flying was a success! Having re-bridled the kite so it had a Prussik knot on the upper bridle loop, it was an easy matter to stop the kite pulling to one side like it did originally. The Prussik knot just had to be shifted by a mere millimeter or 2.

Also, I bent just a little extra dihedral into the horizontal spar. I'll have to update the instructions to state '20 - 30 degrees', that is, 10 to 15 degrees on each side. This tiny kite appears to need it, particularly as it flies best in moderate to fresh winds. Bamboo skewers just come in the 1 thickness, so the 3 spars make it a touch heavy for its size. I'd use thinner skewers if they were available!

The sail of the 1-skewer barn door kite is clear freezer-bag plastic, so it's a bit hard to see against blue sky. However, on a cloudy day like today, it shows up quite well against white or very light gray cloud. Perhaps due to a bit of polarization of the light, the clear plastic turns a medium gray with a cloudy background. I only let 20 or 25 meters of line out, which took the kite just above the tallest tree in the reserve.

The kite darted left and right, sometimes traveling a long way upwind to each side before its stability kicked in and sent it back to the middle again. Lulls would occasionally see it do a falling-leaf maneuver nearly all the way to the ground before the next gust would rocket it back up to a high line angle. Along with the 1-skewer Sode kite, the little barn door really does cope well with strong wind.

We'll see if the weather tomorrow lets me get that 20 second clip for the How To make A Barn Door kite page!

August 11, 2008 16:17 - Soaring Barn Door Kite Attracts A Menagerie Of Birds!

Well, the sun was shining and the wind was blowing so how could I stay inside? Lot's of work to be done on the upcoming eBook, but the weather tempted me outside to fly the 1-Skewer Barn Door kite and capture some video for its construction page on the website.

Down at the Old Reynella reserve, I spent some time fiddling around trying to fly the kite down low and get some footage. However, the little barn door had recently had its sail re-attached to a spar, necessary after some recent flying. This seemed to affect the trim a little since it was now up to its old tricks of diving off to the left.

Not to worry, a couple of adjustments to the 2 Prussik knots of the bridle sorted it out ok. The towing point had to come forward a bit to keep the little kite stable with the rather fresh wind strength. I overdid it on the first try, but then adjusted it back just a fraction, and the kite started flying nicely.

At this point I decide to play it safe for the video and fly the kite high. This meant I needed all the optical zoom our camera could deliver. In the bright sunshine this wouldn't affect quality too much. See 20 seconds of the resulting footage on our How To Make A Barn Door Kite construction page. Despite having all 50 meters of line out, the kite descended almost to the ground in a lull at one stage, then shot skywards again as a gust came through. That's where the video clip starts!

It was good to see the new barn door having its first extended flight on a decent length of line. Line angles were around 30 to 35 degrees from my hand. However, with the sag in the line, the kite was generally sitting at about 40 - 45 degrees above the horizontal. Due to one particularly helpful passing thermal, the little barn door gamely made it up to almost 60 degrees for a short while. While up there it floated flat on its belly and wandered around in many directions before descending back down through the turbulence around the edge of the thermal.

Anyway, what about the birds, you're probably wondering. In order, here's what happened...

An enormous magpie just stood on the grass nearby, watching me fly the barn door. No idea why! It stuck around for quite a while, occasionally making some noise.

A short while after getting all 50 meters of line out, a couple of smaller magpies flew close to the kite, just checking it out. Perhaps they were pee-wees, I'm no bird expert, sorry. After a few lazy circles at roughly the same height as the kite, they were gone. The thought crossed my mind 'what's next? any more curious birds?'

I didn't have to wait long. Suddenly a squadron of 5 bright green and red erm... parakeets? zoomed into view. They flew in close formation, very fast. Their height off the ground varied from just a few wing-spans to maybe 2/3 the altitude of the kite. After doing several laps of the reserve, and making quite a bit of noise, they were off not to be seen again. I think they were attracted by the kite.

That would have been enough to write about in this blog, but then a real treat followed! Three magnificent pelicans glided into view from the north, in formation. Long wings outstretched, not flapping. They were somewhat higher than the kite, but perhaps they had spotted it gaining some height in rising air. This is what soaring birds and human glider pilots do. If you see someone else getting lift, you sneak over to check it out!

Before getting very close to the kite however, the pelicans started to turn. Sure enough, downwind and above them was a puffy cumulus cloud marking the thermal. Within minutes the 3 birds were noticeably higher, closing on the base of the cloud. Still in formation! However they must have sped off to find even better lift elsewhere, since they disappeared shortly after. I didn't see them flap the entire time. They didn't need to.

Which all makes for a longer than usual blog post today! Hope you enjoyed it.

August 12, 2008 21:15 - 2-Skewer Sled Poses For eBook Pics

That's right, I just popped out for a quick fly at the Old Reynella reserve to snap some new photos of the big orange sled. Well, big by my standards so far! I once had a lady, toddler in tow, make some comment on my 'little kite'. Yep, it was this one, the biggest MBK kite yet made! Although perhaps the Sode comes close, in terms of effective sail area... Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

There was a fresh gusty breeze blowing through, but I managed to find a spot which was fairly clear upwind. No trees, since it was a bitumen area for playing basketball. The sled went up and stayed up fairly well on a very short line. Only 5 or 6 meters or so. I took a few shots at this line length before letting some more out and then taking more photos. Short line length means no quality-killing zoom necessary and also less chance of camera-shake. With 10 kite pictures taken, it was time to let out all 50 meters of line and let the kite test itself out in the very brisk breeze higher up.

The sled started to struggle, tending to the right a lot. Even a line-whistling 360 at one point, pulling like a horse! Around this time I noticed that the left tail was twisted up somewhat. From where I was standing, it was clear that the left tail would have a little less drag force than the right tail. Perhaps this was enough to cause the imbalance. It might be fixed just by replacing some of the plastic loops in the left tail. Even easier would be just to add an extra loop to the left side.

That's it for now. Time to process those pics and plug them into the eBook document! You haven't heard? All the kite-building content of the website will soon be available in PDF form, for under US$20.

August 13, 2008 21:49 - 2-Skewer Diamond Kite Finds Silky Smooth Air

Seems I'm in a blogging frenzy right now, I think this is the 4th day in a row I've posted... There was enough sunshine to warrant going down to the Old Reynella reserve to get some footage of the 2-Skewer Diamond kite. The number of kite construction pages on this website without a video at the top are gradually decreasing!

Down low the breeze was gusty as usual. Cumulus clouds were everywhere, with plenty of mid-level cloud as well. I'm finding this is handy for kite videos since you can see the kite's movement much easier. After a little experimenting with a very short line and adjusting the towing point for the conditions, I let out quite a bit more line and took some video of the diamond kite. As you can see from the video, the kite was still affected by turbulence and gustiness. It was not far above tree height, although in the video the trees are further away and so look shorter.

On 50 meters of 20 pound line, this kite still has enough pull to take most of the sag out of the flying line, most of the time.

Finally I was sure there was enough footage to glean a nice 20 second clip, so it was time to let out the remaining line from the 50 meter winder. The average wind strength was fairly fresh, so the climb-out was easy. To my surprise, the kite settled right down and hung almost motionless at about a 50 - 55 degree angle.

Smooth air! Smoother than I have ever flown an MBK kite in, so far. Even the characteristic wing-tip wobble of the traditional diamond kite stopped. The long tail swayed ever so slightly. Even so, there was still a small amount of rising air coming through once in a while. One of these events caused the kite to surge straight up to maybe an 80 degree angle for a few seconds.

Pulling the kite down was straightforward. It's a tough little wooden winder I'm using so I just wound the line straight on, not worrying about the tension building up as the loops went on. The diamond didn't touch the grass - it flew right down to my hand. I stashed it, winder and all, in a black garbage bag before tying it to the pram handle. Yes, my little boy had come along too! On this occasion he was more interested in the swings...

August 19, 2008 23:09 - 1-Skewer Diamond No. 4 Imitates Angry Mosquito

Huh? It's the sound! In a stiff breeze, the latest 1-skewer diamond gets up a very rapid flutter, in the strongest gusts. I have no idea whether it was the leading or trailing edge. We were down at the Old Reynella reserve, as usual, just Aren and I.

Back-pedaling a bit - the previous diamond had a very limited wind range, so I determined to make another one. This time, the 2 bamboo skewers were selected carefully. They were the thinnest, most flexible skewers from the ones remaining in the last packet we bought. Remember, this whole packet was heavier than the original one we bought.

Additionally, I tried leaving just a quarter of the sticky tape width inside the sail outline, instead of half. This saved half the extra weight of the reinforcement tape. Finally, I just took more care while attaching the spars to the sail. The results were amazing.

After an adjustment to the towing point to allow for the fresh breeze, the little diamond took off and darted around, with only the slightest tendency to favor one side. I tried to get some movie footage while it was low, but the kite was simply way too fast to keep up with! Plus the sun refused to come out, so the results would not have been great anyway.

Time to see what it could do on more line! It was easy to let out 45 meters or so, with the tiny diamond coping remarkably well with the strong gusts. Looping occasionally, but staying in the air, despite being aggravated to the point of sounding like an angry overweight mosquito at times!

The diamond stayed in the air for a few minutes of rough air mayhem while I gave Aren a ride on the swings. I just put a few loops of line around one of the swing supports, and left the winder on the grass. After this, I wound it in, packed it away under the pram, and pulled out the 2-Skewer Sled!

The sled hated the conditions. The winter wind was quite turbulent, even well above tree top height. This actually brought back memories of narrow, rough-as-guts winter thermals when flying gliders near Alice Springs. Sailplanes that is, not hang-gliders. Anyway, the orange sled kite collapsed frequently, often opening violently or fluttering almost to the ground before snapping open and trying to yank my arm off as it strained sideways at low level. Not much fun really. Just occasionally, it would soar high during a lull and get near its usual 60 degree line angle. Eventually I had enough and brought it down.

We are still trying to get a chance to get some flying footage of the 1-Skewer Diamond. The top of the diamond kite construction page has been bare too long!

August 20, 2008 16:26 - Little Rokkaku Rocket Rides Roaring Wind

We needed a few extra pictures for the new kite-making eBook coming out soon. So it was down to the, you guessed it, Old Reynella reserve again. Below the pram were packed the 1-Skewer Barn Door and the dusted-off 1-Skewer Rokkaku! My wife May shot some photos of the barn door on a short line, before I had a bit of fun letting it fly higher. Large branches were moving in the surrounding trees, so it was a good test of strong wind performance. The little barn doors have always done well in fresh wind, when properly tuned. It's really a moderate wind kite though.

Kite Blog - one of the original clear-plastic 1-Skewer Sode kites.

With the barn door down and packed away, it was time to try the stout little Rok. We took some low-level shots of this kite too, before letting it soar with the eagles. Actually, we didn't see any today - eagles that is ;-)

I must have been rather busy around the time that this Rok was constructed, since I can't remember flying it much. That's a pity, because I had a ball with this kite today! It coped very well with the blustery breeze, possibly better than any other MBK kite including the 2-Skewer ones! The 1-Skewer Sode also does well in strong wind, with enough tail attached. The little Rok traveled long distances from side to side, before correcting and reaching around 45 degree line angles from time to time. Not too bad for a tiny kite on 20 pound line. It was forced to the ground just a couple of times, with about 45 meters of line out.

We'll have to pull this kite out more often, when the wind is too strong for anything else!

August 24, 2008 19:48 - 2-Skewer Rokkaku Kite - Thermalling Magic!

This was going to be the moment of truth. Would the new 2-Skewer Rokkaku Kite be the first MBK kite to fly for more than a few seconds without a tail? We came close with the 1-Skewer Rokkaku many months ago. That little Rok ended up being a bit heavy and turned into being a tailed moderate wind kite. Even a strong wind kite - check out the previous post in this blog!

Earlier today I gave the 2-Skewer Rokkaku a bit of a whiz around the living room by its bridle. It seemed stable! Not the best way to test a kite, but it can give you a rough idea regarding towing point and stability.

Out on the reserve near the school, the new Rok soon proved that it was stable. On a short line, and with the winder under one foot, I snapped off a few in-flight photos and also took 30 seconds of video. The breeze was gusting, but very gentle overall. Hardly enough to feel on our faces. The Rok, with more sail area than any other MBK kite so far, had no trouble staying up. During lulls, the kite would sometimes sink tail-first. If the lull came more suddenly, the Rok would stall and float downwards on its face, on a slack line.

Camera work out of the way, we made our way towards the center of the field and let out much more line. The Rok behaved beautifully, and soon climbed to around 400 feet on the end of our 150 meter line. Thermal lift was everywhere, and I felt like I was flying a delta! Once or twice, gustiness around the edges of thermals was enough to force the Rok into a loop or dive.

In light air that doesn't test its stability, this Rok often hangs low. Just hovering there, the weight of itself and the line in perfect balance with the small amount of lift being generated over its sail. In this state, you can pull it up to any altitude you like, and maintain that altitude by slowly pulling in line.

Today, the kite was sitting at just a few meters off the ground during a lull, when I pulled it straight up to 200 feet. Bingo! All of a sudden some extra tension came on the line and the Rok accelerated upwards in a patch of lift. Now it was just a matter of slowly letting out line as the kite continued to climb back to 400 feet. Fun stuff!

I can tell that this kite will be our light wind favorite for some time to come. If nothing else will fly, perhaps it will be worth pulling out this Rok! It flies so well, even with a sail made of relatively heavy garden bag plastic.

August 26, 2008 20:39 - Rok Kite Rides Sunset Zephyr

Well, I just checked, and even Wikipedia doesn't list the traditional meaning of the word zephyr! As far as I know, it's an old-fashioned term meaning 'very gentle breeze'. Often used by poets in the 19th century and earlier. At least that was my understanding...

Anyway, Aren and I headed up to the vacant block just before sundown to fly the 2-Skewer Rokkaku. There was hardly any wind, but small gusts were coming through and disturbing the tops of the surrounding trees, so it was worth a try. A hand launch or 2 did no good, so it was time to try a pull-up. Not the variety that my young son was wearing! I'm referring to the method of getting a kite launched in very low wind conditions.

With about 20 - 25 meters of line laid out on the grass, and the Rok lying face-down with the nose pointing at us, I pulled it into flight. After a bit of brisk arm-work, the kite was near tree height and had caught the gentle cool breeze which was wafting across the field. Yep, the zephyr :-)

After this, I still had to work the line a bit, but eventually all 50 meters of line was out. The Rok went up and down in response to small changes in the wind speed, but managed to hang up there for 20 minutes or so. There's something satisfying about flying a kite right on its minimum wind speed! It reminded me of a flight I once had in a small vintage single-seater sailplane. More than 1/2 hour of the flight was spent between 800 and 1200 feet, as I scratched around in 1/4 knot lift and 'zero sink' over some sandy ground near the gliding club clubhouse.

Just realized something. Our best low-wind kite and strong-wind kite right now are both Roks! The little 1-skewer Rok with its long tail can really take some punishment in strong wind. That dodgy old YouTube video will soon be updated, don't worry...

August 28, 2008 19:06 - Diamond Kite Video Goes Up At Last

Just a short post here to document our little trip down to the reserve near the school to fly the re-made 1-Skewer Diamond. Conditions were perfect for it, including the wind direction. What's so special about the wind direction? Well, the little diamond positioned itself between us and the sun, which made for an interesting video. From time to time, the sail would light up like a sign with the late afternoon sun shining through the plastic. Just go back to that link up there and check out the video! As usual, it's edited down to the best 20 seconds.

After the video was 'in the can', we headed a bit further towards the middle of the field to try and fly the kite higher. Not much luck really, since the wind was very light and small diamond kites don't thermal very well! After getting maybe 20 or 30 meters of line out and having to pull it straight back in a few times, I gave up and we went home.

By the way, I got a bit behind on these last few blog posts and did the last 3 all together. The dates reflect the days we went flying, but the posts all went up today. Hence you might like to also read the 2 posts previous to this one...

E-book special of the month (25% off)...

E-book: Making The MBK Parachute Kite

This printable e-book takes you step-by-step through making a 119cm (4 ft) wide Parachute kite. It's not quite that wide in the air since the canopy takes on a distinct curved shape when inflated. This 14-cell kite performs best in moderate to fresh wind speeds. That's 20 to 38kph or 13 to 24mph. In gentle winds, this kite will hang in the air at fairly low line angles. In fresh winds, it pulls firmly for it's size, so small kids should only fly it while supervised!

Every kite design in the MBK Soft Series satisfies the following points...

  • Materials are plastic sheet, tape and line – and nothing more!
  • Tools are a ruler, scissors and a marker pen - and nothing more!
  • All cuts are along straight lines.

For the greatest chance of success, I make recommendations regarding the materials. For example, the type/weight of plastic, type/width of tape and line type/strength. Close enough should nearly always be good enough, since the design is well-tested and should be tolerant of small differences from my original.

Get the e-book for making the MBK Parafoil kite. After making your first one in plastic and seeing how it performs, you can try soft Tyvek or rip-stop nylon for your next build.

The e-book is a PDF file - which means printable instructions to refer to while you make the kite. It also means convenient off-line access if that suits you better.

What's New!

  1. Flight Report:
    Dowel Diamond Just Pips Dowel Delta

    Jun 24, 17 08:27 AM

    It was down at Knox Park on the last Saturday of the month, as is my custom...

    Except that the weather has not cooperated on the last couple of occasions. Even today the breeze was barely there. A frie…

    Read More


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Wind Speeds

Light air
1-5 km/h
1-3 mph
1-3 knots
Beaufort 1

Light breeze
6–11 km/h
4–7 mph
4–6 knots
Beaufort 2    

Gentle breeze
12–19 km/h
8–12 mph
7–10 knots
Beaufort 3    

Moderate breeze
20–28 km/h
13–18 mph
11–16 knots
Beaufort 4    

Fresh breeze
29–38 km/h
19–24 mph
17–21 knots
Beaufort 5    

Strong breeze
39–49 km/h
25–31 mph
22–27 knots
Beaufort 6

High Wind
50-61 km/h
32-38 mph
28-33 knots
Beaufort 7