The Roller Kite

Some Background

The Roller kite has been around since the 1930s, although not by that name. In the early 1970's, Alick Pearson simplified and improved an older kite design called the Roloplan.

A home-made Roller Kite in flight.

This new design became influential and many people refer to it, or similar kites, as the Pearson Roller.

Some say that the Roller looks somewhat like a Rok with a slot cut in it! I suppose some versions that are taller than they are wide could remind you of a Rok, if you mentally cover over the vent between the upper and lower sails. Like the Rok, the Roller is a stable tail-less design.

In fact, the keel and large vent between the upper and lower sails make this design even more stable than many other similarly-sized kites.

The nice red kite in the photo up there is a home-built Roller by Marty Groet. Image used with permission. Marty is a keen member of the Wings Across Carolina Kiting and Okra Society, in the U.S.

This Vertical Visuals Roller kite is an example of the somewhat few and far between Rollers available through retail channels. But it seems like quite a good one.




The original Roller kite was not large, at just 1.2 x 1.2 meters (46 x 46 inches). Also it is claimed by some that this was the first well-known kite to use rip-stop nylon for sail material. I wonder if it was spinnaker fabric, as is sometimes used even today. Perhaps Pearson had sailing connections in those days.

Some general points about Rollers...

  • Rollers can be seen in a variety of sizes from the original dimensions through to 2 or 3 meters in height
  • slight variations in the original outline are common
  • wooden or carbon spars are usually used for this type of kite
  • a tail is not necessary for a well-constructed Roller of at least average size
  • some beautifully decorated Roller kites have been made and displayed at festivals over the years
  • a 2-point bridle is often combined with small keels under the upper and/or lower sails
  • for sail material, rip stop nylon is commonly used

Here's a few comments on each of the above points.

Size. Nothing to add, except that the MBK Skewer Roller is a rare miniature!

Shape. Many designers who choose to do a Roller decide to make it taller than the span from tip to tip. This would make it slightly more stable, an advantage for inexperienced kite fliers. The amount of taper in the upper sail can vary from design to design. So too can the exact shape of the triangular lower sail, with some being quite deep compared to the original. Mind you, there's also a few examples out there where the designer has gone far from the original design, and it looks nothing like a Pearson Roller! For example, one is basically a Rok with a couple of vents cut into it. Another is loosely based on the Pearson design, but has a V-shaped trailing edge on the upper sail, and a diamond-shaped lower sail!

Construction. This kite is traditionally made with 150 degrees of dihedral in both horizontal spars, although using a bow-string would achieve the same stability when properly adjusted. Wooden spars are often used, although carbon spars of slightly smaller diameter are sometimes used instead. The spar ends are fitted into pockets in the sail, and bands are used to tie the spars together where they cross. Interestingly, on one big retail kite the lines connecting the sails are adjustable at the tips, but not at the center.

Tails. As already mentioned, the Roller kite does not need a tail. My little MBK Skewer Roller does though, because at such a small scale it's very difficult to construct it accurately enough to fly tail-less.

Decoration. There's plenty of 'canvas' on a bigger-than-average Roller for a builder to get artistic! An excellent example is an Australian design that has been mass produced in China for the shops. It's a kangaroo design which features ochre colors. Browns, reds, yellows. Brown kites haven't been seen much since the early days of kids making diamond kites from brown paper and string!

Bridle. The original Roller had a simple 2-point bridle with the lower point attached to a small keel. The keel itself was tied to the lower end of the vertical spar and the mid-point of the lower horizontal spar, through 2 eyelets. A short length of spar was also sewn to the keel itself. Later versions of this kite often had a similar keel at the upper bridle point as well. I personally can't see why. Extra complexity for a dubious increase in stability I reckon! Some of these later kites also had the keel(s) sewn directly to the sail, which is a fairly standard practice in kite making.

Sail. The original kite apparently used Ripstop nylon, and many versions since then would have used the same. I'm sure a range of other modern kite sail materials have also been used since then, particularly on the home-made versions.





Roller Kites In Action

It seems these kites have always been 'fly-for-pleasure'. I've corresponded with one or 2 people who have owned a quality Roller kite in the past and loved it. They look quite different to the more common Diamonds and Deltas, and fly at line angles somewhere between those 2 types. Mind you, a great Roller might fly higher than an average Delta!

Out In The Field

My collection of real-life Roller kite stories is worth checking out!

Illustrated with photos and videos, of course.

Apparently a large Roller has only a moderate line pull, like a large Delta.

Large and artistically decorated Rollers have sometimes featured at kite festivals.

I wonder when someone will put up a Rokkaku and a Pearson Roller with a rock soundtrack blaring through the PA. Rok'n'Roller ... get it ... never mind.





Some Roller Kite History

Our home-made Dowel Roller is a reliable light-wind flyer.

Just a few snippets of history, there's not a lot to say. A little should be said about the old Roloplan kite, since it was the fore-runner of the Pearson Roller, and a quick glance at the plans will confirm how similar the 2 kite designs are.

The Roloplan was marketed by Steiff, a German toy manufacturer in the 1930's. This kite became very popular in the U.K. for a time, particularly in London where it coped well with small park flying. Many people at the time thought it was actually a British design! Copying this kite accurately would have been a tiresome chore because of the fiddly bridling and multiple line connections between the upper and lower sails. No wonder an Englishman decided to redesign it into a much simpler kite, while retaining the original outline and vented sail concept.

Pearson did such a good job, an influential kite book author (Pelham) included it in the next edition of his book. Also, the design was manufactured in fairly large numbers and so it blossomed in popularity during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

After this time, the Roller found it had some stiff competition as a light-wind kite... Enter the Delta, Genki and a few others!

However, you can't keep a good kite down. All it takes is for someone to show off a particularly good example or 2 at a big kite festival, and some interest among kite-lovers can be re-ignited. An appearance here, an article there, a popular web page somewhere else... Those kind of things can be triggers for an old but good design to begin gathering a new following.

A good shop-bought Roller kite will set you back more than $100 U.S., and some of them take a little while to set up since they are designed to break down into a fairly small carry bag. But hey, if you want a great performing light wind kite that isn't instantly recognizable by most people - get a Roller!

The video below shows our home-made Dowel Roller on a short line in a gusty breeze...



Here's a retail kite, the Vertical Visuals Roller kite on Amazon, which is made from more durable materials and certainly looks attractive.

 

What's New!

  1. Flight Report:
    Dowel Dopero Down!

    Nov 25, 14 10:51 PM

    Well, sometimes you get deceived by the weather stations! It was supposed to be relatively light down near Noarlunga this morning. Hence I had the Dowel Delta in the car, with the Dowel Dopero brought…

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