Sled Kite Instability

by Dottie
(U.S.A.)

Q:

I am looking for a simple, reliable kite to make with visitors at Seacliff St. Park. We are on a very tight budget, and the kite sails must be biodegradable.

I have been building sample Sled kites, carefully following the basic plan available online: 18" x 24", 1/8" dowel spars, and brown paper (similar to the Kinko's bag shown online). I have tried kites with and without tails, with or without vents, and with 2 tails or one looped one.

Each style I've tried goes up a little way - then begins jerking back and forth from side to side. I've been practicing on the beach where the breeze has been light but steady.

Can you give me advice about new things I can try to make these kites work? I'd appreciate your help so much!

A:

Having access to a beach with smooth light winds is a great start!

In general, any kite will fly more stable the more tail you add. It's the drag force of the air flowing around the tail, not the weight, that does the most to keep the kite's nose pointed into the wind.

Also in general, the smaller the kite, the more erratic it's flight patterns. My little 1-skewer designs often flit from side to side, and that's normal. They are just over 11" wide. My 48" wide designs, however, often hover almost motionless up at 400 feet!

So, if you prefer a more steady flier, consider moving up to a slightly bigger kite.

Here's a link to instructions for the Simple Sled Kite. It flies nice and stable with no tail at all! However, there is no problem with adding a couple of tails if you want to, for looks, or to make it even more stable. The looped style of tail gives slightly more stability for a given amount of tail material.

Hope this helps! Feel free to leave a story or 2 later on - you'll see what I mean if you follow that link up there.

Comments for Sled Kite Instability

Click here to add your own comments

Jul 14, 2013
Fishing Kite
by: Stathis

I need a sled kite plan for fishing. I don't know dimensions for stability (air beach). Usually the air is 2-5 bft 3,4m/s-10m/s.

Any idea?

May 12, 2012
Flowthru Sled Kite
by: Anonymous

AKA kiting-winter 2011 issue 4 has a kit plan for a new type sled kite that maintains stability in gusty and turbulent winds from 5 to 25 mph. It has a single round hole in the sail. The center line of the hole is held open with a floating spreader stick that is positioned on the center line of the two bridle connecting holes.

Oct 16, 2011
Sled Kite Stability
by: Yaakov Shaked

The original design of the two spar sled kite has the bottom part of the spars closer together then the top part (like this \ / ). The narrowing of the kite towards the bottom traps the wind and creates a drag on the bottom part that makes sure the kite stays bottom side down and doesn?t turn over.

There is a way to have the spars parallel (like this | | ) without adding a tail. If a hole is cut towards the bottom part of the sail the same effect is achieved. I have found that if the hole isn?t big enough the drag is not strong enough to hold the sled kite bottom down and it will turn over and soar down to the ground.

A quick solution to the problem is to tie a piece of string between the bottom part of the two spars to keep them a bit closer together. A few centimeters will do the job.

Another note about stability: The angle between the kite line pull direction and the wind direction is the main factor that determines the stability of the kite during its flight.

When the kite line is short (<20 meters for sled kites) even short bursts of wind can push the kite in to the instability angles since they are very close to the middle of the stability zone. When the kite line is long (>50 meters) even if the kite is pushed right and left it usually won't reach the edge of the stability zone. For this reason a useful technique is to try launching the kite with a considerable amount of line out from the start.

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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