The modern Western Dragon kite is an entirely different beast to the traditional Chinese variety. However, a large and detailed one is still a great head-turner! Particularly if it is of the 3D variety.
These colorful and spectacular designs, often with a rather looong tail, appeal to adults as well as children. Perhaps to women more than men - I know my wife wants one! I guess you could classify these kites into the Novelty category.
Not surprisingly, photos of the larger dragons with great graphic design feature regularly in photo-sharing sites. These kinds of kites are a magnet for photographers at kite festivals! I've taken a few such shots myself, at a local festival not far from Adelaide.
I believe there are some traditional Chinese kites which are 3-D, where a little model of a creature is constructed from fine slivers of bamboo and then covered in silk or paper. A flat kite with straight spars is then attached to the 3D model which allows it to fly.
However, the 3D Dragon kites available in shops or online these days are quite different. Most of these kites are made with appliquéd nylon sails and fiberglass spars. Dragon designs come and go, but here are a few examples that have come onto the market in the past...
The Shrek 2 3D Dragon Kite at the top left of this page features an inflatable body! It was worth about US$60 and supplied with 36 kilo (80 pound) flying line and a carry case. Inspired by Chinese ideas, but hardly a traditional Chinese kite.
Even if some of these kinds of kites are actually made in China!
Here's another one. The 2 meter (6 feet) Dragon Delta Kite from New Tech. Like it's name suggested, it was actually the familiar Delta sail with a dragon body attached underneath for looks! Not only that, but the makers have added a colorful long flat tail, like a Pennon kite, as well. Talk about a mixture!
Check out the photo below, taken at a kite festival in Texas, USA. It features a great-looking 3D Dragon kite, with many other festival kites in the background...
These are popular with kids, and widely available from shops. The general configuration is a Pennon (round top) or Delta outline, with a matching long flat tail. Not as narrow as a simple streamer tail, and decorated to be an integral part of the 'creature' represented. That's right, they are not necessarily Dragons as such, although any one of these is still referred to as a Dragon Kite.
Pennon kites are a type that originated in Medieval times. In contrast to 3D and centipede Dragons, this kite is quite simple. It's flat, with a curved spar forming the top edge and a straight spar down the middle.
A long, wide, tail traces out the kite's flight path in the air. Sometimes the tail is tapered along its length. There are usually short tassels attached to each end of the curved spar as well. These are mainly for decoration.
The archaic European variety had a parchment sail and the common cloth materials of the day were used for the tail.
These days, the bamboo spars are most often replaced with flexible fiberglass rods. The sail material is usually rip-stop nylon and sometimes brightly colored Mylar film is used.
A wide variety of designs can be painted on, not just dragon faces! But they are still called 'Dragon kites'. A typical one measures 41 cm (16 inches) by 38 cm (15 inches) with a 5.5 meter (18 feet) tail. Designs with much longer tails are available too.
A simple and easy single-line kite, perfect for beginners. I might get one for my little boy when he grows up a bit! Having said that these kites suit beginners, the Pennon-style ones aren't quite as stable as say, a single-line Delta or even the traditional Diamond shaped kite.
Flat dragons tend to swirl around in the wind, which is great since it really shows off the tail.
The people who sell these kites do such a great job of describing how they look in the air, that I'm going to simply quote a few phrases I've spotted! Here they are...
Get the picture? :-)
To give you some idea of the variety in store-bought dragon kites, here's a few names of currently available kites. All in alphabetical order, because I'm an orderly kind of guy...
Just a tiny bit of history on this type of kite. As I mentioned earlier, they are based on the medieval Pennon Kite. Way back in 1405, a book on military technology was written which contained some illustrations. One illustration showed a Pennon kite, according to the caption. Enough was known about flying kites at this time that 3 different bridle arrangements were described, for flying in various wind conditions.
The modern kids kite below features a relatively short tail. However, the tail is flat, and integrates with the rest of the Delta-style design. Despite being 2D, a Dragon creature is painted on, including the tail. So it really is a 'Dragon kite'!