Kite Blog Posts

August 2008

August 4, 2008—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 North East 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 treetop 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 trunk (boot) 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 treetop height after a minute or two. 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 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 the kite 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 was done though. At least the barn door had a good fly.

On this site, there's more kite-making info than you can poke a stick at :-)  Want to know the most convenient way of using it all?

The Big MBK E-book Bundle is a collection of downloads—printable PDF files which provide step-by-step instructions for many kites large and small.

Every kite in every MBK series.

August 8, 2008—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. It was 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 remade 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 it's 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! That's 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 woodworking 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 the small 1-Skewer Series 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 are 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!

It wasn't the most memorable day's flying, with only one kite out of three actually flying well! But at least it's all fixable.

August 10, 2008—New 1-Skewer Barn Door Trimmed to Perfection

I was 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." That's not exactly true. 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.

There was 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 rebridled the kite so it had a Prusik knot on the upper bridle-loop, it was an easy matter to stop the kite pulling to one side like it did originally. The Prusik knot just had to be shifted by a mere millimeter or two.

Also, I bent just a little extra dihedral into the horizontal spar. I'll have to update the instructions to state "20 to 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 don't come in less than 2.5 mm thickness, so the three 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—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? There's lot's of work to be done on the upcoming e-book, 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 reattached 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 two Prusik 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 well.

At this point I decided 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. Despite having all 50 meters of line out, the kite descended almost to the ground in a lull at one stage then shot skyward again as a gust came through.

It was good to see the new barn door having its first extended flight on a decent length of line. Line angles were about 30 to 35 degrees from my hand. However, with the sag in the line, the kite was generally sitting at about 40 to 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. I have 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 peewees; 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 five 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 wingspans 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. Their long wings were outstretched, not flapping. The birds 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 three 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.

This all made for a longer than usual blog post today! I hope you enjoyed it.

August 12, 2008—2-Skewer Sled Poses for E-book 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, it's 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. There were 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. A short line length means no quality-killing zoom is necessary and also there is less chance of camera shake. With 10 kite pictures taken, it was time to let out all 50 meters (160 feet) 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. It even did a 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. It's time to process those pics and plug them into the e-book document!

August 13, 2008—2-Skewer Diamond Kite Finds Silky Smooth Air

It seems I'm in a blogging frenzy right now; I think this is the fourth 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 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 (160 feet) 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 winder. The average wind strength was fairly fresh, so the climbout was easy. To my surprise, the kite settled right down and hung almost motionless at about a 50 to 55-degree angle.

Smooth air! It was smoother than I have ever flown an MBK kite in, so far. Even the characteristic wingtip 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—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 two 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.

It was time to see what the diamond could do on more line! It was easy to let out 45 meters (140 feet) or so, with the tiny diamond coping remarkably well with the strong gusts. It looped occasionally, but stayed 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 treetop 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. This was not much fun really. Just occasionally, the sled would soar high during a lull and get near its usual 60-degree line angle. Eventually, I had enough and brought it down.

August 20, 2008—Little Rokkaku Rocket Rides Roaring Wind

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

We needed a few extra pictures for the new kite-making e-book 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.

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 Series 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. That's 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—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. Or it could even be 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! That's 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 inflight photos and also took 30 seconds of video. The breeze was gusting, but it was 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 downward on its face, on a slack line.

Camera work out of the way, we made our way toward 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 (500-foot) 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. It just hovers 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—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 light breeze." The word was 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 two 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 to 25 meters (80 feet) 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 light 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 (160 feet) 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 half an 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.

I've just realized something. Our best low-wind kite and strong-wind kite right now are both rokkakus! The little 1-skewer Rok with its long tail can really take some punishment in strong wind.

August 28, 2008—Diamond Kite Video Goes Up at Last

This is just a short post here to document our little trip down to the reserve near the school to fly the remade 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.

After the video was "in the can," we headed a bit further toward the middle of the field to try and fly the kite higher. We didn't have 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 (100 feet) of line out and having to pull it straight back in a few times, I gave up and we went home.


The story or stories above document actual flying experiences. My write-ups are definitely "warts and all" since things don't always go totally as planned. However, half the fun of kiting is anticipating the perfect flight. When it happens, it's magic!


As mentioned earlier, there's more kite-making info here than you can poke a stick at :-)

Want to know the most convenient way of using it all?

The Big MBK E-book Bundle is a collection of downloads—printable PDF files which provide step-by-step instructions for many kites large and small.

Every kite in every MBK series.