Kite Symmetrics: or Something Like That

by Gary Crenshaw
(Hampton, GA, USA)

A kite being of symmetrical design is tested by increased wind velocity pressing against the flying surface. As wind speed increases asymmetrical faults begin to appear in the form of flight instability. Some kites present their faults even in the lowest wind conditions whiles others can remain stable in winds that surpass the kites practical flying ability.

To correct these asymmetric flaws there are a number of things that can be changed to bring a kite back into stable flight.

SURFACE POSITIONING: On some kites the sail material may have shifted around causing the kite to become unstable. The surface could also become baggy on one side and tight on the other or just simply shifted around on the structure it's attached to. Start with this before moving on to further correction methods.

BALANCE: Balancing a kite is just like an airplane or a boat, it really matters. Using a simple diamond kite as an example, the best way to start is to lay the kite flat on the floor upside down. With the bridle lift the kite off the floor and balance the wing tips by using very small amounts of weight. Duct tape usually works well for this because it's actually heavier than it looks and it stays where you put it with very little effort. Apply this balance weight as close to the wing tip as possible because this will get the most results with the least amount of weight applied.

RESISTANCE ANGLE: This is how you determine where to attach the kite line to the bridle. Lay the kite back on the floor again and slowly raise it back up holding the bridle at different locations so that the nose of the kite raises off the floor a few inches before the rest of the kite comes up. This gets you in the general area but small adjustments may be necessary as you actually perform the test flight.

LIFT: All kites have a wing leading edge and the tightness of the sail material at this location is very critical to its flight stability. For instance, if a kite has a tendency to lean to one side or fly in a circular motion sometimes this is a good place to check first. The tighter the material the better the lift and the looser the more loss of lift it causes. Sometimes it's not practical to tighten the material so loosening the other side might work best.

I have found this procedure to be very effective on most kites but sometimes it's still not enough to correct a problem. When this procedure has failed to stabilize your kite, read on for the more DRAMATIC FIX.

I have had kites, usually the cheaper stuff, that still fly weird even after all these steps were taken. At this point I get down to business with the kite. I fly the kite at a pretty low altitude and anchor the kite reel, walk out to the kite while holding the line with a d-ring to avoid string burn and take a roll of plastic ribbon and a roll of duct tape with me. Add strips of plastic ribbon to the kite on the opposite side that it is trying to turn to. (This is called INDUCED DRAG). Add small amounts until the kite begins to fly straight. As the wind increases or decreases you might have to add or take away some of the ribbon to adjust the stability to the new wind speed.

By using this method I have flown cheap dollar store kites at unbelievable altitudes in winds that strongly surpass what is practical for kites of this quality.

Don't let cheap unstable bad flying kites affect your day, attack the problem, stabilize the kite and fly it high ---- after all, you're the boss, right?

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Great educational contribution!
by: Tim Parish

Thanks Gary for that knowledgeable post. Your considerable experience with 'bought kites' is evident, and makes some interesting contrasts with my own experiences with (almost exclusively) plastic and dowel or skewer kites.

Some comments point by point:

SURFACE POSITIONING: With the plastic pulled tight between the spar tips, this doesn't seem to be much of a factor with my designs. But I can easily imagine it happening on bigger kites with cloth sails. When I start making my really big designs, perhaps this factor might creep in...

Actually, I did make a tiny 1-Skewer Diamond once that suffered from uneven baginess in the sail! But I think it was caused by inaccuracy in attaching the plastic to the spar tips. After tightening up one panel by gathering a small fold near one tip and taping it down, the kite went on to fly quite well.

BALANCE: I like to get things balanced too, although my impression so far has been that it matters a lot less than aerodynamic factors - in general.

The nice thing about working with dowel is that it's not hard to remove a little weight out near the appropriate tip where stiffness and strength don't matter. Weight loss and better balance in one hit!

RESISTANCE ANGLE: The other side of the coin to 'towing point'. I've started to include a side-on illustration of the bridle line angles in my kite-making instructions, to make this area as idiot-proof as possible. :-) Bridle adjustment really trips a lot of people up. They do a good job on the kite, but then can't get it to fly.

LIFT: Interesting points you make here - I had not really considered this factor before.

DRAMATIC FIX: Your equivalent to my 'wing-tip tail-lets'! Yes, it's a pretty powerful fix - just a pity about the asymmetrical ugliness! I'm wondering whether my recent 'hole in the sail' idea might turn out to work well on a variety of kite types. It induces drag and reduces lift by letting air bleed through from the high pressure zone to the lower pressure behind the sail. Hence quite efficient at turning the kite back to correct an imbalance.

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