Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Bird of Paradise

Premier makes a colorful kite that is close to my heart. If you are looking for a bird kite, this is a great choice!

The Bird of Paradise was the first kite I got to really take off into the sky with just the right conditions to sail high up when I first starting flying kites again. It was such a rush to see it get smaller and smaller, yet still maintain a dynamic presence against the bright blue sky. After fiddling with kites in fickle wind conditions on other days, I finally achieved the peaceful satisfaction of enjoying a spectacle of color aloft with minimal effort.

The Bird of Paradise is a delta-style single line kite so it swoops in an arc when close to the ground, something to be careful of around other people. Otherwise, it is an easy flier and eye pleaser. With its pinata-like appearance, it has a definite festive feel and is a fun addition at a gathering of kite fliers. The kite is well constructed with built-in tail and has a wind speed tolerance of up to about 18mph. Its brilliant coloring lends great cheer to gray overcast days!

The easiest way to purchase this kite on-line is from Amazon where it costs under $30 and qualifies for free super-saver shipping. Check it out in the Free Spirit Kite Shop - tab at the top of the page!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Twenty-two Consecutive Days of Kite Flying

I started another daily kite flight challenge March 1st, with the intention of going for 20 days to beat my previous record of 16 days. It was much easier to fly on a daily basis with the days getting longer so I kept going, thinking I would go right into April and beyond. Then I accidentally forgot to fly on March 23rd!

What I learned flying in March: Kite flying really helps lift one's spirits at the end of winter. It was harder than I expected to motivate at first, so I started small, keeping my tiniest kite in my pocket and pulling it out for just a few minutes a day. To qualify for a daily kite flight I decided a few minutes is enough, though I usually fly for at least twenty minutes. Longer sessions take advantage of better conditions and available time of course. In this daily flight challenge I had a couple of stellar sessions against sunset skies. The longer I flew the better I felt. Kite flying is definitely a prescription for better health!

Variety being the spice of life, and wind conditions ever changing, I used twelve different kites this time. Flying daily is a great way to explore the use of different kite styles. Now that I'm making kites, I see that daily flying becomes part of design testing and improvement. As a daily practice it can even take on some spiritual qualities.

I also learned that as you get used to flying daily, it might be easy to forget to fly! That was a new one for me. With my busy life about to get busier, I'm going to have to guard against it as I pick up the daily flight challenge in April. In addition to getting more friends to fly during National Kite Month, I'm shooting for at least 30 days!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Seaside Kites

I finally made my way to a real kite shop - not just any store that sells kites, but a store that sells kites and related items exclusively. That is where you get the best service!

Seaside Kites in Hull, Massachusetts is just one short block from Nantasket Beach on a thin peninsula that juts into Boston Harbor. It is a scenic urban environment and no doubt the beach there is a great place to fly. I walked into the door of the modest shop a block away on a nearly empty street and found the owner sitting in the back of a single room at a sewing machine.  Kites hung all around on the walls in and out of packages. No one else was in the store. It turned out to be a perfect time to meet Greg Lamoureux, the owner.

Greg stood up to greet me and we were soon enthusiastically engaged in all kinds of topics from the recent Kite Trade Association International trade show to how to fly stunt kites. What fun it was to connect with a kite shop owner, kite maker and all-around nice guy! He showed me some of his designs and various kites on display and also shared stories of local kitefliers and teaching kids how to make kites. I left with a three stack diamond stunter kite and a couple of clip-on lights for night flying, purchased at a ten percent discount thanks to my recent membership with the American Kitefliers Association. It was a thoroughly enjoyable shopping experience that revitalized my commitment to small stores versus the big box variety or shopping online. 

Kite shops are few and far between. Those listed in directories of professional kite organizations like the American Kitefliers Association are likely to be the best out there. If you are a serious flier and want personalized attention and community connection get yourself to a bona fide kite shop like Seaside Kites

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Mighty Kite - Well Named Wonder

Don't be fooled by perspective - this kite is only 3 x 5 inches!
Recently a friend gave me a Mighty Kite, a small kite made in India of tissue paper. What a great little kite it has turned out to be! If you are looking for an inexpensive kite for simple gifts, party favors, or prizes, this might be just what you need.
The Mighty Kite is indeed well named. It is a surprisingly tiny diamond kite measuring just 3 1/4" x 4 1/2", which is important to know because nowhere on the Mighty Kite website will you find the actual size specified. It comes in 27 different color combinations and has a lot of chutzpah written into the colorful packaging. Ready to fly right out of the package, it launches easily, and boasts of handling winds up to 45mph. It is a really easy kite to bring along with you - just slip it into the pages of a book.

Everything about this kite is biodegradable. Forty yards of white cotton thread are wrapped around a white cardwinder that adds rigid support to the package. The thread is glued to the kite, so no chance of tying it on in the wrong way. Its double tail is substantial at 1/2" x 29" and comes with an extension you can tape on if you are inspired to take it to the maximum end of wind speed. The frame is two short thin bits of natural material. It is that simple.

In flying this little delight I was impressed with its ability to maintain stability and fly high into the sky. The colors are bright and fun. I'm already thinking about how many people I know who would enjoy it, especially those with limited physical abilities. The Mighty Kite is promoted as a perfect kite for the city, the "only mass produced, pocket size kite on the market that can be flown easily by individuals from ages 4 to 94".

It is easy to order Mighty Kites online, where you can also find an extensive list of retail outlets in the U.S. where they are sold (including ToysRUs stores) which is your best bet if you want to purchase just one kite. The kite costs $4-5 online depending on how many you order and is available in bulk "party" package amounts from four to one hundred.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Miniature Chinese Pheasant Kite

Anybody out there flying miniature kites? For some kite fliers, they are the main focus and a whole art form unto themselves. Miniature kites can get quite tiny. Some are smaller than postage stamps! I find they are an interesting switch from regular-sized kites and fun for spontaneous flights almost anywhere.

Tom Tinney's Miniature Chinese Pheasant is the smallest kite I've flown so far, measuring 1 1/2" high by 3" wide with 18" tails made of tissue paper. It's a great little handmade kite, beautifully constructed and detailed, and looks like a perfect replica of an age old favorite. I've been taking it out on walks lately, for a tiny splash of color before spring.

The Miniature Chinese Pheasant Kite flies sideways and
stays low to the ground in a strong breeze.

The Miniature Chinese Pheasant Kite comes in a clear plastic box with a snap lid - easy to fit into a loose pocket and very convenient for any kind of travel. The kite is attached to its near invisible line on a plastic thread card. It needs just a little wind to fly and excels in a very gentle and steady little breeze. In good conditions you can play out quite a lot of line. If it is too breezy, the kite will fly sideways or spin wildly, and it will be a challenge getting it in and out of the box with those delicate tails.

If the line gets kinked up from too much spinning the kite won't fly at the right angle. If this happens, secure the line to the winder so it doesn't unravel, then hold the kite and let the winder revolve until the line is unkinked.This will set it back up for better flight. If you are old enough to remember untwisting telephone cords, you'll know just how to reset any overspun miniature kite line!

Tom sells them for $10 on his website, He's got some other intriguing mini kites there too. I have a few of his dragonflies. They are quite a bit larger than the pheasant, but still smaller than the span of your hand. I love the dragonflies - they fly like the real thing! Read more about them and see them on video here!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Innovative Uses of Kites - Past and Present

Would you consider flying kites for any other reason than the pure pleasure of it? While most of us today think of kite flying as a recreational pastime, kites have had a long history of practical use. Lately I've been amazed to discover kites have been involved in an astonishing range of functions including the collection of weather data, the development of manned aircraft, aerial photography, radio transmission, target practice and rescue at sea.

Kite Shed in vicinity of the Blue Hills weather observatory.

Recently I visited Blue Hills State Reservation near Boston. At the top of Great Blue Hill is a weather observatory that is home to the longest continuous weather recording in North America. Weather data is still recorded at the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory using traditional instruments. The observatory is a small castle-like stone structure with a whimsical array of spinning contraptions mounted atop and curious metallic sculpture all around. Nearby I stumbled upon the Kite Shed, a simple,weathered and unfortunately locked structure which was proudly marked as another historical aspect of the Blue Hills. Here, in the late 19th century, kites were first flown carrying instruments to take atmospheric measurements of air temperature and pressure, humidity, and wind speed. The highest kite flight for this purpose at the time was over 15,000 feet! Of course I'm dying to know what is in that shed now! Could any of those original kites still be there?

Anyone interested in the uses of kites should definitely check out Best Breezes, a website devoted to the history, science and art of kites. Since their early origins in China and Indonesia over 2000 years ago, kites have been a source of inspiration and innovation. Bob White of Ontario, Canada, has chronicled fascinating highlights and infinite aspects of kite development for anyone to read via Best Breezes. It should come as no surprise that a few very famous inventors were tinkering with kites as they generated new directions for humankind, including the development of aircraft.

Gibson Girl kite hanging in the Tangmere Military Museum. 

I know someone who owns a Gibson Girl kite, a big yellow box kite used during World War II to broadcast radio transmissions from sailors lost at sea. The Gibson Girl has a metal frame that served as an antenna and a shapely hand-cranked transmitter that inspired the kite's name, based on a popular concept of beauty at the time. A Gibson Girl kite can be seen flying on youtube and stories of men who were saved by these kites can also be found online.

My kite blogging buddy Lex from the UK has been re-creating and flying a Garber Target Kite, also used during World War II, to help sailors improve their gunning skills. While it seems tragic to shoot kites out of the sky, it is remarkable to view in the video Les shares on his recent blog post. I really got the value of using kites for target practice at sea from watching the historical footage. What a great project to build a historical kite and fly it too!

Early kite aerial photo by George Lawrence of San Francisco in 1906.

Hoisting cameras into the air on kites and perfecting the art of taking good photos has become a hobby among contemporary of kite fliers. The history of kite aerial photography, or KAP as it is referred to today, goes back to 1889 when the first known flight took place in France. It's most significant historical use took place a hundred years ago after the San Francisco earthquake, when a huge camera was hoisted 2000 feet above the city to document the devastation using stacks of kites. Since then a wide variety of large kites have been used to generate birds-eye images. I'm thinking about trying this out myself one of these days.

There are many other personal and social uses of kites, of both historical and contemporary merit. Among these are communication, therapy, fishing, and bridge building. My favorite leading edge use of kites today is providing power to cargo ships, which offers huge cost cutting and environmental benefits for our over-burdened planet. Check it out on this video!

Of course my favorite personal use is gaining the therapeutic benefits inherent in flying even the simplest kite. Stress reduction and increased joy are part of any kite flying experience, no matter how ordinary or innovative. What is your favorite use of kites?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sky Song - Affordable Designer Kite

Ever wonder who designs kites? It's not just toy manufacturers!

One of my more unusual looking single-line kites is the Sky Song, an affordable dihedral style design by Robert Brasington. How nice that New Tech Kites offers affordable designer kites from six top names in the field. New Tech Kites manufactures and wholesales their kites, so I bought mine through Into The Wind. The Sky Song costs $25. Various other sky and aquatic inspired kites by Brasington can be found in the $25-$60 range.

You can't research kites on-line for too long before you start bumping into the names of well-known kite designers like Brasington. These elite kite artists travel the world to fly their kites at festivals, teach kite building and no doubt conduct other aspects of high end kite business. A visit to Brasington's website offers countless unique designs inspired by sky phenomenon and garden wonders. You can buy direct from him if you have money to spend! Otherwise, shop around for his more affordable line of kites.

I like the Sky Song for its poetic name and simplicity. It really celebrates the sky with a delicate yet dramatic presence. The cool color scheme of blues and white is a refreshing break from brightly colored kites. There is a hot color option if you prefer. Check them out together in the video below!

When I first opened and launched this kite in what I thought was a reasonably friendly breeze, the kite went up a short distance, then collapsed and crashed to the ground. Turned out the dihedral connector at the center of the kite was defective. I had to pay $2 for the part and $6 shipping to replace it. I can't say I was impressed with the customer service on this point, but the kite was well worth repairing.

It flies well in a light steady breeze, but tends to travel sideways if it is fighting the wind. The specified wind range is 5-18mph, but I'm not so sure it would be happy at the outer limit. Sky Song is a gentle butterfly and only needs 30# line.