The ultimate in one-upmanship is to cruise down the park with the kids and have a kite that flies. Or, let me put it another way – Charles Shultz absolutely knew how to show Charlie Brown’s ARGH! moments with a kite that refused to fly. You can buy kites – I’ve even done that myself, however, real oomph comes from making your own. But how do you make a kite that flies, and flies well? Sorry, Charlie, those lozenge shaped kites suck. So how, what kite is better? Ask no more, here is how to make the flying-est kite going – a sled kite. I have made dozens of these, all sizes, and they all have had one fantastic thing in common: they fly, man they FLY!!!
From my drawing here you can make them any size, so long as the ratios remain a pretty much constant 4 wide by 3 deep. I’ve made kites out of plastic rubbish bags, black garden polythene, even chip/crisp packets. You’re looking for a fairly strong plastic – cling film is probably too delicate unless the kite is small. Size matters – a large plastic rubbish bag is likely to be too big and scary for a little kid – dangerous in a strong wind with burnt or cut fingers from the string and possibly pulled and dragged along the ground. A sheet of plastic about the size of an A3 sheet of paper is a good starter size.
Cut the plastic in the hexagon shape as drawn, and cut the triangle shape out of the middle – see – that maths stuff does pay off. You need three sticks to act as spreaders – to hold the kite open. They’re not structural as in the traditional rhombus shaped kite. I’ve used bamboo garden stakes, dowelling, willow branches, rolled up sheets of newspaper, kebab sticks (for small kites), and toi-toi sticks; but my favorites have been the long straight stalks from bracken fern. It seemed to have the right amount of springiness. The sticks need to be slightly longer than the height of the kite, so that if/when the kite screams into the earth the sticks hit before the body of the kite does. More about that later.
Once you’ve cut out the kite, tape the sticks to the kite. I’ve usually used a strong waterproof 50mm (2″) wide tape used for taping polythene ‘glasshouses’, but you could use duck/duct tape, sticking plasters, or if you’re desperate, sellotape. It’s not the best though. It doesn’t make that much difference, it’s merely there to stop the sticks falling off. If the sticks are uneven length, put the tallest stick in the middle for balance. Put a couple of layers of tape on the two outside points where the bridles are to be attached, to reinforce the corners.
The length of the bridles needs to be about three times the width of the kite – i.e. a 1 metre wide kite needs bridles 3 metres long. Again, a kite this size is much too big for a little kid, and an adult needs to handle them with care until you get used to them. Attach a bridle to each point, and then (warning: the one trick in the whole exercise) knot the two ends together, making sure both bridles are the same length – the kite must be balanced to fly superbly (it’ll still fly no matter what, but if the bridles are uneven it’ll fly to one side…)
Attach the kite bridles to the cord for flying. Personally I prefer to attach the kite using a heavy duty fishing swivel/safety pin connector so the cord doesn’t get all twisty on me, but you don’t have to. Badda-bing, you’re done. These kites won’t fly inside, but if your kite is small enough and you’re careful to avoid any nasty overhead wires, you can probably fly it in your backyard. I’ve test flown kites out the window (too lazy to go outside) and really had fun flying them from the garage roof. I can remember flying a little kite made from a metallic looking chip bag from the garage roof – it went up so high I eventually lost sight of it – truly, it was speaking to the heavens. I knew it was ok, because I could feel it tugging, fish like, on the end of my line.
Ok – time to fly. Take your kite, cord, a roll of repair tape, and some scissors down to the park. It’s ok – no, it’s cool to arrive with your kite rolled up. Attach your kite to the cord, and let some cord out. Holding the cord in one hand, juggle around and hold your kite open to the wind. If there’s so much as a gentle breeze the kite will lift away like a parachute and fly. Let more cord out. Look cool. How hard can it be? Never run with your kite unless… you’re doing if for exercise purposes.
Ok depending on factors like wind speed and kite size some things can happen and you might need to teach your kite how fly. If your kite takes off like a crazy puppy and then spirals around and around before crashing it’s probably too light for the strength of the wind. Add some weight in the form of a tail hanging from the bottom of the middle stick. I’ve used lengths of plastic, packaging tape, my jandal, my t-shirt, and branches before today. My kites sometimes looked like flying recycling (but mostly to people who didn’t have kites that flew… ;)). Use the scissors and tape to add a tail (or tails – because you can add tails from the side sticks as well), ensuring that the heaviest tail is the middle tail for balance.
I found that if I ran with the kite I could force it into mad spirals and that was fun too – the moment I stopped the kite would right itself and ‘swim’ like a carp upwards. I can remember arriving at the park with my rolled up litter and seeing a guy with a kid and the high tech tetrahedron mylar work a nasa engineer would be stunned by. I unrolled my kite, and kicked it into the air. My kite rose effortlessly. I tied it off against the fence and looked over to the guy. His kid looked at me and my kid. He smiled. The father curled back his lip with a sneer… ‘trailer trash’. Could it have been my mullet? By now I was bored and untied my kite – time to play. I walked out into the field, and then turn and ran as fast as I could, looking over my shoulder. The kite, sensing the game immediately started into the hard spirals, the cord singing under the pressure. Five spirals, and the kite crashed into the ground. I heard the guy choke back a laugh. He didn’t get the game. The kid looked surprised and disappointed. I went back and kicked my kite into the air again, let some cord out, and ran again. Six spirals later, crash! This time the guy didn’t laugh, but the kid did. Walked out even further, let out more cord, ran harder than ever. The kite roared with delight. Seven full spirals, and CRASH – with a kind of snap sound that can only mean one thing. The kid looked at me horrified and the guy laughed out loud. The kite lay on the ground, moving sadly in the breeze. I could see the kid’s sympathy, and feel the guy’s delight at my broken kite. After all, even though his kite hadn’t got off the ground, mine was just a rubbish bag, some sticks and well – litter.
I gave my kite a little tug. A corner lifted… another little tug… a little more lifted… and then slowly my black dragon lifted off the ground shaking a little, but swimming ever upwards. I heard the kid laugh, and the guy say in an amazed tone, ‘It’s just a pile of junk!’ In reply, my kite dropped the broken stick, and having got rid of that little surplus weight, soared on higher. When I turned around there was just my kite and me in the park.