Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Kite Flying

     All my life I've enjoyed flying kites. Contrary to Peanuts comics it's something anyone can do and can be as involved as intricate dragon trains with over a dozen matched kites spaced several inches apart, difficult to construct and balance, and nearly impossible to fly in Hawaii's fickle, shifting winds, to a five dollar preassembled sled kite with string included that can be flown with ease in minutes.
     Kapiolani Park is the best place in town to fly kites because of its expansive fields sans telephone lines and reliable winds, though gusts do tend to ebb and flow so that smaller kites on shorter strings will eventually get grounded on most days.
     Our kids have loved it along with me, my goal usually being to string them in a train, the kites spaced at thirty yards or more intervals, to see how high they'll go. The first time I did it was on my birthday over a decade ago with our two most reliable kites at the time: a premade sled, and a conyne (triangular box kite with wings) I constructed from mailing paper and barbeque skewers which happened to be the best flyer I've ever made. 
     Note:  building kites is fun. I've used bamboo barbeque skewers, thin bamboo poles, split bamboo strips, tape, string, and Tyvek paper from envelopes. I've reshaped bamboo strips using a candle flame and constructed lantern, box, and dragon tambourine train kites, none of which flew for lack of sufficient lift and imbalances that caused them to gyrate or dive. My advice is unless you're very motivated to study the craft and hone flying performance, if you want to fly a kite high and well, don't build, buy. Even premade kites vary in flight-worthiness because the physics are just so complicated. Some beautiful hand crafted and prepackaged kites (one shaped like a sailing ship, another like a biplane, and a regular box kite) that I purchased either flew poorly (the last two) or not all (the first). Our best purchased flyers were a sled, a delta, a diamond, and a mini-delta. The first two were expensive nylon “performance” kites received as gifts, the last two were on sale and free from school. In short, expensive or fancy don't assure good flying. 
     For entire family fun, have at least one kite per person, with each person choosing which kite he or she wants to fly, and lots of string that won't easily tangle. All my kids have learned how to get a kite airborne on their own by standing still, letting the wind carry the kite up, and loosening line as the kite pulls high and tight and dances about. The only thing I need to remind them sometimes is, “Let more line out! Don't you want it to go all the way up?” because a high flying kite train is easier and far funner to assemble with their help. 
     I read as a kid in a Guinness Book of World Records that a kite flown in a train will fly far higher than a lone kite on a string. I later reasoned that the weight and drag of a very long string can only be lifted so high by a single kite way at the end. Having multiple kites along the way to help lift the string's dead weight enables the last kite to lift that much higher. A kite book suggested putting the strongest puller at the far end of the train. An experienced kite flyer advised that for each kite added, the string strength should be doubled such that the kite at the end requires only a single string, whereas the string held in hand may need double, quadruple, or more strength depending on how many kites there are. 
     I've always purchased inexpensive cotton or nylon cord or string from drug or hardware stores and never had trouble with breakage or even much tangling. To get the train started, I just tie the end of a cord to the plastic handle of the highest flyer, let it out, then do an overhand knot on a doubled over length of line to crate a loop to attach to the handle of the next kite attached. 
     The most I've flown in train was about four. It was fun and beautiful. The kite book recommended that all kites be of the same variety (i.e. delta or box), but all our kites have always been different and I think it's funner that way—they're all dancing about pulling this way and that, diving and recovering at their own leisure like kids doing their own things, with their unique looks and personalities. 
     I lost our high flying delta years ago when trying to add a kite to start a train while holding at the same time the main line. It slipped my grasp twice. The first time I sprinted and ran down the trailing cord. The next time the kite carried the cord end ten, twenty, then thirty and more feet off the ground as I sprinted to try to catch up, the weight of the string and cord sufficient to keep the kite strained taut against the line's inertia. I stopped and watched like a kid who'd just lost his balloon as it all sped away far beyond the park, above and over nearby hotels, and toward the beach and ocean beyond. It looked beautiful on its way and I just hoped it wouldn't get sucked into a jet engine and cause a crash. (I should have stepped on the line while tying it!) Since there was no aviation disaster that followed, it's a fun and happy memory to recall with the kids as the kite did serve us very well for years and numerous joyful outings and that is about as much as can be hoped for from a cheap, inanimate object.

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