how to fly a kite
Kiteflying can provide a wide range of enjoyment and satisfaction – if it’s done in the right manner, correctly, and safely.
Follow these steps for a great experience on the kite field.
- Pick the right day, time, and wind.
- Pick the right place.
- Pick the right kite.
- Bring the right supplies and accessories.
- Use key procedures for successful flying.
- Make corrections if problems arise.
Professor Kite's helpful tips
How to Fly a Kite by the AKA
Pick the Right Day and Time, Which Means the Right Wind
You need wind to fly a kite. The right day is a day when the wind is blowing, but not too hard and not too light. Ideal flying conditions are when the wind is blowing from 8 to 15 miles per hour; some light wind kites can fly in winds of 3-4 miles per hour, and there are now kites that fly indoors with no wind other than the “apparent wind” that you can generate just by walking. There are kites, especially soft kites like parafoils, that you can fly in winds of 25 miles per hour and more, but winds of greater speeds than that require very finely balanced and tuned kites, and you’ll be in for a lot of work.
Steady winds are the best for kiteflying. Gusty winds can be a real challenge. Winds are often smoother and stronger farther off the ground.
The very beginning and ending of daylight hours are generally not the best times to fly because winds at those times tend to be light and variable. Under the right conditions, flying kites at night can be a wonderful experience: special lighting for the flying area or the kites makes it even better.
In 1805, Britain’s Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort developed what’s now known as the Beaufort Wind Scale to help sailors estimate the winds via visual observations. The Beaufort scale is useful for estimating wind power without wind instruments. A lot of successful kite flying occurs at Force 3 and Force 4 on the Beaufort scale; with the right equipment and precautions, Force 2 and Force 5 can also offer successful kiteflying experiences.
Pick the Right Place
The right place for kiteflying is a clear and open space where the wind is steady, and your kite has room to fly. Open fields, parks, and beaches are great for flying kites. The more room you have, the more line you can let out.
Wind flows in waves of varying speed and direction. To find smooth wind, you must find a large flat area without obstructions — like trees, shrubbery, a hill, or a building – because when the wind reaches an obstruction, it flows over and around it, and this can cause turbulence as far downwind by as much as seven times the height of the obstruction. Turbulence can result in a bumpy flight and decrease the wind speed; these problems could make it difficult to launch and fly your kite. (If you are successful in launching your kite, you may be able to fly your kite high enough to avoid turbulence.) It is possible to fly in turbulent wind, but the more open area you have, the smoother the wind will be, which is why ocean beaches or large lakes are so popular for kite flying.
Some places and conditions are not good or not even safe for kiteflying.
- Never fly your kite near power lines. If your kite becomes tangled in power lines, leave it there and notify your electric company of the situation.
- Never fly near cars.
- Some Federal Aviation Administration rules (there are more): “no person may operate a moored balloon or kite –
- More than 500 feet above the surface of the earth;
- Within five miles of the boundary of any airport.”
- Avoid flying your kite near air traffic.
- Never fly in stormy weather or when a storm is approaching.
- Never fly over people.
- Avoid trees (they eat kites!)
- Always keep a safe distance from other people.
- Keep your kite under control, never unattended.
- The most frequent injury during kite flying is sunburn. Be sure to protect yourself from the sun with a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
Pick the right Kite
There are many different kinds of kites. Kitefliers carry different types of kites for different winds and the different experiences each type offers. Experienced kite fliers have several kites and know which ones are better suited for different kinds of flying experiences and winds of different forces.
In heavier wind, you might choose kites with
- Extra bow, extra flex, or extra dihedral
- A small sail area or vented sails
- Higher bridle adjustment.
In light wind, you might choose kites with:
- No tails
- A lightweight frame with less dihedral
- A large sail area
- Lower bridle adjustment.
Bring the Right Supplies
Being comfortable is also important; here are a few things that you might find useful:
- Snacks for the “kids” – big and small
- First Aid Kit
- Sun umbrella or canopy
- Chairs for the old folks
- Gloves to protect your hands when handling strong pulling kites.
- No-wind toys like Frisbees
- Camera – you never know what you might capture on film!
Use Key Procedures for Successful Flying
Successful flying is easily accomplished if you follow these simple procedures:
For single-line kites:
STAND WITH YOUR BACK TO THE WIND. Hold your kite up by the bridle point and let the line out. If there is sufficient wind, your kite will go right up. Let the kite fly away from you a little, then pull in on the line as the kite points up so it will climb. Repeat this until your kite gains the altitude necessary for steady wind.
LIGHT WIND? Have a helper take the kite 50 feet downwind and hold it up. On command, the helper releases the kite, and the flier pulls the line hand-over-hand while the kite gains altitude. Practice this long-launch technique.
NO HELPER? Prop the kite up against a bush, post, or wall. Reel out enough line for altitude and simply pull the kite aloft.
IF THE KITE SINKS TAIL FIRST, there might not be enough wind. If it comes down head first or spins, there might be too much wind. Different kites fly in different wind ranges.
BRIDLES: If your kite has an adjustable bridle, move it higher (nearer the top) in higher winds and lower (toward the tail) in lower winds. (Adjust no more than 1/2” at a time.)
TAILS: Adding tails to your kite helps it remain stable in stronger wind. Use lightweight materials. Lots of tails can look great.
IF YOU TANGLE LINES WITH ANOTHER KITE, don’t yank on the line, or it might break. Fliers should walk towards each other, and the tangle will slide right down the line where you can unwrap it.
For multi-line acrobatic sport kites:
THE SAFEST START: Layout your kite and lines completely before you launch. Check all connectors, unsnarl and straighten lines and tails.
CHECK THE BRIDLES: Be sure they are adjusted correctly for the present conditions.
ENOUGH LINE? Use at least 60′ – 100′ so you have enough time to react. Be sure your flying lines are even. If one line is shorter, your kite will think you’re pulling that line and spin in that direction.
TO LAUNCH: Step backward and pull both handles to your side. Be sure to check behind you for obstructions or hazards before backing up.
CONTROL: Pull the left line to make the kite turn left. Pull the right to turn right. Hold them even to fly straight. Try not to over-control. Learn to “fly loops” instead of just spinning circles.
LIFT AND SPEED: The more to the side of the wind window the kite flies, the less lift and speed it has. While learning to fly, keep the kite downwind. As you get better, explore more subtle levels of performance.
SAFETY: Always stay away from spectators or passers-by. Sport kites should never be flown in crowded areas. You are responsible for the safe operation of your kite.
Make Corrections if Problems Arise
Not every day is ideal for kiteflying; some days have more or less wind, some winds are more or less steady, some flying fields may have more or less turbulence depending on the wind direction that day. Not every kite is ideally designed or constructed; specific kites can be too light or too heavy, not precisely balanced, or not really suitable for certain conditions. These conditions can lead to problems in a kite’s flight, including flying too low, flying too high, leaning left or right, turning over and diving to the ground, swinging from side to side, or oscillating from top to bottom (called “pecking”). Serious flight problems can lead to results that may not make you happy.
For most kites, the flight problems listed above can be corrected. You can make some of these corrections on the flying field, but others will require reconfiguring or rebuilding the kite.
Key on-field corrections can address many problems. Easy corrections include (1) changing the tow point on the bridle, (2) increasing or decreasing the kite’s dihedral by increasing or decreasing the bowing of the kite, or (3) increasing or decreasing the drag created by tails or drogues: more tails or bigger drogues increase the drag; fewer or no tails or drogues decrease drag.