The simplest possible form of kite just consists of a single sheet of
some suitable material, with spars and a bridle to support it.
Unfortunately, flat kites are inherently unstable. They can be
stabilised by ensuring that most of the drag is generated behind and
below the towing point. Several methods may be used singly or in
Tails and vents waste wind energy and so tend to result in
a low angle of flight. Vents are rarely used in flat kites.
- Adding a tail
- Adding holes or vents towards the rear of the sail
- Adding a keel
- Simply arranging for a forward towing point.
Flat kites generally fly well in light to moderate winds.
The classic diamond kite is probably the best known of all kites, and is
a flat kite which needs a tail to fly properly. Many of us have owned
one of these in our youth. Sometimes they have a keel which adds a bit
of stability and eliminates the need for a bridle. A plan for a classic
diamond is given by
If you have the patience to make loads of diamond kites (or get your
friends or class-mates to help you), you can attach them all to a single
line, equally spaced, and tie the line down at both ends. You then have
a spectacular kite arch. Here's a
picture of one by Anthony Thyssen
which gives you a good idea. A kite train is similar except that the
line is held at one end only, and can be made with almost any kind of
kite. Anthony has
plans using diamonds which can be used to make either
an arch or a train.
The English Arch-top kite is similar to a diamond except for the rounded
top. Tassels are added to the sides for decoration and the sail is
traditionally made of paper. Like the diamond, a tail is required,
usually made of paper bows tied to a piece of string.
also gives a plan for an archtop.
Here's a picture of a modern one - a rare sight.
Whereas if you asked a child today to draw a kite, he would probably
draw a diamond, pictures of kites in older books much more often show
arch-tops, which were very popular in the nineteenth century.
In Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield" (written 1849-1850), Mr Dick, a
mild lunatic, but nevertheless an entirely harmless man with a heart of
gold and penetrating insight, was a keen kiteflyer. An
in chapter 34 of some editions shows him leaning on a large arch-top
kite, complete with string and paper-bow tail.
In Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield" (written 1849-1850),
The della Porta is another very simple kite, with
a rectangular sail and two diagonal spars, and flown on a 3-legged bridle.
A loop of ripstop or coloured polythene makes an attractive tail.
The simple design is well suited to decoration, as you can see in this
of one, built by Patrick Mann.
Morgan gives a very simple and clear
The della Porta is amongst the oldest recorded Western kites. In his
Magiae Naturalis of 1589, Giambattista della Porta describes a "flying
sayle", possibly based on traditional Chinese designs. He suggests using
it for lifting fireworks or lanterns at night, and even for lifting
kittens and puppies as a spur to the development of manned flight!
Superficially similar, but differently sparred, is the
Sode or Kimono kite, being a traditional Japanese
design. The bridle is attached only to the forward section, so
Here is a fine
example by Janneke Groen.
Plans for a
sode are available online.
Charlie Charlton's entertaining
kite for which
are also available, is essentially a sode.
Adding a third spar to the della Porta or classic
diamond gives a three-stick or barn door kite.
In the past, many fathers, grandfathers and uncles have graduated from
diamonds to "3-stickers" for the entertainment of their youngsters
(or themselves!) Various configurations are possible, depending on the
arrangement of the spars.
In the 19th century, Alexander McAidie used barn door kites for
lifting meterological instruments, but they were hardly stable enough for the
purpose and were superceeded as soon as better behaved kites were devised.
The hexagon kite is a special case of the barn
door, differing only in its proportions. As with the flat barn door, a
tail is essential for stability. Whilst it impairs the efficiency,
it can be turned to advantage by adding visual appeal. Here's a
of a nice variant by Helen Howe.
A plan is given by Pelham.
Flat kites can be made in any shape, although the
possibilities are constrained by the need for spars. A 5 point
star makes a very
attractive sight, using 3 spars in an A-shape, a 3 legged bridle
and 2 tails of paper streamers. Plans for several kites of the star
and similar varieties are given by
Using still more spars allows bigger kites to be made. The Japanese Edo
is a simple rectangle with a number of parallel equally spaced cross
spars and longerons, made rigid by two diagonal spars. These are sometimes
made in sizes as large as 48 by 36ft, taking a team of 50 to launch and fly.
The Suruga is similar but the central longeron and the diagonals are
lengthened at their lower ends, making the bottom look like the
inverted top of a diamond kite.
The Tai Serpent has a very long wide tail making it look like an
enormous snake. Western variants turn it into an octopus by dividing
the tail into 8 separate pieces, or similarly make a jellyfish out of
it. Once again,
Pelham has a plan.
Here is a picture of
one by Helen Bushell.
Flying animals have long been a fascination of Kitemakers worldwide. The
Centipede or Chinese Dragon is another example. This is made out of a
long train of flat circular kites of diminishing sizes, strung together.
As a flier it can have a mind of its own, since the head and the tail
can experience quite different winds, but as a spectacle it's hard to
beat. Yet again,
has a plan, but you can find some notes
on making a centipede out of disposable plates! Here's a picture of a
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Copyright © 1999 Philip Le Riche