Flat Kites

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 combination: Tails and vents waste wind energy and so tend to result in a low angle of flight. Vents are rarely used in flat kites.

Flat kites generally fly well in light to moderate winds.

Classic Diamond

[Classic diamond] 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 Pelham.

Kite Arch

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.

English Arch-top

[English archtop] 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. Pelham 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 engraving 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),

della Porta

[della Porta] 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 picture of one, built by Patrick Mann. Morgan gives a very simple and clear plan.

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!


[Sode kite] 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 providing stability. Here is a fine example by Janneke Groen. Plans for a sode are available online. Charlie Charlton's entertaining Nosey kite for which plans are also available, is essentially a sode.

Barn Door

[Barn door kite] 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.


[Hexagon kite] 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 picture of a nice variant by Helen Howe. A plan is given by Pelham.


[Star kite] 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 Pelham.


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.


[Serpent] 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.


[Chinese Centipede] 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, Pelham has a plan, but you can find some notes online on making a centipede out of disposable plates! Here's a picture of a fine example.

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Copyright © 1999 Philip Le Riche
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