Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Mylar Dragon - Best $10 Kite

Were you a kite flier as a kid? What kites did you fly? Now that I'm flying kites as an adult, so many people have told me that their kite flying memories as kids were mainly about frustration. Were yours?

While I have vague recollection of using a box kite and an inflatable kite, a mylar dragon kite is the only kite I remember flying successfully in my youth. I had a red kite with a gold Chinese style dragon printed on its face. I remember taking this kite to a local field and flying it many times, enjoying its easy flights and crazy circles when the wind picked up. I'm sure this positive experience as a teen helped me reclaim kite flying again 35 years later.

Two years ago, I purchased a 45' mylar dragon kite made by Quicksilver Kites in Colorado. For a mere $10, the kite has been a totally satisfying bargain. It provides big colorful drama and is easy, easy, easy to fly as long as you have at least a 5 mph wind to lift the tail. Once in the air, the translucent material becomes illuminated when backlit by sunlight and makes a light rustling sound as the long tail ripples in the breeze. This kite has a super light pull, making it especially thrilling for kids to fly. It flies well  in steady light winds and arcs and circles in stronger winds or gusty breezes, becoming a trickier flier at its outer limit of 18mph. The Mylar Dragon has been durable and problem free for me with many flights, though I hear if the tail gets a cut in the edge, it will rip off when flown. If you fly a mylar dragon kite, check for any cuts along the tail edge and repair with scotch tape before you fly!

Turns out this delightfully fun and affordable kite has a unique history in the U. S. Based on a traditional Chinese design made of rice paper, the dragon kite had a major rebirth in the U.S. in the early 1970's in San Francisco, where they could be seen flying everywhere in the city for a heyday that lasted well into the 1980s. By using space age  material, Quicksilver Kites was able to extend the previously limited tail length of 10' up to 45', then hustled for years to keep up with the demand for the kites, which are still popular as "the best $10 kite on the planet". A fascinating history of their business growth can be read on the Into The Wind blog here.

I think my mylar dragon kite of the '70s was 12-15' long, but now I'm wondering, was it a Quicksilver kite? I'll probably never know for sure, but I am grateful for its early successful influence on my kite flying.

How about you? What are your early kite flying memories?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sixteen Winter Days of Kite Flying

MBK Dowel Diamond kite starts to
disappear in the sky.
What is your personal kite flying challenge? Mine is building up to 365 consecutive days of kite flying. Why? I just love flying. Having a focused goal keeps me at it, and it is a satisfying challenge to figure out how and where to fly each day. Perhaps a kite flight a day keeps the doctor away? I figure I will reap the benefits of kite flying many times over and keep my spirit soaring! Since my current record is sixteen days, I've got a ways to go!

Completing sixteen days of kite flying in January felt like serious training. The weather was cooperatively warmish to downright cold and an arctic cold snap ended my mid-winter flying stint. My daily flights took wonderful turns I hadn't anticipated. I ended up flying a lot of kites that I made and discovered the joy of flying during winter, and especially winter sunsets.

MBK Barn Door kite at sundown.
My 16 day journey started with making and flying a Dowel Diamond kite from My Best Kite. This big translucent diamond kite set a new trajectory for me - flying super lightweight kites in minimal wind conditions. I discovered I really like flying in very light wind and ended up flying this kite for the first three days.

I liked my first MBK kite so much I made and flew the Dowel Barn Door kite a week later. My father has told me stories of flying homemade barn door kites as a kid with his uncle, so this design has been high on my list to build. I used the same translucent material and Tim Parrish's excellent design and again had a very satisfying experience.

Hunab Ku set free.
I've also been experimenting using Tim's techniques with a fighter kite design I really like. Intrigued by the end of the Mayan calendar in December, I designed my fighter kite with the Hunab Ku, the symbol from the center of the Mayan calendar. I wanted to set it free in the sky! I haven't yet been able to fly in good wind for the fighter aspect of this kite but I did get it to fly with a tail!

By the 15th day I test flew a sled kite I made for a 12 year old friend as a birthday gift. Kite making became just as fun as kite flying during this stretch of days! The sled is a tribute to the New York Yankees and had a wild 5 minute flight on a crazy windy afternoon before delivery. Thank goodness it didn't crash in the mud!

The iFlite helped me through a few difficult days due to schedule or weather and turned out to be my 16th flight. Love that little glider! Watch it on video indoors below!

I'm building my daily kite flying practice slowly so that I can do my first 30 days in April, in celebration of National Kite Flying month. Anyone care to join me for 30 days of consecutive kite flying?


Friday, January 11, 2013

The Mylar Dragon - Perfect Big Kite for Kids

Do you have a favorite kite flying story? Now that I've been flying for awhile, I've met some wonderful people and had some unexpected encounters while flying. Sometimes its meeting a farmer in his field and getting his approval to return. Other times, like last night, a security officer made sure I wasn't trespassing and we ended up having a friendly exchange. All my kite flying encounters have been positive ones - may it always be so!

My favorite experience so far took place in a farm field in Montague (for those of you who know western Massachusetts). This field has a road through it that is infrequently traveled by vehicles. More often people bike or walk by as it is a scenic route favored by locals for exercise. I've often been a bit surprised that so few people actually stop to talk to me there but its probably because they don't want to interrupt their cardiovascular experience.

One day last June, when the grass was thick and knee high, I had 4 kites staked out - my own personal mini kite festival - including a 45' long mylar dragon kite. This rainbow-colored kite floats lazily above in an eye-appealing way with a rustling sound. I noticed a man and boy bicycling towards me a ways off and I could tell well in advance they were going to stop. The young lad was clearly excited about the kites! When they stopped, he was full of questions and bemoaned the fact that his older brother had chosen to stay home and play on the computer. I opened my car door and handed him a mini-diamond kite on a string! He lit right up. I handed one to his adult and soon we were all lost in flight.

To the north of us, a thunderstorm was rolling in over Greenfield, yet we were flying in brilliant sunshine, our kites illuminated against the changing sky. Picture this boy, about 10 years old, with jet black hair wearing a bright red shirt, surrounded by electric green tall grass, telling me this was the best day of his life! We were surfing the weather front that was bringing in the storm further north and simply enjoying each other's company as well as the kites. I wanted to take a photo but I also didn't want to spoil the moment by pulling out a camera.

Eventually, we started to hear the thunder and decided to pack up. I pulled in most of my kites while they still flew the mini-diamonds, then we packed them up quickly. Just the big dragon was left in the sky. I pulled it in a ways then turned it over to the boy, who ecstatically brought it in the rest of the way. Flying a kite that was ten times as tall as he was, yet had a gentle pull, really gave that young man a huge thrill! Me too!

Feel free to share a favorite kite flying story!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Homemade Winter Kite Flight!

Introducing the MBK Dowel Diamond Kite!
Have you flown kites during the winter? Made your own kite? What a great feeling! In a snow-covered cornfield along the Connecticut River this afternoon, my kite partner and I made erratic tracks and lifted our spirits as we coaxed the first kite of the new year up into the air - a kite I had just made this morning.

I'm proud to say I have finally made my first kite from My Best Kite! I don't know why I even bothered to attempt making kites without real instructions prior to today - maybe just to fully appreciate what Tim Parrish has perfected. Tim is the aerodynamic master behind My Best Kite,  a website offering an array of kite designs you can build at home with simple inexpensive items. His classic kite designs are wonderfully well-thought out and tested. His instructions really work. Though he lives in Australia, Tim is readily available through his website to answer your questions. The kite I made today took 2 1/2 hours to complete (with no frustration!) and probably cost me less than $2! Now that I'm familiar with the techniques, I could probably make the same kite again in an hour plus.

I made the Dowel Diamond with a translucent trash bag, two wooden dowels, some electrical tape, kite string and a shoe lace. It is super light and flies in almost no wind, solving a dilemma I've struggled with as an inland kite flier - how to have a satisfying experience when the wind isn't cooperating. This afternoon the weather report said the wind was 7mph but in reality, it was maybe 1 mph! Unfortunately our photos of the kite in the sky didn't actually click!

The Dowel Diamond self-launches well off the snow!
This simple big diamond kite flies gracefully and is a joy to watch in motion. It doesn't need a tail, although I may add a light one just for fun when I fly it in more substantial wind. It breaks down and rolls up for easy transport (whereas my previous homemade diamonds were glued permanently at full size presenting a storage challenge).  I learned a cool new knot, the Prusik, which allows for more refinement in bridle making.

I also learned that kites don't have to be brightly colored to be beautiful. This kite is stunning both in the sky and against the winter landscape and has a ghostly quality, seeming to disappear and reappear against the sky as the light changes and shifts the kite from opaque to translucent in appearance.

I can't recommend My Best Kite highly enough. If you are interested in kite making, this is the place to start! I plan to keep going and make the Barn Door next!