Kite-flying these days is generally easy and fuss-free, with popular and easy-to-fly designs available either at a local kite shop, or online. However, there are times where you may have to adjust your kite manually to have it flying steadily in the air.
If you are new to kite-flying, you may notice that your kite sometimes goes off-balance, veers from side-to-side, or even spins and then falls to the ground. You may be tempted to attach a tail or two to your kite in such situations, however your kite going off-balance can be dependent on many other factors. These are the most common factors:
- Spars of the kite are not balanced or broken
- Knots, tangles, or twists in the bridle
- Uneven bridle lengths
- Not enough tension in the kite line, or wrong type of kite line leading up to tension problems
- Uneven lengths of kite tails, if you have 2 (or more) tails attached
In this article, we will briefly talk about the parts of a kite, and then we will go into detail of why your kite is out of balance, and how to fix the above common problems.
Parts of a Kite
Knowledge of the different parts of your kite will help you to troubleshoot when your kite is out of balance.
A spar is the name for any of the sticks which act as the “skeleton” of the kite. The spine is the spar that runs from the top to the bottom of the kite. The cross-spar is the spar that runs from wingtip to wingtip, usually left to right and vice versa. The word frame is can also be used to describe the entire skeleton of a kite.
The leading edges of the kite are usually nearer the top of the kite. They are the edges which wind flows over first, as they point or lead into the wind. The trailing edges are the edges which the wind flows around last.
The bridle is the line that connects the kite with the flying or kite line that you hold on to. Some kites have a bridle that is connected to the kite itself in 2 places, and other kites use bridles that are attached to the kite in many places. The point where the flying line attaches to the bridle is called the bridling point.
The cover of the kite is called the sail. In a standard diamond-shaped kite, the sail is divided into 4 sections by the spars. The two small areas at the top of the kite are called pilot sails. Pilot sails partially control the direction of the kite. The two larger segments are known as driving sails. The driving sails provide most of the lift.
In the picture above, you can see a slightly different kite. This kite is known as a Delta kite due to its triangular shape. You can also see that instead of a bridle, there is a keel. A keel is a piece of material on the bottom of the kite. It is usually perpendicular to the rest of the kite when in the air. The keel helps to keep the kite stable, and provides a hole to attach the kite line where it is indicated line attachment.
The tail of a kite refers to the strips of paper, plastic or fabric which are attached to the trailing edge of a kite in order to increase the drag of the kite. Kites may or may not have tails. Tails can be varied in size and length. Tails are usually attached to the bottom of a kite, but can also be attached to the wingtips.
The spars of a kite can be bowed, or bent, in order to give the cross-spar a dihedral angle. These kites are usually known as bowed kites. In bowed kites, the cross-spar is bent so that the wingtips are at a slight backwards angle to the spine. This helps to make the kite stable. If the kite starts to roll to one side, the wing on that same side presents a greater surface area to the wind. Inversely, the wing on the opposite side appears to reduce in surface area in relation to the wind. More pressure being exerted on the wing with more surface area being exposed to the wind in turn forces the kite to return to a stable normal again.
Angle of attack
The bridle is used to control the angle of attack of a kite. This is the angle at which the kite meets the wind.
In aerodynamics, the term “angle of attack” is used to describe the angle between the wing’s chord and the direction of the flow of wind. A wing’s chord refers to to the distance between the front and back of a wing, measured in the direction of the airflow.
The amount of lift generated by a wing is directly related to the angle of attack. Greater or bigger angles will generate more lift, and in turn generates more drag as the front of the wing, or the kite, turns upwards and creates more friction.
A low angle of attack usually reduces the amount of tension on the kite string. The kite will also fly closer to vertically above the kite flier.
A high angle of attack normally increases the pull on the flying line as it generates more lift. The kite flier will require a steady hand to prevent the kite from flying away or the kite line from snapping.
There is also a limit called a critical angle of attack. Above this angle, any kite (or wing, for that matter) will produce what is known as wing stall. You may have heard of, or have had, a car stalling – this happens when the engine of a car accidentally stops.
When we talk about kites stalling, it is because the layer of air above the kite dissipates as the angle of attack is too high (see image below) and cuts off the airflow. In turn, this nullifies the difference in pressure between the upper and lower layers of air. Lift is reduced to zero, and as there is no more lift, there is no more force that keeps your kite afloat.
If you feel that there is too much tension on your kite line, let more line out – this usually lowers the angle of attack and lessens the chance that your kite will stall. Properly made kites will easily balance themselves out once some tension on the kite line is released. Make sure not to release all the kite line, or you may find that your kite will drift away!
If your kite has stalled and fallen to the ground, the best course is to make your way to where your kite has fallen, check it for any damage, and then try and relaunch it.
Forces That Affect A Kite
There are 4 forces that affect a kite when it is flying: gravity, lift, thrust, and drag. These are the same forces that affects aircraft and even birds. This section will be brief but essential to making sure your kite flies!
To launch a kite into the air the force of lift must be greater than the force of gravity. To keep a kite flying steady, all 4 forces must be in balance. Lift must be equal to gravity and thrust must be equal to drag.
Keep in mind that these 4 forces work together to keep your kite afloat. If you trust that your kite is well-balanced, then you should read our related articles below for more information on why your kite either falls to the ground or doesn’t launch at all. If your kite is spinning, veering or curving off to one side, or constantly stalls, read on for tips on how to fix it!
When Kites Go Out Of Balance, And How To Fix It
Now that you have basic knowledge of the parts of a kite, we can move on to physically checking your kite for any issues that may cause it to go out of balance.
We will be using a simple diamond-shaped kite for the following examples, as these are usually the easiest to troubleshoot. For more complicated designs, you may need to check in with your local kite shop or kite club.
The following areas are common issues when trying to balance a kite:
Kite frame or spars
Spars of the kite are not balanced or broken
However there are times when the kite’s spars are unbalanced or broken. A good sign of this happening is when your kite constantly lists to one side or spins in one direction. If this is the case, firstly check that side for any broken spars. Broken spars will need to be removed carefully without piercing the sail, and then replaced. A good kite shop or your local kite club will be able to help with this.
If your kite’s spars are unbalanced, the following steps will help you determine crucial points on your kite.
- Place a long ruler on the back of the kite, connecting both the left and right wingtips, and then make a mark where the rules crosses the spine. We will call this the ‘wingtip line mark’.
- Place your kite’s spine on your fingertip and adjust its position until it is balanced in the top to bottom direction. Make a mark on the spine at the balance point – this will be the ‘balance point’.
The location of the balance point is usually closer to the nose of the kite in relation to the wingtip line mark. If the balance point is more than 1.25″ (32mm) from the wingtip line mark (towards the top of the kite), your kite is less likely to spin and thus will be more stable.
If the balance point is closer to the wingtip line mark, your kite will be more likely to spin or enter into a spin. In such cases, you will want to check if you have set up the spars correctly for your kite (i.e. there may be confusion as which spar is meant to be the cross-spar from wingtip to wingtip, and which spar is meant to be the spine).
If the balance point is located nearer to the bottom of your kite from the wingtip line mark, the kite will spin with the bottom at the center of the spin.
While the balance point of a kite is determined by the construction of the kite, it is very easy to change the location of the balance point with the addition of putty to change the weight of the kite and thus its balance point. You may have heard of whittling or thinning out bamboo or wooden spars to achieve balance, but we recommend putty for beginners due to its ease of use.
Depending on which direction you want to move the balance point, apply tiny amounts of putty to the top or the bottom of the kite. You can then try to balance your kite again on your fingertip to check its balance.
It is easier to apply small amounts than to try and scrap off any excess. It will also be easier to change the location of the balance point once you start flying the kite.
Keep in mind that minute adjustments on your kite can affect its flight and handling vastly. It is best to balance your kite after applying a small amount of putty, or even try to fly it to check its balance before adding more.
Uneven stiffness of spars
In bigger kites, a horizontal / cross-spar with uneven stiffness can often be the cause for the kite spinning.
Flat kites with 1 or 2 leg bridles usually distort with air pressure, which is totally fine. However, depending on the stiffness of the spars of your kite, one side of the spar sometimes can bend more than the other. When this happens, the effective sail area becomes unequal, and causes the kite to spin in the direction of the side with lesser sail area.
As mentioned earlier in this article, there are bowed kites as well. Bowed kites are generally self-correcting; if there is any unequal stiffness in the horizontal spar(s), the less-stiff side will bend more than the other. This can cause the kite to be unbalanced even in light winds, and can be very noticeable in strong winds, which make for poor handling.
Trying to feel how stiff a spar is is usually never accurate. A good way to check if both spars have the same stiffness is to secure both spars to the edge of a table or bench, and hang 2 small, identical weights at the end of both spars. Use a straight edge or a long ruler to check which spar bends more – this is the more flexible one.
The stiffer spar will need to be sanded or filed down in diameter to match. Again, make sure to sand or file small amounts at a time and then check the stiffness. You will not be able to undo a mistake here, so go slow!
In certain kite designs, the spine of the kite affects the flight of the kite quite drastically as well. For example, a Delta kite with a slightly-bowed spine can cause it to spin and dive. If this happens, you can try to straighten out the spine by gently flexing it in the opposite direction. If that doesn’t help, you may need to replace the spine.
Uneven bridle lengths
If you have checked your spars and they look fine, but your kite is still consistently spinning, or veering to one side, and in general just does not fly straight, it may be that your kite’s bridle needs a small adjustment.
There may be a knot where your kite line joins or is attached to the bridle. Moving or sliding this knot along the lower bridle line toward the bottom of the kite will reduce the kite’s willingness to spin, and generally stabilizes the kite. Moving the knot toward the top of the kite will increase the kite’s tendency to spin.
If the kite is constantly spinning or turning to the right, the length of bridle line on the right side is too short. There may also be a knot that can be slid either right or left on your bridle. If the kite is constantly turning or spinning to the left, move the knot to the right, and vice-versa. This right-left balance is a sensitive adjustment, so you should move the knot only about 1/64” (0.5mm) at a time.
If you do not have a knot on your bridle to adjust, but your bridle lines can be detached, it may also be wise to detach them and check if they are of the same length. Bridles with unmatched lengths will tend to pull your kite in one direction and make it more likely to spin.
Again, these minute adjustments should be tested by flying the kite for between 5 to 10 minutes to see the results of your adjustment. Repeat these steps until your kite flies straight.
Knots, tangles, or twists in the bridle
Knots, tangles, or twists can be a cause of frustration – just like when they are in your hair, you will have to comb and straighten them out. This holds true for any of these in the bridle of your kite, and even the kite line.
These little things – knots, tangles, or twists – can cause you to inadvertently pull on your kite unevenly. When unbalanced, your kite will either spin or dive – not ideal for when you just want to enjoy a peaceful time flying it. If there are knots in either your bridle or kite line, they can also snap if there is enough tension, and your kite will fly away.
When you first set up your kite, always inspect all lines for any knots or tangles. If there are any, you should always undo them before launching your kite. As for twists, which can happen in mid-flight, you should reel in your kite and gently untwist them before relaunching.
When unpicking any knots or tangles, always check that there is no wear on the line(s). Wear-and-tear can occur over time, and is also exacerbated when lines rub constantly against each other.
Material of kite and kite line
Materials used in building the kite can also cause your kite to be unbalanced. This is especially so if you have made your own kite with everyday materials such as fabric, kitchen string, wooden or bamboo dowels.
Kite sails are nowadays usually made with ripstop nylon. If you have elected to make your own kite, keep in mind that using paper or fabric can cause issues when flying.
Paper can tear easily, and if not treated to be waterproof, can be damaged by water as well, especially if flying in rain.
Depending on the type of fabric used, your kite sail could also stretch over time as it carries a load. This can cause your kite to be unbalanced especially if one section stretches more than the other. Using a soft plastic – for example: garbage bags – that can stretch easily can also cause your kite to become unbalanced.
If you want to use recycled materials to make a kite sail, we recommend using a recycled garbage bag, or a plastic bag that is thicker than generic garbage bags.
You may be tempted to use kitchen string or butchers twine as a kite or flying line, however they will stretch over time while carrying a load. This will cause the stability of your kite to change as you continue to use it. It may be best to purchase a kite line with handle from a local kite shop.
Using wooden dowels for your kite spars can be cheap and easy. They can also provide some weight to your kite for stability, however dowels are prone to breaking. You should also check the flexibility of these dowels, and ensure that they are of the correct length. A small difference can change your kite-flying experience from good to bad.
If you are able to, using carbon or fibreglass rods will help with the stability of your kite. If you have access to bamboo, you can also use it for your kite’s spars, keeping in mind the same tips as above for wooden dowels.
The drag caused by the tail of a kite stops the kite from turning too much to one side or the other. A tail gives a kite lateral stability. If a kite has too small of a tail, it will not be laterally stable, and will move around a lot or even spin. If the kite has too much tail, the kite will be stable, but may be hard to keep flying because of the extra weight from the excess tail.
Kite tails allows us to make the kite point in the correct direction. Air flowing around the tail pulls the bottom of the kite in the direction that the wind is blowing.
Adding a kite tail is possibly the easiest and quickest way to make your kite stabilize itself. However, sometimes the kite has a tendency to turn or curve to one side, and you may be tempted to add more tail. While this is better in the short term, for the long run you should add a small tail to the side that the kite is turning away from. This will add some weight to that side and help the kite self-correct.
If you’ve bought a Delta kite with 2 tails, and it is still unbalanced, you could try the following steps to troubleshoot:
- Remove both tails and try flying your kite without the tails. If your kite flies well without the tails, it may be best to leave the tails off.
- If you’d like to leave the tails on, then measure and check that both tails are the same length. If one is longer than the other, trim it till both are the same length.
- If your kite doesn’t fly well even with the tails off, check the rest of the kite – frame, bridle, sail material, kite fly.
We hope that after reading this article, you have more knowledge as to why a kite can become unbalanced, and how to balance your kite should the need arise.