Kites were invented in Asia, although the exact country or area of origin is still speculated on. The earliest depiction of a kite was found in a period cave in Indonesia, dating back to 9500–9000 years B.C. . As such, kites have changed a lot over time from a basic flat diamond kite to compound kites which may have moving parts to stunt kites.
Today, the most popular kind of kite is the Delta kite. It is a modern, typically single-line kite that is designed to fly well, and out-perform most other flat kites in light wind. Deltas are easy to handle and can be very eye-catching, which has led to its popularity.
If you have ever attended a kite festival, or gone to a beach or park where kite-flying is popular, you might have seen a wide variety of kites in all sorts of designs and in many striking colours. Have you wondered about all these different kites? In this article, we’ll further discuss some other popular single-line kite designs.
The delta kite is the kite that most beginners start out with because it is easy to launch and fly. Delta kites are shaped like a triangle with a keel – a triangular flap that you attach your kite string to – holding the spine straight and rigid. To help maintain the overall triangular shape of the delta kite, a spreader is used, usually across the length of the kite.
Delta kites may be more expensive than the commonly-seen diamond kites, as they tend to be made of high-quality materials such as ripstop nylon and feature frames made of lightweight materials for the best possible performance.
When you compare single-line delta kites to a basic diamond kite, the delta kite is usually easier to launch, and is much more stable in the air. They tend to be pushed up and forward so that they lie nearly parallel to the wind. Deltas are very versatile kites, as they can fly even in light winds. They can also fly in higher wind speeds without pulling too much on your hands. This makes them ideal for children as a beginner kite.
It seems that, in the West at least, the word ‘kite’ is almost synonymous with the shape ‘diamond’. In most children’s books that teach the alphabet, K usually stands for ‘kite’, accompanied by an image of a diamond kite. The diamond kite is one of the most recognized types of kite. A diamond kite is usually characterized by four sides with two pairs of sides of equal length.
As a child, I remember building a simple diamond kite with flexible bamboo sticks and paper, and my kite string was cotton. It was so much fun when I brought it out to the park to play. Most diamond kites now are made of ripstop nylon or Mylar sheets to give it more durability. Homemade diamond kites can be made out of lightweight material including plastic sheets, freezer bags, or even light fabric.
Diamond kites can be a great craft activity to introduce children to the world of kite flying. They can be easily decorated by either hand painting, or joining strips of different-colored material together before cutting out the final shape.
A diamond kite is popular as it is well balanced and easy to learn with. Like the delta kite, it is a popular choice amongst beginners or children.
Parafoils and sled kites fall under the category of soft or foil kites. These kites have no rigid spars and maintain their shape in flight by the wind filling chambers or cells. Think of them like a parachute!
One reason these kites are popular is because they are easy to transport as they have no rigid frames. Again, the analogy of a parachute comes to mind – parachutes do not have a rigid frame, and thus is able to fit into a backpack that is carried on the back.
Foil kites are also much less likely to break on impact – for example, when they crash – due to having no rigid frames.
The parafoil kites you see at kite festivals can be of the single, dual or quad-line (4 lines) variety. Adding more lines gives the kite-flier more control over the kite, and increases the amount of lift or how much the kite will pull the flier.
As you can imagine, foil kites require wind to keep them open and afloat. Parafoil kites have an upper and a lower surface, which are further divided by vertical ribs into smaller cells. When air fills up these pockets, the kite becomes semi-rigid and begins to fly. Some foil kites may need several bridle lines to help maintain their shape – in the picture of a foil kite above, you can see the various bridle lines coming together.
A simple parafoil is relatively complex to put together compared to a Diamond kite, so you will not see many homemade ones. Do also keep in mind that quad-line parafoils are also known as traction kites, and are constructed to pull things or people along (i.e. kitesurfing). These have a lot of pull and are dangerous for children and the inexperienced to handle.
The sled kite is similar to the parafoil in that it relies on the wind to hold it open. It has several spines running the length of the kite, but no cross-spars. Sleds often have vents cut near the bottom of the kite to stabilize it, instead of using a tail.
Sled kites are also surprisingly proficient when it comes to being in the air. While not competition-worthy, they are simple to use, hence their popularity. They are also stable enough to lift an fisherman’s line and take it further out to sea allowing the fisherman to achieve greater distances. Photographers are able to obtain amazing overhead shots of landscapes, scenery, and events.
Sled kites are an excellent choice for inexperienced and younger fliers as they are easy to transport and easy to learn how to fly. They can also be a great craft activity for children as they are easy to make.
The Rokkaku kite is a traditional Japanese fighting kite that is still quite popular in the West as well. The Rok, as it is often referred to in the West, is hexagonal in shape, bowed, and is rarely seen with a tail.
Traditionally, it is made with bamboo spars and washi paper. The structure is a vertically stretched hexagon with a four-point bridle. One bamboo spar runs from tip to toe, and there are two cross-spars.
With a taut string, the Rok can rise rapidly and will remain stable in the air. However, when the line is released, the kite tumbles until tension is put on the line, at which point it takes off in the direction of the spine. This allows high maneuverability with light pull from the kite.
Fighting two or more of these kites involves tipping over or destabilizing the opposing kite or cutting its kite line or bridle. In Japan, Rokkaku kites are traditionally painted with the face of a Samurai, but in modern times, thanks to to its large surface area, many beautiful designs can be painted on.
A Rokkaku kite is fairly simple to construct and to launch, making it ideal for children to build and fly. It is also used in aerial photography like a drone
There is also the option of novelty kites. These kites are usually ideal choices for younger children who typically prefer an eye-catching kite to a kite that flies or performs well. Novelty kites are characterized by a good deal of effort put into their physical appearance. They are hard to define due to the variety available on the market.
The design of a novelty kite ranges from animals and insects (e.g. octopus, eagle, butterfly) to man-made items (e.g. aeroplane, ships with sails) to abstract designs such as the shape of a star.
If you look at a novelty kite closely, you can see that most are made out of the basic diamond, delta, or even foil kite shapes, thus enabling them to fly easily. There are even 3-d novelty designs, which are based off soft kites, such as a dolphin or octopus.
Novelty kites are typically made out of nylon or lightweight plastic, and depending on its complexity, can take a long time to set up prior to flying them. Depending on their size, they can also generate a fair bit of pull; if you do let a child play with them, make sure to keep an eye in case the child loses control of the kite.
Finally, we come to a lesser-known type of kite that is fast gaining popularity: the indoor kite, also known as a zero-wind kite.
Indoor kites are kites designed to fly in a windless environment. While primarily designed for indoor use, they can also be flown outdoors when insufficient wind would render conventional kite-flying impossible. They are flown by using the relative wind created by the motion of the kite-flier. This motion is typically generated by the flier walking backwards or within a circle, and can also be achieved with pulls and jerks along the kite line.
Indoor kites come in either single-, dual-, or quad-lines. As usual, adding more lines allow for more control over the movement of the kite. Single-line kites are generally fairly easy and fool-proof to fly. However, putting on a decent display in an indoor setting is another matter!
A small indoor kite that is ‘flight-worthy’ can be difficult to construct as you would need to understand how to balance a kite using ultra-lightweight materials. One of the lightest indoor kites weighs only 2.5 grams or 0.09 ounces.
Indoor kites are often flown in time to music, and are mesmerizing to watch both flier and kite in action. We recommend that older children, perhaps teenagers, try their hand at indoor kites, especially when weather conditions do not allow them to go outside, or if there is limited space in the house. Keep in mind that depending on the size of the kite, a medium to large space is required.
After reading about all these different single-line kites, we hope that you will have gained some knowledge about the differences in kites, and that it will help you in making an informed decision when buying a kite as a beginner. Kites are a great way to provide relaxation and entertainment for everyone in the family. Have fun and fly safe!