Why A Kite Needs A Tail

Many people often overlook the importance of tails when flying kites. While kite tails are a quick and often easy way to add color and flair to your kite, more importantly, kite tails also help to keep the kite stable and pointed in the right direction.

A tail stabilizes your kite in stronger winds by adding drag to the kite. In light wind conditions, your kite will need less tail, or maybe no tail at all. Depending on the type or design of your kite, trying to fly it without a tail may result in the kite spinning, veering to one side, or crashing because the kite is unstable in the air. Adding a tail to the bottom of a kite makes the bottom of the kite point downwards, which in turn changes the balance of the kite, making it more stable with the added weight.

Delta Kite with a tail in action

In stronger or more turbulent wind conditions, it can be necessary to add an extremely long tail to a kite. In this article, we will explore the wind conditions that would generally require you to add a tail to your kite, how to make a simple kite tail, how long to make your kite tail, how to make a kite tail in a hurry, and common issues with kite tails. For a more detailed guide on how to make a kite tail, check out our other article on How To Make A Kite Tail.

Some terms that we will be using in this article are:

  • Lateral length: This is the length of the kite from its top tip to the bottom of the kite when held upright. A kite tail attached to the bottom of the kite provides lateral stability, and usually prevents it from swooping unexpectedly, or crashing to the ground.
  • Wingtip-to-wingtip: This is the length of the kite from its left tip to the right tip
  • Turbulence: Wind turbulence usually refers to a series of rapid changes in wind speed. Turbulence is characterized by gusty winds. There are 2 factors that can cause these changes.
    • The first is due to environmental structures such as hills, trees, buildings, and even mountains. The direction and speed of wind is impacted when it is flowing around these structures, and if you are flying a kite close to buildings or some trees, there’s a good chance that you will encounter turbulence.
    • The second cause is due to thermals, which cause air to either rapidly rise and sink. Sometimes this can indicate that a storm is on its way. If this is the case, check your local weather forecasts and be ready to retrieve your kite and leave the area.

You’ve checked the weather report, measured the wind at your location, and it’s generally good kite-flying weather. But your kite is still crashing! Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that you’re not destined to fly a kite. It could be some simple fixes that your kite needs.

In What Wind Conditions Does My Kite Need a Tail?

Do you have any trees, buildings, or hills in your immediate kite-flying area that could be creating turbulence? This can cause your kite to swoop or dart from side-to-side, and generally fly in an unstable fashion. Turbulence can also cause your kite to crash.

Turbulence can be caused by buildings or obstacles

In the picture above, you can see that the wind around the obstacle no longer flows smoothly. This causes turbulence and if you are flying your kite close to tall buildings or even trees, it can cause your kite to crash due to an unsteady source of wind. In this case, you should move away from your current location to somewhere more open and with lesser to no obstacles.

Kites that tip forward or backward will do well a tail to its bottom. This is because the tail acts as a downward force on your kite, keeping its tail pointed down and ensuring that its top is kept upwards.

Kites that spin either clockwise or anti-clockwise when in the air means that your kite is out-of-balance from side-to-side. This can be due to stretched or uneven bridle lines or an uneven keel, or even knots and twists in the bridle. The horizontal spars of the kite can also affect its balance and cause it to spin. Our article on “Why Your Kite Keeps Crashing” provides in-depth information and troubleshooting tips.

Depending on the size and design of your kite, it may require little to no wind, or strong winds to launch. In low-wind conditions, a tail can hamper a kite’s launch and flight. You may notice that your kite (with its tail attached) is struggling to stay afloat in the sky; as such, you could remove its tail to keep your kite in the air even in low-wind conditions.

While there is no specific formula to the length of a kite tail, it should be long enough to add stability to your kite, but not too long that it creates too much drag and prevents the kite from launching or staying in the air. While this depends on the type and design of your kite, and current wind conditions, in the guide below we attempt to give you an idea of what you should expect in varying wind conditions.

Wind speeds determine how easy it would be to launch and keep your kite afloat. Below is a guide on wind speeds and how these can affect kite flying. This is based on the Beaufort Wind Force Scale, or the Beaufort Scale for short. The Beaufort Scale was devised by Francis Beaufort in 1805.

Beaufort NumberDescriptionWind SpeedEase of Launching or Flying a Kite
0Calm< 1 mphGreat for low- or zero-wind kites.
May be difficult for beginners to launch a heavier kite. You generally would not need a tail as it would weigh down your kite.
1Light air1-3 mphGreat for low-wind kites. You can still launch and fly a kite but you should not need a tail.
2Light breeze4-7 mphGreat for beginners, and easy to launch a kite in.
Generally, you would not need a kite tail to keep your kite stable. If it’s unstable at these wind speeds, check your kite for any problems.
3Gentle breeze8-12 mphGood wind speed to launch and fly a kite in. If your kite is swooping or weaving from side-to-side, put a kite tail on it.
4Moderate breeze13-18 mphBeginners should be careful if wanting to use a kite tail in this category as it can create more drag than expected; this can cause the kite flier to lose control of the kite.
5Fresh breeze19-24 mphAt these wind speeds, a kite tail is recommended if your kite is not stable in the air. You could also fly novelty kites, which usually sport fancy tails.
6Strong breeze25-31 mph“Laundry line” or “line art” kite tails can fly beautifully in this range; however, one should be careful to anchor their kites in case of sudden gusts of wind. Would suit intermediate to advanced kite fliers.
7High winds; moderate to near-gale winds32-38 mphAt these wind speeds, it is probably best to stay indoors instead of risking physical injury to oneself or others. Advanced and expert kite fliers could possibly launch large kites to take advantage of the wind.

On days when the wind at ground level is very strong, you will find it easy to launch the kite directly from your hands. For larger kites, it’s extremely important to anchor your kite line to ensure that you do not lose control of your kite. You may need gloves to protect your hands when handling the kite line directly.

It’s important to watch your kite closely. Your kite may fly well at a low altitude, but as it rises higher in the sky, it may be overpowered by a stronger wind, or turbulence. You can tell it’s overpowered when it spins, loops and dives. It may be necessary to add a longer or heavier tail in such cases. If a tail is not possible at that time, you can adjust your bridle towards the top of your kite to change the angle of attack to try and create more stability.

How to Make a Simple Kite Tail

If you are looking to make a kite tail at home, there are plenty of materials that you can use! From the ever-present plastic bag, to the more eco-friendly woven shopping bag, to newspaper or paper bags, there is a wide range of home items that can be turned into a kite tail. With some creativity, you could even make an eye-catching kite tail.

For starters, make your kite tail anywhere from 3-5 times the lateral length of your kite. Depending on the material that you have used, you may be able to easily add on more material if your kite and kite tail are still unstable in the sky.

Ideally, the material that you choose would be waterproof and sturdy without being inflexible. For this, we recommend plastic bags as these are usually easily available. You can cut a plastic bag into strips (sometimes known as plarn) by using the method highlighted in the video below:

After making plarn, you can attach a length of it – anywhere between 3-5 times the lateral length of your kite is good – to your kite, making sure to center the tail on the bottom point of your kite. If this doesn’t produce drag that stabilizes your kite, a great way to add more drag without having to change up your kite tail is to re-attach both ends of the tail to the wingtips of your kite instead. See the next picture for an example:

Kite with loop tail connected from wingtip to wingtip

This will provide more drag and will easily stabilize a kite in a pinch. If you want to use something that’s more eco-friendly, you can try making a set of shorter tails with woven shopping bags, cut in the same fashion. The reason for making these shorter – 2 to 3 times the lateral length of your kite is ideal – is to compensate for the heavier weight of woven fabric compared to plastic.

Alternatively, you can also fashion a loop chain out of paper or ribbon to make what is commonly known as a ‘ladder tail’. The video below gives you an idea of how to create this with brightly coloured paper. These are highly eye-catching, and will generate a lot of drag due to the amount of surface area presented to the wind.

Keep in mind that paper will get wet if exposed to rain or water, and can tear easily when wet. Woven fabric can absorb water and will weigh down your kite or prevent it from launching and flying at all if used in the rain. For more types of materials that you can use to make a simple kite tail, read here.

Tails in a Hurry

“But what if I need a tail when I’m out flying my kite?” This is a common question as winds can change suddenly while you’re out having a great kite-flying session. It is good practice to have some spare tail material with you – ribbons, surveyor’s tape, or even pre-cut strips of plastic bags rolled up and secured with a rubber band. If you didn’t bring anything for that purpose – not even a small but sharp pocket knife, which is another good item to have in your kite-flying kit – you could do the following to add drag to your kite:

  • Tie pieces of unused paper tissues or serviettes to your kite with some kite line
  • Tie a clean plastic bag to your kite using the handles as attachment points
  • If you are in a park and can find a branch or two, you could tie those to your kite as well. Alternatively, use a bunch of grass or fronds if they can be easily attached

Common Issues with Kite Tails And How To Fix Them

A common tip that we always bring up in this site is to make sure you check your kite line for any tangles, twists, knots, fraying, or wear-and-tear before and after a flying session. This is the same for your kite tail(s). This can help to prevent accidents while flying your kite.

Twisted or Tangled Kite Tails

Long tails can get twisted or tangled in turbulent winds. If you are not careful when setting up or packing away, long kite tails are also likely to tangle or twist. When packing up kite tails that are long strips, make sure to take time to flatten them while rolling them up like a bandage. Roll it up tight and compact, so that it does not twist against itself. To prevent it from unravelling, use a rubber band around the roll.

Twisted kite tails in the bottom, and untwisted kite tails in the top
Top: Untwisted kite tails | Bottom: Twisted kite tails| Image by u/QuietFalls

If your kite tail has been extremely twisted around itself, try and flatten it out best you can over the course of a day before attempting to roll it up.

If your kite tail is tangled, resist the temptation to try and pull an end as this can tighten the loops into a huge knot. Take some time and patiently unravel the kite tail – having someone to help you flatten and roll up the kite tail as you go can be also very helpful!

Knotted Kite Tails

Knots can tighten very quickly if you are not careful. A great tip that we’ve found can work if your knots are too tight is to wash your kite tail in warm soapy water (only if it can be washed!). While the kite tail is still wet, undo any knots and then let it air dry completely before rolling up and storing it. Do not use heat to dry it – for example using a hair dryer, or putting it in the dryer, as the material can shrink and you may end up with a much smaller kite tail. We have found that clipping one end of the kite tail to a fan on low speed can speed up the drying process.

Kite is Still Spinning to One Side

This is a common problem if you have a kite tail(s) attached to the left and right wingtips of your kite.

First, remove all tails to check if the cause of the problem is indeed the tails affecting the balance of your kite. If your kite continues to spin without the tails, your kite may be unbalanced. For tips on how to fix this, click here.

If your kite no longer spins without the tails, then the problem lies with your tails. In most cases, your kite tails may not be of the same length (or symmetrical if these are not flat strips). To check for the same length, hold one end up to the other, then check all the way down the length to see if there are any discrepancies. If one is longer than the other, trim the longer one to the same length as the shorter tail. Sometimes, it may also be that the material for one tail has stretched or experienced wear-and-tear. You should replace that tail if this is the case.

Kite Struggles to Launch or Stay Afloat

Too much tail or line art/laundry line can prevent your kite from launching or staying afloat. In such cases, retrieve your kite and all tails and line art attached to it, then remove the biggest item. You should then do a test flight. Repeat this until your kite is able to be launched AND is stable in the sky.

Rainbow spinner as part of a "laundry line" or line art held aloft by a sled kite.
Image by Gomberg Kites

If your kite does fly without the item you removed, it means that the item was putting too much drag on your kite. If you still want to display the item while flying your kite, you can swap out other line art. Alternatively, you can use a larger kite, or a kite that generates more lift, for example: box kites, sleds, or parafoils.

Tips and Tricks

We have discussed why a kite needs a tail, but it is also important to understand that some kites like box kites do not need tails due to their design providing the stability needed in high-wind and high-altitude flights.

Some kite designs require no tail, but tails are appropriate for aesthetic reasons. Commonly known as sky dancing, kites with tails are used to accentuate the flight, as if the kite is a dancer. The video below shows off the skills of the Singapore Sky Dancers in a beautiful nighttime performance.

If you like to have a large tube tail or a spinner, it would be best to hang it from the center-back of the kite. This is because the center-back of the kite is usually stable, and a tail will increase stability as long as the kite can launch and stay afloat with it.

It is much easier to have a single, and larger kite tail to hang from the bottom of the kite or the center-back of it, than to have 2 smaller tails attached to the wingtips. This is because you would have to fiddle and ensure that your kite is perfectly balanced with the smaller tails on the wingtips to ensure that it will fly.

Some questions to ask yourself when testing out your kite tail(s):

  • Is my kite flying steadily, or is it spinning from side-to-side with a kite on?
  • Has the wind died down? Is my kite flying much lower?
    • In this case, it may be that your kite tail is weighing down your kite in low-wind conditions.

Long kite tails are notorious for tangling easily; a winder to keep them untangled and untwisted might be the best way to store them for ease of use.

Proper storage of all of your kite parts will ensure their longevity, but you should always conduct a thorough check of all your kite-flying equipment prior to heading out for a kite-flying session.

If your kite tail has been damaged beyond repair, it’s time to look at replacement tails, either store-bought or handmade. Before you throw away your old or damaged kite tail(s) or line art, make sure you weigh them if you are planning to hand-make new ones – making a heavier version of the old one(s) will affect your kite’s flying performance.

We hope you now understand why a kite may or may not need a tail, and how to put together a simple kite tail in a jiffy if you need one. Have fun out there!

Lee & Cameron

We have always loved flying kites in our childhood. When we grew up, we realised that kite flying is slowly being taken over by technology, and it was difficult for us to learn anything about kites. After years of trial and error, we bring to you what we've learnt.

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