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What are Stunt Kites Made From?

Sailcloth

The material that the kite's sail is made from directly affects how the kite will fly. All sail materials are distinctly different. There are three different types of stunt kite sail material:

  • 3 Ply Polyethylene - Although it is not seen much anymore, this was a very good choice for inexpensive stunt kites. Like plywood, the 3 layers of plastic were fused into one and it resisted tearing very well. TRLBY kites, which used this material, had a lifetime guarantee on all of their sails.
  • Ripstop Nylon - Nylon fabric is created by weaving tiny threads of nylon together. Threads of monofilament are woven in at specific intervals, which accounts for the grid pattern you see in the fabric. When a rip starts, the more durable monofilament slows it down. Ripstop nylons are available in a wide range of quality, weights, and coatings.
  • Icarex Ripstop Polyester - This material has the lowest porosity, best stretch characteristics, is the most colorfast, and is the lightest weight. This means the kite will be lighter, quicker, and an all-around better flyer.

Rods

The rods, like the sail materials, have different characteristics which directly affect the performance of the kite. There are four different basic types of stunt kite rods:

  • Solid Fiberglass - This is the most durable because of its high flexibility. This allows the kite to crash and bend, but not break. Some beginner kites use solid fiberglass rods to minimize the chances of a hard crash breaking a new flyer's kite.
  • Hollow Fiberglass - This has the advantage of being stiffer and lighter, but may break on hard crashes. It is a very popular rod because it provides good performance very inexpensively.
  • Pultruded Graphite - This is the most popular type of graphite rod. It is both light and stiff, which is the best combination. This rod is created by sucking liquid graphite through a mold. Almost any kite over $75.00 will be sparred with pultruded graphite.
  • Wrapped Graphite - This is made from separate graphite strands wrapped around a mold. It is the most expensive, but also the best for its weight to stiffness ratio. The hottest new rod is a wrapped graphite with tapered ends.

What's the Difference Among Types of Kite Line?

Line is an important component in a kite's performance. Most introductory kites come with dacron line. Middle to upper end kite packages usually come with Zip line. Line is not included with most of the high performance kites because of the wide range of performance characteristics and price ranges, plus many pilots already own a lineset and do not wish to pay for line they do not need.

There are 4 important characteristics of sport kite line: Strength, Stretch, Smoothness, and Size.

Strength: As with any kite, you want to be sure you are flying with strong enough line for the kite's pull, which is a factor of the wind speed and the kite size and design. 90-150lb line is common for most sport kites, though some may need 200lb.
Stretch: The less stretch the line has, the more responsive the kite will be to your input and the more fine control you'll have over it.
Smoothness: When flying a kite with two or more lines, your lines will wrap around each other. The smoother the line, the more times you'll be able to wrap your lines while still having full control over the kite.
Size: The thinner the lines, the less drag they'll create as your kite zips around the sky. Higher quality line will be thinner at a given strength.

Types of Line

  • Dacron: An inexpensive and functional line often included with less expensive stunt kites, it is durable but has high stretch (over 10%), a large diameter for its weight (strength), and isn't as smooth as higher end line.
  • Zip: A relatively inexpensive upgrade for kites that ship with Dacron, this line is still very durable with less stretch (about 8%) and a smaller diameter for its strength. It's also smoother than Dacron.
  • Speed/Spectra/Dyneema: Using anything less than this on a high end stunt kite would be like putting cheap tires on your Ferrari; it'll go, but you won't be getting the performance you paid for. It's the most expensive line, but has almost no stretch (only 4%!), a very thin size, and is extremely smooth. However, it also has a low melting point, and knots not protected by a sleeve will actually generate enough friction to melt the line. This line, when sold as a ready-to-fly set, comes pre-sleeved, but separate sleeving kits are also available.

How Can I Tell What the Wind Speed Is?

This handy chart should give you an idea of how hard the wind is blowing.

MPH    KNOTS CHARACTERISTICS ON WATER CHARACTERISTICS ON LAND
<1 <1 Smooth as glass Smoke rises vertically
1-3 1-3 Ripples, no foam crests Smoke indicates wind direction, but not wind vanes
4-7 4-6 Small waves, glassy crests Wind felt on face, leaves rustle, wind vanes begin to move
8-12 7-10 Large wavelets, breaking crests, some whitecaps Leaves and small twigs in motion, wind extends light flag
13-18 11-16 1-4 ft waves, many whitecaps Raises dust and loose paper, flags flap, small branches move
19-24 17-21 4-8 ft waves, some spray Small trees sway, flags ripple
25-31 22-27 8-13 ft waves, foaming caps Large branches move, wires whistle
32-38 28-33 13-20 ft waves, white foam blows in streaks Whole trees in motion, resistance felt when walking against wind
39-46 34-40 13-20 ft waves, crests break Whole trees in motion
47-54 41-47 20 ft waves, rolling sea Shingles blow off roofs
55-63 48-55 20-30 ft waves, churning water, reduced visibility Trees fall, much damage to buildings

Windspeed Conversion Calculator
A complete calculator to convert windspeeds between the Beaufort scale, knots, miles/hr, ft/s, km/hr, and m/s.

Tips for New Stunt Kite Pilots

  • When you set up your kite, be sure the spars are pushed all the way into their fittings. A loose spar can pop out during flight and puncture the sail.
  • Let out all the line when setting up your kite. Trying to fly on a shorter length of line is actually harder, not easier. Unwind the lines together, not separately.
  • Be sure you have enough wind for your kite and that it's "clean", or smooth, coming from over the lake or a large open field, and not "dirty", or turbulent, coming from over the dunes, trees, or buildings.
  • When breaking down your kite after flying, be very careful when you remove the spars from snug fittings so as not so have them suddenly pop loose and puncture the sail.
  • Crashes happen and most stunt kites are quite durable, but try not to plow full speed into the ground. This can cause microfractures in the spars which will eventually cause failure, sometimes even in mid-air, seemingly with no cause.
  • After landing the kite and detaching the lines, wind them together in a figure 8 motion on the winder. This will keep them from getting tangled when you unwind them next time.

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