Kite Flying in Devon, England

A Beginners Blog

During the summer of 2013 while waiting for a doctors appointment I was sitting in the waiting room which overlooks a local park. It was a perfect summer day, nice and warm with a gentle breeze and I saw a girl running with a small kite and thought to myself "I have always wanted to give that a go, and I would much rather be out there doing that than in here in the chair".

Later that day I decided to look up kites on E-bay to see what was available these days and was amazed to see how many shapes there are and how affordable too. My only real memory of kites was a family holiday back in the late 60's when my father launched a "box kite" for his mobile Radio-Ham rig.

Having looked through a few dozen pages of results I decided on what sort of shapes and colours appealed to me. One of my aims was not to get anything too complicated that needed effort to control. My mind was still on the girl in the park and how easy and carefree it looked flying one.

The First Kite

Better picture to come very soon!

To begin with Natalie advised I chose a small-medium sized two-string stunt kite. She had flown these before and the idea being that we could fly it and have some ability to manaeouver. The first day out was slightly gusty and we had trouble getting it up in the air even with two of us - Natalie in her wheelchair holding one string and me holding the other. It seemed that the strings needed some adjustment to get the balance right so that afternoon came to a close as we left it for a calmer day.

The Second Kite

In the meantime my thoughts wondered back to something on a single line that was easy to fly and I decided to get another one, something that was natural looking. I decided to go for a bird shaped kite and although I found the colour a bit dreary I was impressed with the shape and the ease at which it flew while watching a Youtube video of this design. The bird kite was technically sold for farmers for scaring birds off crops but looked ideal and was not too large.

Oddly, around the time my bird kite arrived in the post, I happened to be driving around the Marsh Barton industrial estate in Exeter, getting lost as most folk do, and I spotted a huge black bird kite over the Devon Waste Management plant. It seems they had the idea of using this to scare off seagulls that were pooping all over the recycled material, however, the seagulls being what they are had got used to it and were carrying on regardless. Still, the large black bird in the sky looked impressive and for a time was useful as a beacon in navigating the maze of roads until I saw it tangled up after a storm on another occasion!

Back to the bird kite which I bought - well this appeared to be a success as it was easy to launch even in a slight breeze and I had my first experience at flying with one of these. There was something nice about being out in the fresh air on the hills of Dartmoor in Devon with the small kite that was just a moment ago in your hands, now taking on a life of its own gliding gracefully high above in the sky. Imagine if I could be up there with it and what a view I would have of places familiar to me but from another point of view.

The Third Kite - Mega Sled

The thing with kites is once you have flown one with success the temptation is to try another design - and slightly bigger this time! Reading up about kites on the web the idea of Kite Aerial Photography appealed and I came upon several larger kites on e-bay that can lift something like a small camera. So just a few weeks later I bought a "sled kite". Something like this needs a bit more effort to hold when the wind gets up but again is a pleasure to fly. Although I am not a dog owner I have walked dogs in the past and when this sled kite went up for the first time it felt like I was taking a large dog for a walk on a lead.

With the pleasure of kite flying also comes responsibility. Each type of kite differs in what wind speed will be appropriate for it, sometimes a more gentle breeze is better than an eratic stronger wind. Also depending where you live there will be height restrictions to avoid clashing with low flying aircraft etc. There are height restrictions and distances around airports too. And common sense is needed by ideally avoiding electric pylons, main roads, built up areas, tree's and people.

Animals might also become distressed by flapping kites, especially stunt-kites, and I also read that horses can get easily spooked by them. So if you are going to try this hobby then do read up about it on the web first. There are many web sites with guidance, hints and tips for responsible kite flying and pointers to legal requirements. I have not covered that here.

One of the hardest things for me has been trying to find places to fly these kites where access has been easy for Natalie (being disabled) and also enjoyable in terms of scenery. Modern technology came to my assistance in the form of Google Satellite and Street-View as I was able to check out places and see where we could park, what the scenery is like and what hazards might be around before we visited. This saves a lot of time and also petrol when going on longer journeys.

The sled kite shape I have found does tend to capture more wind and so has a stronger pull on the line. Considering that this is the chosen kite for our KAP (kite aerial photography) because it will have to lift approx 800 grams in a good wind we decided to upgrade the string to something more substantial. I found the website: helpful in this because they stock a good range of kite lines as well as other accessories.

The Fourth Kite - Dragonfly

The next kite that attracted my attention was a more unusual shape but again a natural looking theme. According to the write-up the tail came off and the whole thing popped into this as a carrying bag which did indeed work really well. I decided to go for a medium sized version just in case this was awkward to fly.

Our first trip out with this one in Jan 2014 was not so good as the wind was a bit gusty and while it appeared to go up ok it did dart from side to side and ended up in a boggy puddle. But the second time out on the Moors went better as you see in the pictures here.

The Fifth Kite - Large Bird - Homemade

Inspired by the small bird kite I was now familiar with I decided to see if I could make a larger version myself. I decided on a 2 metre wide wingspan and took a photo of the small kite lying flat on the floor which I then edited on the computer to give me a grid to enable me to scale it up on to sheets of paper (see pics).

Next I selected Ripstop material from E-bay and found "GoKites" to have a good range of colours and affordable too. To cut out the shape of the kite from the rip-stop fabric I put a large sheet of wood on the floor then made sure the material and the template were carefully placed flat. I marked out the shape using an indelible ink pen. At this stage I also allowed spare material beyond the template for folding over and sewing later to hold the carbon fibre props.

Ripstop can be cut with scissors but does tend to fray on the edges so what I did was to carefully cut it using a pointed bit on the end of a soldering iron to a temperature practiced first on some scrap material. With a steady hand and much care to avoid burns to myself I simply drew over my ink lines and the iron tip formed a neat sealed cut. As an extra measure I used a sheet of teflon material below the ripstop, on top of the wood, as a safe base to work on with the hot iron tip.

When the template was done the next stage was to sew the seams which was done on the electric sewing machine using thin nylon thread. Then I used small velcro pads with flaps sewn on by hand afterwards to form the holdings for carbon fibre rods. The ends of the rods were treated with heat-shrink tubing to make them less pointed and more comfortable in the holding points.

March 5th 2014 - This kite had its first flight which went exceedingly well.

The Sixth Kite - Mega Delta

The latest kite is called a Mega Delta with a span of 3.5 metres. The height when stood upright is about 7 feet from the tip of the nose to the tail. I bought this one from "Gokites" on E-Bay.
It had its first flight on March 5th 2014 which went very well. There was a good breeze, enough to easily launch it and I had expected it to pull a lot harder than the sled kite but it was about the same. So I was not seen that day being blown across the sky.

This is the kite I currently use to attach a small camera to. I used some cable ties to strap the camera-mount on the underside of the centre pole just in front of the sock opening below the kite. It seems to work well although the videos are often very shakey so I can only take still images from the video.

The KAP System

As mentioned earlier I thought it would be nice to send a camera up on the bigger kite so having talked it over with Natalie, who knows how to make this work electronically, we bought the parts and I put together this system. Being an artist myself it ended up more like a miniature art project making sure all the parts were placed neatly and fitted on firmly - we don't want anything dropping off it! We decided to go for a small camera lens fitted to a moving platform that has radio controlled parts allowing it to rotate around as well as move up and down. It sends live video back to the camera on the ground. The picture shows the project so far which is almost ready to test out. This should give us the ability to take some nice pictures of places around Devon from the sky.

My only concern before we test it is that it weighs about 700grams which although ok for the big sled kite to lift might turn out to be difficult to launch from the ground when the wind is lighter. Do come back and see how we got on later...

June 2014: The first test flight of the KAP system was a failure, not enough wind to get the kite up because of the extra weight and conditions of the field we chose on that day. Also the strings kept getting tangled up with the main launch lines on the kite which would flip the camera over. After several attempts something got knocked and the signal was lost. We will attempt a better launch with more wind another day!

Jan 2015: Have tried another kind of camera which is simple and light and have mounted it onto the bottom of the large Delta kite. The camera is an Ex'Trem by Storex which can take stills and video but only video in the sky. The quality is not very high resolution but for grabbing a few stills from the video it works reasonably well as you can see in some of the images shown here below.

Haytor rock on Dartmoor

Looking down on top of the large octopus kite over Haytor car park

Another view as above

Haytor car park with the rocks in the distance

Another view as above

Exmouth beach selfie

View over Exmouth beach

A higher view over Exmouth beach

Looking over allotments near Marsh Barton, Exeter

To see the mini camera in action on Youtube paste this link...

The Seventh Kite - F Tail Delta

Another kite I bought in June 2014 called an F Tail Delta. It is not the largest version you can get but I decided that I would go for a smaller 2 metre wide version and if it looks good I might have a go at making my own giant version one day. I have seen some much larger selling for over 100 UK pounds which is a bit too much for me at the moment.
Again I bought this one from "Gokites" on E-Bay although it took a while to arrive because their supplier in Germany had problems, then the courier that delivered it to me in Devon here had problems as well. But Gokites were very helpful and talked me through the problems they were having. Following the delays in delivery I wondered if this kite might be carrying some bad vibes as on the first flight I gave it the wind pulled the handle from my hand and I found myself for the first time running like mad across the Moor after a kite with the string dangling in front of me just out of reach! Finally managed to catch up with it and got it back but at the time I was thinking about whether it would fall out of the sky or keep going or whether my legs would give out on me. I have decided therefore to replace the simple wrap-around handle it came with with a spool type that I can wear over my arm as this is much safer all round.
This kite fly's very well and looks lovely in the breeze with the tails whisping around - almost a sort of gothic or medieval look about it which I like.

The Eighth Kite - Black Octopus or Kraken Kite

When I first got a kite 8 months ago I never imagined I would end up with one of these! I had seen Octopus kites on the web before which all looked a bit flimsy and not too realistic but this one appealed. I liked the idea of the surreal sight of a flying black octopus over the Devon hills, quite a giggle. This one cost around 40 UK pounds and measures around 7.5 metres long (some adverts claim 7 metre and some 8 so I measured it). There are no rods fitted to this kind of kite as it relies just on the slightly arched shape of the body and the hollow chambers inside which pass the air all the way down each leg to the very tips. In order to get it launched a fair breeze is needed and once up it performed a lot more than I thought it would making huge wafting motions of the legs just like the real sea-creature would in real life. At times it even did an upsidedown flip and plunged towards the ground before suddenly twisting and going back up again. Very impressive.

To see this kite in action on Youtube paste this link...

The Nineth Kite - Wala (Aerobe)

I wanted to try out one of these as I like the shape, colour and the eyes. I think they are made in America then distributed to main dealers such as Colours in Motion in Germany, then distributed further to kite sellers. I got my kite from Kites4U who seem to have a wide range of kites shown although many have to be ordered in.
The Wala comes in two sizes and I wanted the larger version but the price was around 100 UK pounds. So I decided to go for the smaller version which was 50 pounds. It is easy to set up and according to the video's and brochures I have seen you can fly it in the wind but also use it as a glider indoors or without wind. Upon my first attempt to try without wind I was disappointed as it does not behave well at all. However in the sky with wind it worked very well. I think I will have to practice more perhaps.

NOTE: I should have found a way to fix the plastic nose piece on this kite so that I would not loose it... I lost it. They are almost impossible to get hold of so being an artist I made myself another out of three sections of coiled wire and milliput putty. It worked but later split. However, I finally managed to buy three spares and after ordering those would you believe I found the one I lost! So I have fixed it good and proper and have spare ones now if you want one you can buy a spare from me!

The Tenth Kite - 75 foot Green Octopus!

Having enjoyed using the black octopus kite and done well selling my pottery creations I decided to splash out on something a little bit more showey. I had my eye on a few other kites for sale in the UK but they were all out of stock so having looked around on the web I found a kite firm in China selling some big show kites so I bought one. This piece only took about 5 days to arrive all the way from Emmakites in Beijing and it is a 75 foot long (25 metres) octopus in bright green/yellow/white. The instructions said it would need at least 12 mph winds to get it launched so I waited for a breezy day and "Meg" as I call her got her first flight at Hound Tor on Dartmoor on 19th October 2014.

Oddly that day was too windy for my now smaller octopus kite but Meg went up with little trouble and flew very well. She was quite hard to hang on to in the wind at times during gusts and I was pleased that we had fitted her out with some really strong line and a proper spool. I was almost pulled over a few times but made sure I held on to that reel. I have done another video and put some of my 1990's music to it. Meg certainly caught the attention of walkers and camera's too - she's a real show girl!

To see this kite in action on Youtube paste these links...

The Eleventh Kite - 7 metre long Hand-Painted Mermaid!

While browsing more kite suppliers on the WWW I came across Passion Kites in Singapore who have a great range of all sorts of kites and some big show pieces as well. I decided to buy one of the hand-painted Mermaid kites. The price was very reasonable, even with the postage from Singapore to the UK it was very good, however I was stung with a customs fee when it arrived here which took the fun out of it a little. She arrived with me in Novemeber 2015 and my plan is to have her fly alongside my giant octopus as extra drama in the sky for people to enjoy seeing. I found Passion Kites exceedingly helpful while making my purchase from them and hope to buy more from them in the future.

Natalie keeping warm while flying a kite

Heather bringing in the giant octopus over Exmouth beach at dusk

Heather launches a very large Clanger on a kite

Octopus kite flying over Meldon Hill which is a high point overlooking Chagford in Devon

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