I've been flying kites since I was a small boy, back in the '50s. We always had a kite in the car when we were on holiday and my dad and I spent hours (well it seemed like hours at the time, but it was probably only 20 minutes at most!) trying to get the traditional diamond-shaped creation to stay up for more than 10 seconds. Of course, once it was up, we tied it to the deck-chair where it stayed until it was time to go home - and that was that! Boring!
We did have a box-kite at one time, which was very suitable for the conditions we normally met on our holidays, most of which were spent just outside of Southend-on-Sea. We never had much nice weather - it was always cold and windy, or so it seemed, and the box-kite suited the windier days.
In my early 'teens, I made a hexagonal kite, but it never really flew - it was much too heavy - being made from 1/2" square wooden struts and an old bed-sheet. It was only when I took up radio-controlled model aircraft, that I discovered the importance of keeping the weight of flying craft down.
My interest was re-kindled in the '70s when Peter Powell invented the 2-line stunt kite. It was way too expensive for me, but the Daily Mail had a look-alike on offer - and I bought one. What fun! All those manoeuvres - darting around the sky, but totally under control!
The David Pelham book (circa 1976?) from Penguin gave me plenty of plans to play with and I made lots of sled variations from black plastic rubbish-bin liners. I'd string 20 of these out together on fishing line which was probably half a mile long or more. They didn't go particularly high, but went a long way!
I made a kite-reel from plans in that book, based around a bicycle wheel hub, which I still use to this day!
Having an interest in the mechanics of flight, I was intrigued by parafoils, which have no sticks to maintain their shape - they just use the wind to 'inflate' themselves into a very efficient aerofoil shape. In the '80s I made a parafoil from ripstop nylon, using plans from that Pelham book. That was an exercise in ingenuity, and taught me how to use a sewing machine - something my (then) wife couldn't do. I ended up sewing her skirt hems etc, too! That parafoil is still one of my favourite kites, especially now it sports a rotating drogue I made, too. I use it to lift antennas for another of my hobbies, amateur radio.
A friend of mine purchased a 6-foot Flexifoil - wow, what fun we had with that. I decided to copy it - I couldn't afford to buy one at the time - and figured that I could make one much cheaper. Cor - the sleepless nights I had over that! How on earth do they manage to sew all the bits together? But eventually I sussed it out and made one (which I still have), but although it flew, it had nothing like the performance of the real thing. Oh well, it was worth a try, and really improved my skills on that blasted sewing machine!
In the mid-'90s, I couldn't resist buying a 10-foot Flexifoil - the power it develops is awesome! I've been dragged for 50-yards or more, face-down, across a field - just because I refused to let it crash into the ground (in case it got damaged - it was rather expensive, you know)! However, as with many things in life, I learnt the lesson - don't take a kite out in a force-8 gale to see how much pull it can develop! Still, it is an exhillarating kite to fly. I now use my sailing safety harness and attach the control-bar to that if the wind is a little strong, so that I can lean all my weight back and not pull my arms out of their sockets.
I've had a hankering to lift a camera high up and take photos. I know it's been done by many people before, but I haven't done it as yet. However, the thought of attaching a £600 digital camera to a flimsy kite, made me re-think my strategy. In 2004, whilst browsing around the Dunstable Kites's web site, I came across a large sled kite at a very reasonable price and purchased it. On its first flight, which wasn't in too much wind, the spring-scales showed a vertical pull of over eight pounds, so I'm pretty certain that this will be the kite for the job. Maybe later this summer......
Anyway, that'll do for now - hopefully more will be added as time goes by.
You may like to see a (14 Mbyte) video of the pretty young lady flying a kite (not particularly well, I have to say) that I had the pleasure of meeting last year (I wish!)
Alternatively, here's a 1-minute tour of Streatham 2003 with a man-lifting kite...or a very agile Benson kite.