How To Fly Chinese Kites

All texts have been translated to conserve diction and style of the chinese original, thus to illustrate the differences to western style of kiteing.

Wind and Kites

Wind is streaming air. Streaming air is has enormous powers within itself, and is determining force and velocity of the wind. The angle between kiteline and luff sided surface of the kite sail, is a measure for the strenth of the assailing windflow. Flowing air is generating a force, that will compells the kite to climb into the air. The more powerful the wind, the more powerful will be the force that lifts the kite into the air.

Preflight Preparations

(1) Set high value on weather conditions and choosing the right place

China is a vast country, stretching over many latitudes and longitudes, with large differences in climate. To fly kites under optimum conditions, you have to take in account geography, climate and season.

Since ancient times of Ming and Qing Dynasties, lunar New Year in January and the end of April marks the preferred season for common people to enjoy flying kites. During springtime and autumn you will have steady and fair winds of settled directions. Especially in springtime you will often find zones of thermic flow with rising winds. Moreover, fair temperatures are comfortable for flying kites.

High temperatures and an increased tendency for lightnings makes it unreasonable for flying kites during summertime. Flying kites in winter is possible, when weather conditions are suitable and when you have fair winds of settled directions. Nevertheless, ethusiasts have the expertise to fly kites in all seasons under any weather conditon.

When flying kites you should have taken utmost care to choose the right place for your activities. Be aware of any kind of obstacle when flying. Places favourable for kiteing are sports fields, parcs, squares, beaches etc., because wind conditions in open spaces are best, due to undisturbed velocity and direction of windflow. Moreover its easier to react, when your kite experiences problems, with nothing in your way to make any trouble.

(2) Choosing the right kiteline

Obviously you need wind to fly your kite. When there is enough wind, and your kite is to rise, you will need a line to prevent it from escaping. A flying kite is exposed to all kinds of drag and pull, that makes up manyfold powers of its own weight. All of these kinds of forces on the kite, also have substantial effect on the kiteline. Therefore the kiteline needs sufficient strength to withstand all of these kinds of forces. To reduce its effect of its own weight and the resistance of this weight onto the wind, kitelines should be of low elasticity, lightweighted, smooth and of low wear. Kitelines sold these days, are made of cotton, hemp, silk, plastics, nylon or other kinds of synthetic fiber. In the past people had been content with cotton lines, but nowadays they want to use threads made of synthetic fibers or nylon. When flying your kite, you first of all have to observe and watch velocity of windflow. You then have to decide if the kiteline you intend to use has the strength to withstand the power of drag, taking into account the dimensions of your kite. In general, tensile strenth of the line has to be threetimes the power of drag it may experience when flown in high winds.

(3) Tools for winding up your kiteline

Simple winders, made of wood (1,2) and winder with an axis (3), may be build from scrap materials even by the inexperienced hobbyist. These kinds of winders are suitable for small kites and are easy to handle for children. Old and used simple winders should not be wasted, but may be used to store lines just to prevent them from entangling. Kite dimensions determine the kind of winder you are going to use. Larg kites need large winders or winches as depicted in the drawing above (cf. No. 5).

Xianhuangzi winders  (cf. No.4 above , or cf. No.1 below) are comfortable tools for winding up kitelines suitable for small and medium sized kites. It is a typical tool used for kiteflying even in rural areas. Xianhuangzi reels with more than six lateral struts are suitable for a wide range of kitelines and are very flexible to use. Paying off the kiteline is quite easy with Xianhuangzi winders because you only need your thumb as a brake for the turning reel (cf. No.1 in picture below). Winding up the kiteline is as easy because it can be uses with only one hand. Just use your index finger to turn the reel and wind up the kiteline. This technique is suitable with light to moderate winds. If the wind is stronger you may lead the kiteline with your second hand.

(4) Bridles:

Prior to flying your kite you shod check if the bridles are tied correctly to the kite. Large scale kites and kites with complex structures usually have more than thre bridles. Most centipede kites for instance have two or three bridles (cf. No.4 in the picture above).

Bridles have several distinct common names in Chinese. They are called lift-up thread, fixing thread, stability thread or footbase thread. They are tied to the kiteline via a metal ring (cf. No.3 in the picture above) or an other kind of fitting. When the bridle is tied correctly to the kite, and the angle between kiteline and kite surface is sufficient, the kite may fly. If not, the kite may not rise, or is flying instable. The bridle lines have two different functions. At first they are fixing the angle between kiteline and kite surface, therefore fixing the angle between attacking wind force and luff side of kite, with the lifting power of the kite directly depending on this angle. At second, bridles hold the flying kite in a balanced and stable flight position. 

The number of bridle lines depend on type, scale and function of kites. Adjustment of bridle lines is strongly dependent on number of bridles (see below).

(4.1) Only one bridle line

Some kites may be flown with only one bridle line, because the kite tends to find its own effective angle of flight with stable flight conditions. This is valid for example for eagle kites, aeroplanes, palace lantern kites or ordinary box kites.

As an example for a one bridle line kite we are discussing the correct tieing up of an eagle kite. The bridle has to be tied directly to the beak of the eagle. This is because the beak of the eagle is crooked and its head is inclined to the chest of the body. Therefore the beak is near the center of gravity as the optimal point for tieing up a kite.

The bridle of an aeroplane kite is tied to the center of the planes body. The correct tieing-up point of a single palace lantern box kite is at the upper leading rim of the carcase(B)of the box.
The correct tieing-up point of the twin palace lantern box kite (as well as the paralell flying ordinary twin box kite) is the center of the interconnecting upper leading strut(2) between the two boxes(B).
With combined box kites haveing multiple cells, any cell has to be taken into account individually to determine the correct tieing-up point. To avoid unnecessary loads on the kite construction, the bridle has to be tied to a central crossing of any spars of the main carcase(A) in the middle of the foremost upper central frame and has to be led to the center of the foremost leading interconnecting strut
Nevertheless, a two or more sided bridle might be better in the case of multiple cell  box kite combinations.

The correct tieing-up point of a soft winged kite is a third of the longitudinal diameter below the center of the upper frame.

(4.2) Two bridle lines

Bridle lines are tied to the crossing of  the central vertical and central horizontal spar and the tip of the central vertikal spar. You will find kites with two bridle lines for instance amongst small and medium sized flat kites, hard winged kites and soft winged kites. When tieing up the bridles, be sure to pay attention to the balance of right and left side. If there is need for a balancing weight,  do not to over balance. Otherwise the kite gains unnecessary weight, thus is mor difficult to raise, may get unstable, or will not fly straightforward but in an oblique way.

lark heads eye for adjustment of two line bridle

The length oft the upper and the lower (part) of the bridle needs adjustment to achieve the correct angle of attack for the force of the air flow in longitudinal direction . Favourably one may use a metal ring(1) in the bridle line(2,3), connected with a lark heads knot, in away, that one may slip the bridle point ring easyly up or down for adjustment.

(4.3) Three bridle lines

A kite with three bridle lines is for instance the butterfly kite. Its wings can be disassembled for transport. Actually only the wings contribute to its buoyancy. During its flight, both wings will be forced back by wind pressure, and most load on construction may be in effect at the joints between  wings and body(A,B). Therefore these joints are the correct tieing-up point for the bridles, with these lines receiving most of the attacking forces of wind pressure. The centre below the these two joints marks the tieing-up point for the third bridle line. This line is normaly longer than the two other ones. To adjust the angle of attack of  air flow, you have to regulate the length of the lower bridle line. All together we have two upper bridles  and one lower bridle.

Kites with three bridles are medium sized to large-scale. They usually have more than one square meter of combined surface of sail.

(4.4) Remarks

Depending on form and scale, pecularities and special qualities or compexity of construction, kites may have 4, 5, 6 or many more bridles. In general, the angle of any bridle should be regulated to the demands of actual wind force on site, and must be adjusted directly at the kite. There is a common demand for an angle of  25 to 45 degrees between kite and tensly drawn bridle. Length of bridle is the distance between tieing up point of body of kite and crossing of two ore more bridle lines. No matter if the bridle is a long or a short one,  the kite should in no case be tied up asymmetrical or in an oblique way, otherwise it may lead to instable in-flight conditions. Length of bridle is determined by proportion of height to latitudinal lenghth of the complete kite. Thus the minimum lenghth of a central bridle line is two thirds or three quarters the distance between its tieing up point to the tip of the wing.
Compound-bridle systems are uncommon with chinese kites. 

Let Them Fly Into the Sky

(1) Determining the force and direction of wind

Necessary condition to fly a kite is adequate windflow. There are three categories of wind: partial and local winds, accidental and unexpected winds and global winds. Only partial and local winds are adequate for flying kites.
There a two methods to measure windflow and its direction: with help of scientific instruments or simply by watching the environment (trees, grass, smokeing chimneys). Thr relation between force of windflow and flying your kite means, that you usually can fly small kites with 0.1 - 0.5 sqm in  wind of 2 - 3 Beaufort. Kites flying best within thesese windflow conditions are for instance soft winged kites, swallows, butterflies, fireflies and any hard winged kite. Winds of 3-4  Beufort are best for mid sized kites of about 1 sqm, as are seven-stars kites, ying-yang kites (ba-gua kites), all kinds of box kites or aeroplane kites. Windflow above 5 Beaufort is not suitable for soft winged kites like  soft winged butterflies or soft winged bird kites. Nevertheless if you absolutely want to fly under these conditions, you will need definitely an extra tail. Windflow above 5 Beaufort is only good for large scale hard winged kites like tubular box kites, or octagon kites of above 2 sqm of  effective sail surface. There are no suitable chinese kites , qualified for windflow above 6 Beaufort.

There are only few days without wind in springtime and early autumn. Windflow in spring is usually about 1 - 2 Beaufort. As a rule wind rises at about 8 to 9a.m., gains strenghth througout the morning, and ist strongest around noon. In the afternoon  about 17.00 - 19.00 windflow will faint slowly or drop completely.
Next to observing and estimating windflow, you have to determine wind direction. The easyest way to get an impression of direction of windflow subsists in watching where the treetops bow and spikes of agricultural crop or the ears of golden grass lean on. May be you can see the smoke of an chimney, indicating the direction of wind. If there are for instance southeasterly winds, your back should direct itself to southeast with your eyes directed to northwest where the kite should roam the sky. 

(2) Different methods of kiteflying

Different kinds of kites with different constructions, in different sizes and in different situations demand different methods to fly your kite. All of these different techniques to make them fly may be differentiated into three succeeding procedures.

(2.1) Choosing the right place

To let them fly into the sky, you should choose a flying ground where you can expect stable windflow conditions. And in particular you should choose a leeward position, with enough space in front , thus having the opportunity to walk with your kite straight into the wind. Do not forget to pay out enough line when you do so.

(2.2) Choosing the best time for flying

When windflow is low, wait for better conditions to fly your kite. When wind is too high wait for fair wind. While windflow or direction of wind is unstable,  wait for better flying conditions.

(2.3) Choosing the best method in relation to size of kite

To let them fly into the sky, you usually need two persons. One person is holding the kite high into the air and is standing behind or by the side of the kite. The kite should be held on a level with the shoulder, tilted forward with approximately 5 to 10 degrees. The pilot himself is holding the winder and is paying off line when necessary. The distance between both of them should be about 10 to 20 m. Good cooperation is needed to rise the kite. Thy both have to wait till windflow is sufficient. If so, the helper has to throw th kite into the air, while the pilot is holding the line and hass to pull  if appropriate. Pulling the line makes the kite to rise. If flight situation allows, the pilot needs to pay out line until the kite does not rise any more. When it starts sinking, he has to pull the line once more. If repeatedly rising again the pilot has to pay out line till the kite does not rise any more, an he is to pull  the kiteline again. This will go on and on until the kite reaches his desired altitude.When the kite is above 100 m, ther will be usually enough wind to pay out line without the need tu pull the line. This technique for rising a kite is named stay-stop-and-fly method.

You will have best conditions for gaining optimal rising velocities when paying off line slowly because its easier to find the right ratio to buoyancy.

Small kites with sails of 20 by 20cm up to 30 by 30cm may be flown under windflow conditions of 2 to 3 Beaufort without a helping hand.

Techniques of Kiteflying for different Kinds of Kites 


You hafe to differentiat between two kinds of centipedes: small kite trains with less than 30 segments and centipedes with more than 30 segments, sometimes even several 100 segments.
Techniques of flying these kinds centipedes are quite different. 

The small centipede with less than 30 segments needs only the pilot and one helper for starting the kite. The pilot holds line and winder, while the helper lifts the centipede at the tail segment and is shaking the kite train against the pilot. Simultaneously he has to throw thecentipede tail into the air. When the blowing wind has taken the kite train, the pilot needs to pay out line, until the centipede finds a stable position.

The number of helpers for large centipedes depends on the actual size of the kite train. You will need approximately 5 to 6 helpers for a train with 100 segments and an overall length of about 100 m, to rise this kind of centipede. 

2.Hard Winged Kites

These kites tend to swing sideways when rising. When gaining altitude the kite will get a more and more stable in-flight position. Reason for this behaviour is that in lower altitudes laminar airflow is disturbed by houses, trees or hills. The hindrance of laminar windflow lowers the velocity of the wind, thus causing instable flight conditions. Lack of disturbing objects in higher altitudes will always cause laminar flow conditions and thus also causing higher velocities of windflow. The conclusion out of this behaviour is, that kites in general should pass the lower altitude zone with its disturbed airflow conditions slowly and with utmost care. After leaving this zone one may pay out kiteline any faster.

3. Soft Winged Kites and Kites with Tails

Prior to starting procedures, you firsthand have to fold the tail of the kite, just to be sure that it unfolds correctly without entangling when rising. Main function of the tail of this kind of kite is to correctly adjust the angle of flight.
While the helper is carrying the kite into the wind, the pilot has to pay out line. When signalling, the helper is throwing the kite high into the wind, and the kite is going to rise into the sky. At the beginning of the rising phase, the weight of the tail will often tear the kite to one side, resulting in skew rising position. When the tail has left ground, the kite usually tends to take its correct upright position. Now the kiteflyer may constantly pay out line to rise the kite to its desired position.

Problems and their Solutions

Troubleshooting and Frequently Asked Questions

When flying your kite, many problems may arise. To solve these problems, you have to uncover the reasons, analyze the behaviour of the kite when rising, criticize occuring mistakes, and afterwards correctly adjust  the kite.

1. Capsizing

The kite is suddenly capsizing after rising into the sky.  Main cause is usually that the upper part of the kite is too heavy or the bridle is tied up incorrectly. In this case the lower part of the kite has to work against a wind burden too heavy for the kite. You can solve the problem by enlarging the the mass of the tail by prolonging the tail or by adding additional weight for compensation. This shifts the center of gravity a little bit lower. An other solution to this problem is to shift the bridle point a little to the top of the kite. 

2. The kite will not fly anyway

Most of all, there is not enough wind for the kind of kite you intend to fly. You also may have mistaken the direction of windflow. Eventually the kite may be too large or the wind may be to weak. Sometimes th wings are too soft for the actual windflow or the bridles are tied to the wrong bridle points. 

3. Swinging out sideways

In this case the kite always tends to fly always to the same side when rising. Main cause is usually that the lower bridle is not correctly tied to the central point of attack, or   both upper bridles have different lenghths. An other reason may be, that the right and left wing or the right or left part of the bamboo frame have different weights. Different rigidity or flexibility of the frame can have the same effect. 

4. Swaying to and fro

After lift off, the kite continuously sways perpendicular to right and to the left. main reason is usually, that the bridle lines are tied up to the wrong bridle points, or the tail is too lightweighted. Sometimes the bamboo frame is bent and windforce is distributed asymmetricaly to the right and to the left. You may solve the problem by enlarging the distance between both upper pridle points or you may enlarge the length oft the upper bridle lines. You may also try to lower the crossing point of the bridle. Sometimes the problem can be solved by adding a tail, or  prolonging an already existing tail. This will simultaneously makes the kite heavyer.

5. Circling

After lift off, the kite is continously circling in the sky. Causes are bent bamboo frames,  left and right wings are differnet or interchanged, rigidity of both wings is different.  May be the weight of both wings is different, or the pridles are incorrectly tied up. If you can exclude all of these mistakes, try to add a tail or try to prolong an already existing one. If this gives no cure, you may need to alter the bamboo frame. 

6. Tilting forword

When rising, you pull the line, but the kite is not rising any higher. The kite is tilting forward. The upper part of the kite it is not getting enough windforce to climb, and the lower part gets too much windforce. You may adjust this problem by prolonging the upper bridle, or by shortening the lower bridle line. You will have the same effect with an additional tail, or with adding compensatory weight to an existing one. Adjusting the bridles is to prefer, because any exta weight is  deteriorating the kite performance.

7. Tiltig backward

In Chinese this problem is also named sitting-back. Even with high winds, when the line is under optimal tension, the kite does not show any intension to climb any more. The angle between kiteline and ground is very low, the kite flies far away, but is not gaining any altitude when paing out the kiteline. With moderate to low winds, the kite even stays on the ground. Reason for this behaviour is, that the upper part of the kite gets too much windforce, and the lower part gets not enough. Tis results in a center of gravity too sitting too high. You may solve the problem by prolonging the lower bridle, and/or shortening the upper one. An other solution is to shift the bridle points a little bit upside. Shortening the tail is an alternative.

In any case, you should correct only one problem at the same time. After fixing it, just test the kite prior to fixing another problem.

Copyright 2002 ff: Hans P. BoehmeandFeifei Xu