Tuesday, March 16, 2010

wind driven

I've been obsessed with the idea of flight as long as I can remember. However, I don't think I ever really seriously considered piloting an aircraft of any kind. It's the idea at a somewhat abstracted level that is appealing, and the experience I have sought is vicarious or virtual flight. I suppose it started for me with watching birds and planes in flight and imagining some connection to them.

Popular Science, Aug.1936,p.69

Like most kids, I soon moved on to flying kites. In those days, there seemed only to be two available choices. One flew either a diamond-shaped stick kite or, for a bit more of an investment, you could hoist a box kite. We usually chose the diamond based on the availability of a meager allowance, augmented with earnings from collecting bottles to be turned in a the local grocery, coincidentally also the kite store.

Seattle often has gusty wind conditions in the early Spring when we were beset by the kite-flying urge. To deal with that, we always hung enormously long rag tails on our kites. There was some satisfaction to be had from learning to balance tail length and bow depth with wind speed to keep the kite in the air. However, the skill acquisition was really secondary to the exhilarating sensation of watching the kite do its slow dance in the sky at the end of several hundred feet of string. When the conditions were just right, you could stake the kite string to the ground and lie on your back on a grassy hillside, dividing your time between watching the kite and conjuring great, puffy cloud animals.

I left off kite flying about the time I went into junior high school, I think. I took it up again for a couple years at around the age of thirty when we moved to San Francisco, also a great kite flying location.

Popular Mechanics,June,1961,p.142

Inspired by the DIY exhortations of Stuart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog and other back-to-basics savants, I taught myself to build coynes, deltas, Japanese hatas and Indian fighter kites. I flew them often from the summit of Bernal Heights, and sometimes at the beach, though the winds there were often too strong for even my stoutest flyers.

Since San Francisco, I've only flown kites a few times, usually accompanied by grandchildren. There are more sophisticated styles of kites available these days at the local grocery and drug stores, but in my experience they are often poorly balanced and unflyable without modification. It must be a frustrating experience for budding flyers.

I haven't flown this miniature yet which I picked up at Hobby Lobby for myself over a year ago. I'm not real optimistic about its performance possibilities, but I think it's a neat design.

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