Flying Stunt and Parafoil Kites – Liftoff!

Parafoil kites, at times simply attached to pilots standing on a beach or other windy area, at other times attached to pilots on boogie boards (also known as kite boards), skateboards, or even snowboards have grown massively in popularity over the last several years.

This article outlines the basics of parafoil kite piloting. For simplicity, it will focus on the on-ground pilot who simply wishes to enjoy a bit of outdoor time and learn some basic maneuvers.

The first step in learning to pilot a parafoil kite is a basic understanding of the kite itself. A parafoil kite is made of very lightweight material and consists essentially of a series of open ended bags sewn together. As the kite lifts off the ground air rushes into the open end of the bag and inflates it. These inflated bags look like a parafoil. The air pressure inside the bags provides the structural form of the kite.

The kite is flown with two or four control lines. In this basic article we will focus on two-line flight. The control lines are connected to a part of the kite called a harness. The harness is a series of lines that are connected to each bag, and then tied together at a single point. Each parafoil kite has a left harness and a right harness. Naturally one control line is tied to each harness.

To fly a parafoil kite you first lay the kite out on the ground, then connect the control lines to the harnesses and finally uncoil the lines and lay them out along the ground while walking into the direction of the wind. At this point the kite is set up and ready to fly.

Now let’s diverge for a moment before we try to get the parafoil kite into the air. For any of you who remember learning to drive a car, ride a bike, or downhill ski you can probably relate to this next sentence. The number one problem that most people have when learning hand-eye coordination activities is the tendency to over-control. When you start driving you swerve from one lane to another, in bike riding and skiing your body shifts balance too aggressively and the bike swerves or the skis turn too much. If you’re far too aggressive you fall.

Launching a parafoil kite is simple, and the first few seconds after launch are the most important. Follow these simple steps:

  1. First place a control line handle in each hand and stand facing the kite with your arms outstretched and your back into the wind. The lines should still be on the ground.
  2. Slowly take one or two steps back until the lines are off the ground and taut between you and the kite. At this point a small (1-2 inch) tug on either line should result in a small amount of movement at the kite. The kite is now ready for launch.
  3. Next take two to three steps backward and the kit should lift of the ground. If there is little wind you may have to take more steps or perhaps even jog backwards for a bit. The goal is to inflate the bags and get the parafoil kite high enough that natural wind takes over.
  4. Once the kite is airborne the controls are very simple. A pull on the left control line directs the kite left. A pull on the right control directs the kite right.

As the kite begins to lift off it will probably not go straight up unless the wind is very steady and in a constant direction. Instead the kite will veer to the left or the right. At this point most beginners will over control the lines. In other words they will pull too hard on either the left of the right control line causing the kit to dramatically change direction, lose lift and potentially crash.

We’ll close this article with the basic techniques for recovering from over-control. Let’s assume the at launch the kite veered right and the pilot over controlled by pulling too hard on the left control line.

  1. Release tension on the left control line. If the kite does not immediately respond,
  2. Pull on the right control line. (remember at this point the kite should be veering hard left).
  3. While pulling on the right control line walk backwards. Walking backward will help the parafoil kite regain lift and buy valuable tenths of seconds before impact. Since the line is pulled right the kite should move right.

In summary, in this article we’ve learned the basic techniques to setup and launch a parafoil kite. Look for subsequent articles to describe some fun kite maneuvers.

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