I thus concocted a plan. As soon as we escaped our wedding reception, I drove my new bride to the beach and unfurled my best kite, a large triangular beauty with a thousand feet of string. I picked a favorite local spot for flying kites, just in front of the cliffs at Torrey Pines State Reserve, near La Jolla, Calif., where I knew I could count on the steady onshore breeze to form an updraft. It all worked. Still in her wedding gown, Michelle stood ankle-deep in wet sand, acting giddy as a schoolgirl as she let the wind carry the kite skyward. Six years later we still talk about the magic of that moment.
ILLUSTRATION BY DANIELS & DANIELS
Kites are wonderfully inexpensive platforms for aerial photography, something countless scientists, from archaeologists to geologists, use in their research. The view obtained from easy kite height¿say, 1,000 feet (300 meters) up¿is perfect for monitoring all kinds of environmental changes. But picture taking is not all that's possible: new lightweight data loggers and sensors of all kinds should make for an explosion of kite-based research of other types. Aspiring meteorologists could, for example, determine temperature as a function of altitude using a thermocouple and a simple pressure sensor. And lifting a hot-ball anemometer (see the November 1995 column) would reveal the speed of the wind aloft. Although I describe here only kite-borne aerial photography¿a technique called KAP by its practitioners¿I'm certainly looking for clever research projects of other kinds using kites. If you've done such work, please let me know so that I can share your inventiveness with this column's many interested readers.
What's the best kind of kite for carrying scientific equipment? That's a hard one to answer. Franklin was limited to the basic diamond-shaped flyer, but kites are now available in a wide variety of designs. For gentle zephyrs not exceeding about 10 miles (16 kilometers) per hour, the "Rokkaku" type is a good lifter. A large one covering 30 square feet sells for around $130 at your local kite store, or you can contact Into the Wind (800-541-0314). For moderate to stiff breezes (about 10 to 20 miles per hour) KAPers often prefer the "flow-form" or "parafoil" designs. There are no rigid supports in these lightweight wind catchers, which resemble puffy parachutes and fold up for easy transport. Such kites will fly well in a moderate autumn breeze and will pull like tractors in strong wind. A flow-form kite with an area of roughly 30 square feet sells for about $120.