Making the N.Q.W. Kite

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Wilbur made his scientific kite from pine and covered the frame with cloth. The finished kite was fairly heavy and required a strong wind to fly. It also took Wilbur quite a while to build — he had to cut the wood to size and sew the fabric to the frame.

By using different materials, you can cut down on the weight and the construction time. We made a kite similar to the “Wright Kite” in just an hour or two using bamboo skewers, trash can liners, and other stuff you can find at a grocery store. Because these materials are very light, our “Not Quite Wright Kite” will fly in a gentle breeze.

Gather your tools and materials. You’ll need:

  • 30 skewers
  • 20 twisty-ties
  • 12 flex-straws
  • One 13-gallon (“tall kitchen") trashcan liner
  • Kite string
  • Some tape (Either masking tape or cellophane tape will do.)
  • 8 to 10 spring-activated clothespins
To download an engineering drawing (in PDF format) that includes all the information in the drawings above, right click on the image to the left and save it to your hard drive.

Assembling the wings

1. Make four wing “spars” — the long pieces — by joining four skewers. Cut 1-1/2-inch lengths of straws, then insert the blunt end of one skewer into a straw section from one end and the pointed end of another skewer into the other end. Push the skewers so they overlap one another about 1 inch into the straw section.

2. Join the spars with more skewers — "ribs" — to form two long rectangular frames. To make each corner, use the flexible section of a straw. Insert the spar in one end and a skewer in the other, then wrap the connections with tape.

3. Add a “rib” — a single skewer — in the middle of each rectangle to strengthen the frame. To do this, tape a twisty-tie to each end of the skewer. Fold the ties in two and position them so the ends protrude about 1/2 inch past the ends of the skewer. Place the rib between the spars, wrap the ties around the spars, and twist them together.

 4. Make a small rectangular frame for the tail. Break a skewer in half, then join the halves to two unbroken skewers with flexible straw sections to make a rectangle. Tip: To break a skewer cleanly and accurately, score it with a utility knife first.

5. Make the struts exactly the same way you made the middle ribs in the wings frames  — tape a twisty-tie to each end.

6. Cut a skewer in half. Then make the outriggers that support the tail by joining two and one half skewers with lengths of straws.

Begin by making four subassemblies – wing frames, tail frame, struts, and outriggers.

To create long lengths, join skewers end to end with short sections of straws.

To make the wing ribs and struts, tape folded twisty-ties to the ends of the skewers.

To make a corner, insert the ends of the skewers in a flexible length of strawd hold them in place with tape.

Attach the middle ribs to the wing frames by twisting the ties around the spars.

Covering the wings and tail

7. Unfold the trash can liner and slit the sides. Do not cut the bottom seam. Unfold the liner to make a long strip of plastic, then cut that strip in half down the length. This should make two plastic sheets, each just a little longer than you need to cover the wing frames.

8. Lay the wing frames on the plastic. Align the bottom seam of the liner with the middle wing rib in each frame and tape the liner to the rib. Trim the plastic sheets so they are about 1 to 2 inches longer and wider than the frames.

9. To cover the wings, fold the plastic around the skewers and hold it in place with clothespins. Then tape the folds. You’ll find it easiest to start in the middle of each wing and work your way out to the ends.  Place a piece of tape at least every 3 inches all around each wing frame. As you work, keep the wing covering taut enough to appear smooth, but not so tight that it causes the frame parts to bend. The kite will work just fine if the wing covering is a little loose.

10. One of the scraps of plastic that you trimmed from the ends of the trashcan liners should be large enough to cover the tail frame. As with the wing coverings, cut the tail covering 1 to 2 inches longer and wider than the tail frame. Fold the edges of the covering around the frame, clamp it in place, then tape the folds. Once again, keep the covering taut but not tight.

Cut the sides, but not the bottom, of the liner using scissors or a utility knife.

Position a wing frame on the plastic and tape the middle rib to it to keep the frame from shifting.

Fold the plastic over the frame and clamp it in place with clothespins.

Cut a piece of plastic a little larger than the tail frame.

Unfold the liner and cut it in two lengthwise. Each piece should be a little wider than the wing frames.

Trim the plastic so it overlaps the frame by about 1 inch all around the circumference.

Tape the folded edges of the plastic sheet to the underside of the wing covering.

Clamp and tape the covering to the tail in the same manner you covered the wings.

Assembling the wings and struts

11. Cut tiny holes in the wing covering where you will attach each strut. Spread the ends of the twisty-tie on the strut part slightly, then insert one end of the tie through a hole, wrap both tie ends around the spar and twist them together. Repeat, attaching all six struts to the wings to form a box.

12. To fly properly, the box must hold its shape in the air, all except for the wing tips. To make it rigid, you must brace or “rig” the wings with kite string. Run two strings from the ends of the center struts so they cross in the  middle forming an “X.” Adjust the length of the strings so the center struts and the ribs are square to one another. Tie them tight, but not so tight that the strings cause the skewers to bend.

13. Rig the "bays"— the spaces between the struts at the leading edge (front) and trailing edge (back) of the kite. The strings should cross in the same manner you rigged the center of the kite. Run the strings diagonally from the ends of the struts,  forming two X’s as viewed from the front or back. Adjust strings so the struts and spars remain square to one another.

Note: Do not rig the wing tips — The outboard struts (at the corners of the wings) must be free to move. This makes it possible for you to "warp” the wings.

Join the wings and struts by wrapping the ties on the ends of the struts around the wing spars.

Attach the outboard struts (the struts at the corners of the wings) about an inch in from each wing tip.

Along the span of the kite (wingtip to wingtip), the spaces between the struts are called "bays." Rig each bay with string.

To do this, you must poke small holes in the wing covering on the inside of the spars.

Rig the middle of the kite across the chord (edge to edge) with string so the parts form a square. Don't rig the wing tips.

When rigged, the kite should hold a rectangular shape, but you should still be able the flex it so the wings twist.

Assembling the tail

14. Lay the outriggers side by side and join the tail to them with twisty-ties. Position the tail so it’s near one end of the outriggers.

15. Spread the outriggers apart slightly and slide them over the center struts, one outrigger on each side. Attach the outriggers to the center struts with ties, then slide the outriggers along the struts so the tail is angled up about 5 degrees.

16. Rig the tail by running kite strings from the trailing struts to the leading edge of the tail, as shown in the drawings.

(Above) Poke holes in the tail covering, then join the tail spars to the outriggers with ties.
(Right) Attach the outriggers to the center struts and adjust the tail so it's angled up at about 5 degrees. This prevents the kite from diving suddenly.

Attaching the control lines

17. You should have two skewers left. These will become your control sticks. Cut four pieces of kite string 10 to 12 feet long. Make sure all four pieces are exactly the same length.

18. Tie one end of each string to the end of a skewer and tape it in place to keep it from sliding off. Attach the other end to one front corners of the kite frame. One control stick should be attached to the right side of the kite, the other to the left.

Note: You don’t want to make long strings for this kite. This kite isn’t designed to fly high; it’s designed to be controlled. When you move the control sticks, the front outer struts move the same way. The longer the strings, the longer it will take for a movement of the sticks to be “telegraphed” to the kite and move the struts. This, in turn, will make the kite more difficult to control.

Get ready to launch the kite by placing it on the ground then stepping back until the control strings are taut.

When it's flying, roll the kite left and right by angling the control sticks in opposite directions.

To launch the kite, quickly spread your arms, pulling on the kite. Or you can take a few quick steps backwards. The wind must be at your back.

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