Singled-Line Kites: Essential Equipment
| Launching and Landing a Single-Line Kite
Single-Line Kites: A Basic Glossary | Tails For Single-lined Kites
How to Launch a Two-Lined Kite by Yourself | Kite Safety
Many people overlook the importance of tails when flying kites. They are not simply decorative extras, they also serve to keep the kite stable and pointing in the right direction. Professionally-made kites come with the correct tail, so this article will concentrate on tails for kites made by the occasional hobbyist.
How Does a Tail Work?
Some tails keep the kite the right way up by simply making the back of the kite heavier, but most tails use a combination of weight and drag or air resistance to provide stability, forcing the trailing edge of the kite to, well, trail.
A Selection of Common Types of Tail
For a large kite, it is worth considering buying a pre-made tube tail. These are simply long, narrow tubes of strong plastic. They can be purchased from most retailers with a good supply of kite materials, or from one of the many online kite retailers.
A drogue is a small windsock, shaped rather like a bucket with the bottom cut out. The wider mouth of the drogue is held open by a loop of heavy cord or thin bamboo, and attached to the rear of the kite by a relatively long line. The exact length is a matter of experimentation, but may be between one and five metres long, depending on the exact size and design of the kite, the size of the drogue - small drogues need longer lines - and the wind conditions at the time.
Decorative windsocks, typically purchased from sea-front stalls to mark your territory on the beach, can also be used as drogues.
Plastic bags cut into strips make good, all-round tails. The strips can be taped end to end until the desired length is reached, which can be anything up to ten times the length of the kite and can easily be trimmed if they prove to be too long when the kite is actually flown. For wide kites and sled kites, tails like this can be looped and each end stuck to the kite, with one end of the tail at each end of the trailing edge so that they look like a letter 'U' when in flight. This has the advantage of requiring a shorter tail, as the bend provides extra drag, but the loop can catch on things if the kite flies low.
Paired tails can be used to balance wide kites. If you attach a separate tail to each end of the trailing edge, they can be trimmed if the kite has trouble flying true. If the kite tends to drift to the left, trimming some of the tail from the left side of the kite can correct the fault.
Ladder tails are made of two parallel lengths of line, with regular 'rungs' of paper or ribbon strung between them. They provide a great deal of drag so do not need to be very long, but can be difficult to balance correctly. Because they are rarely used, they make an interesting talking point for a home-made kite.
The traditional image of a kite tail is a length of line with bows tied along its length. They do work, but invariably draw comments about Charlie Brown and kite-eating trees.
A very visually-effective tail can be made using videotape. Retrieved from broken cassettes, the tape is very light and smooth, so it is best suited to small kites but can also be used in very long lengths, up to 20 times the length of the kite itself. The tape snakes and writhes in the air, but can get easily tangled and it is not biodegradable, so do not be tempted to leave it tangled around scenery after an accident. Abandoned videotape is a hazard to wildlife.
Other less-than-traditional materials that make good tails are boundary tapes, as used by surveyors and the emergency services. Ribbons come in many colours, widths and lengths, so can be used for most kites.
Micro-kites the size of your hand or smaller need even lighter tails, and great success has been had with lengths of ordinary knitting-wool because its rough surface provides plenty of drag, lengths of audiocassette tape or carefully-cut strips of tissue paper. The smallest micro-kites use single strands of silk, teased from lengths of embroidery thread.