With bright colors and unique shapes painted across a quintessential blue sky, a flying kite is a truly mesmerizing sight. Flying that kite is a skill and a science that captivates the young and old, from hobbyists to enthusiasts and everyone in between.

It’s fairly common to hear that kites fly best on “a windy day,” but there’s a lot of science behind that statement and what keeps kites soaring smoothly.

Lift and Weight

Kites, like airplane wings, have a special design to them that allows wind to pass over one side slower than the other. When the speed of the wind passes over one side of the kite, the pressure goes down on the other side. When your kite is lighter than the lift, it raises upward.

Thrust and Drag

Thrust is what keeps kites (and airplanes) skyborne. Airplanes have engines to give them thrust. Kites get their thrust from string tension. While a kite flier can run opposite their kite and cause some thrust, that’s neither an ideal nor long-term solution because of drag. Drag is the friction of the wind acting against the kite. When drag acts on the kite, it changes the pressure from the lift, which impedes flight.

You and the Wind

Kites need a powerful thrust to help balance the forces of lift, weight, and drag. The powerful thrust your kite needs comes from the wind. How much wind depends on the type of kite (and control strings) you have and how heavy it is.

Some kite enthusiasts can skillfully manipulate control strings and their kites when there is no wind or indoors! Most kite flyers and their kites do best when there’s a gentle to moderate breeze of around 8-18 mph.

Refer to these quick guidelines when you need to judge wind speed. Wind that:

  • Moves leaves is 8-12 mph
  • Lifts paper or dust is 13-18 mph
  • Shakes branches is 19-24 mph
  • Moves the tops of trees is 25+ mph

For beginning flyers with a single-line kite looking for an easy introduction and flight, it’s best to start in an open field or at the beach. These wide-open spaces allow the winds to move around unencumbered.

Kite flying is a relaxing and entertaining way to enjoy the great outdoors. Elmer’s Flag & Banner has been soaring the Portland skies for over 50 years. From starters to stunt kites, find a wind-worthy companion perfect for you.