A kite messenger is a clever little device that slides up a kite string, releases a light payload, then slides back down to the bottom of the string for more fun. I made one with some cheap materials and finally found some windy days to test it out. Some kite messenger designs use sails to pull up the kite, but I’m starting out with a simpler design that uses toy parachutes to catch the wind. It can be made in just a few minutes using drinking straws, wire, tape, and a toy parachute.
Here’s how it works: The front loop of the wire hits a simple cardboard bumper attached high up on the line. As the wire stops, the rest of the unit continues forward, opening the middle section where the parachute is held. Once the parachute releases, the messenger slides right back down towards the spool of string, ready to be reloaded for more fun.
It’s fun to see the kid’s excitement build as they watch the messenger climb up the string, eagerly awaiting the parachute’s release so they can chase it down.
Here is a tutorial on how to build your own kite messenger. I used replacement Tervis straws that I purchased at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, because they’re much sturdier than your average soda straw. To hold it all together I used packing tape as well as a bit of super glue for good measure. The climb to the top of the kite line seemed to take a little long, so my next modification will be to use a much lighter gauge wire to reduce the overall weight.
I just started dabbling in Kite Aerial Photography (KAP), and I’ve found that once you experience getting your first rig up in the air and start seeing the actual results, you’ll immediately move on to pondering how to improve your design and execution. In other words, it can quickly turn into a very geeky hobby. Above is a short clip of my first flight. I was actually able to get the rig much higher than what is shown, but I didn’t bother including any clips because the video became VERY unstable at such heights.
With the help of this online KAP resource, I built a Picavet to suspend the camera form the line. This is a must in terms of stabilization and to keep your camera pointed in one direction. It was quite windy during my flight, and I had a few problems with the rig getting tangled during launch as well as descent. I now realize that I made the Picavet sling WAY too long, which contributed to the problem.
I’m currently using a lightweight keychain video camera that I purchased on eBay for about fifteen dollars. It’s not the best picture quality, and there is a lot of “wobble” in the captured video, but you can’t beat the price for getting started and testing out the rig. Eventually I will upgrade to a higher resolution camera. The criteria is that it has to be cheap (in case it drops, bangs against rocks on the way to the ground, gets tangled in a helicopter, etc.) and obviously very lightweight. Another desireable feature would be the ability to take still photos at timed intervals.
I’m using a Delta style kite (and my daughter is using a Dora kite), which is easy to fly even when the breeze is not very strong. Ironically, I chose a day that was too breezy and my camera was blowing all over the place. The camera is so light that I think I’ll need to add some weight to anchor it next time out. Ideally, any added weight should be something that could be tweaked depending on just how breezy it is. Fishing weights may be the perfect solution.
I was a bit too ambitious at first. I put heaps of line on my basic reel so that I could to get my kite to fly really high. I payed for it when my hands cramped up trying to reel all of the line back in. Unfortunately, my daughter is too young to help with the reeling back in part, however, she did offer plenty of moral support. Once the aches in my hands and arms subsided, I searched online for better reels, and ended up purchasing a ball-bearing, tangle-proof reel from Amazon for only about ten dollars. It should make reeling in the kite very fast and easy regardless of the height. I’ve already added line to the spool and am excited to give it a try, although it may be quite a while until we have another bout of warm enough weather on the east coast again. I just may have to buy a few more of these reels for my family, because we all know that while everyone loves flying kites, nobody enjoys the reeling in part.
I’m quite excited about this new hobby and learning about how to achieve better results with it. Some things that I plan to do before the next flight include:
Shortening the Picavet sling.
Adding weight to the rig for stabilization.
Researching alternative and more advanced camera options.
Stay tuned for my future flight progress! Next to our development is a polo field, and it would be really neat to capture some aerial video of a polo match this spring. I do, however, have much to learn until then. In the meantime, enjoy these still photos from my inaugural flight: