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Issue 8 (Mar/Apr 1999): Kite Colors

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#1 Al Hargus (RIP)

Al Hargus (RIP)


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Posted 01 March 1999 - 04:00 AM

A great deal has been written about why kites fly or do not fly well. Surface area , angle of attack, bridling, configuration, dihedral, lift, drag, wind movement, thermals - all have an influence on how a kite performs in the air.

But in all the literature apparently no one has yet discussed what is probably the most important single factor of all - the color of the material used in making the kite.

All serious kitefliers know, if they stop to think about the matter, that kites made in lavender, olive, purple or violet simply do not fly. The chances for satisfactory flight are about 50 - 50 with kites made in yellow, chartreuse, tan or brown.

However, red, rose or burgundy are certain to insure a good performance. The non-colors of black and white pose some specific problems of their own and a great deal of additional research must be done to avoid hasty judgments. (1)

It appears quite obvious that what we are dealing with here is the chromatic spectrum and that kites decrease in flyability as we progress eastward from red to orange, to yellow, to green, to blue and finally to violet (2). We would, of course, have realized this long ago if we had stopped to think that this is the same order the colors come off when light from the sun reflected in the sky - where the kites are - or at least should be.

An interesting thing about all this is that the principle of color control works with any type or size kite. If a delta wing keel kite doesn’t fly in blue, for example, try it in orange and success will be yours. Small sleds are difficult at best and most colors won’t do. However, try one in red and you have it.

While these facts appear obvious, there are three major problems in controlling flight performance by means of color. The first is color perception or more bluntly, color blindness. It is estimated that almost three out of every four people have some degree of color blindness (3), which means that only 25% of kite makers can reliably pick a suitable color to build a well flying kite.

The second problem is the matter of color fading. (4) All colors fade in sunlight and unfortunately the "good" colors at the red - orange end of the spectrum fade more rapidly that the "bad" colors at the blue - violet end. Thus a fine flying orange kite may eventually fade to a poor flying tan shade and no one really knows what happened.

The most serious problem, however, is that the use of certain tints, tones, monochromatic harmonies and value harmonies of the good colors may actually be worse that certain tints and tones of the bad colors. More research is needed. (5), but the cause appears to be the mixing of a bad color with good colors, or vice-versa. So if you have a kite which you judge red or orange and it doesn’t fly well. Chances are it is actually ochre or orchid, which has some poor yellow or bad blue mixed in and consequently spoils the whole thing. Similarly if the bad color violet has enough of the good colors of red or orange mixed with it, it may produce a fine flying crimson kite.

Much more research is needed to overcome some of these practical difficulties and it is hoped that serious minded kite makers will contribute the benefits of their knowledge and experience in this area. For example, what is the effect of differing wavelengths of colors upon the efficient selection of colors (6) and does the so called "red shift" have anything to do with a well flying red kite suddenly power looping or diving out of control for no apparent reason.

It is hoped this brief discussion of the control of kite efficiency by means of color selection will open up new vistas and new opportunities to kite enthusiasts that will enrich kite literature in the future.

(1) Some work is being done on this at MAKR -Midwest Area Kite Retreat - Illinois

(2) In popular terms from warm to cold colors.

(3) I4I Research Associates.

(4) See Fire Orange Research 1989

(5) See Black Swamp Air Force Kite workshops report.

(6) Charlie Sotich is experimenting with various plaid and checkerboard designs.

(7) Just one kite experiment.


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Al Hargus - RIP 12/10/06

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