How To KAP For Under $20


I began this project with young people in mind. Most of the KAP done today is beyond the means of most youth. Kites that are $100US or more, cameras that are $100 or more, and Radio Control equipment that usually exceeds $100, all make for a substantial outlay for most youth. This article should prove to be useful to educators as a class project, as a subject for a workshop, or even a science fair project.

One of the great joys of my youth was the time I spent flying kites and wondering what it would be like to be up in the sky with my kite. Back then it was well within the means of most kids to buy a kite or at least talk their parents into buying a kite for them. Today the $20US limit I have set to develop a complete KAP system is very easily within the range of most youth using either the power of their purse or the power of their persuasion.

Setting Limits

For $20US I have to build/buy a kite, line, camera, and a means to snap the picture. I also want to use materials that are easily found in most homes or obtained from local sources without having to special order.

Collecting Supplies

So far I’ve only assembled some materials to use in this project. The biggest limitation is the size of kite that can be bought or made to lift a projected .5 pounds (227 grams). For a inexpensive camera I chose a disposable outdoor camera (no flash) made by Fujifilm. It is loaded with 27 exposures of 800 DX film and weighs 2.2 ounces (63 grams).
The equivalent Kodak disposable outdoor camera should work just as well. The weight should be close to the same and the price is usually the same. The only difference I am aware of is a very slight difference in the location for the shutter button

Purchased So Far

  1. Disposable Outdoor Camera-$4.96
  2. 500 foot of braided nylon-$4.00
  3. 6 – 5/16” X 36”wooden dowels @ $.52 ea-$3.12
  4. One 33 gallon trash bag (sail material) -$0.10
  5. Bag of assorted rubber bands- $0.41
  6. TOTAL-$12.59
  8. 2-5/16” X 48” wooden dowels @ $.53 ea.-$1.06

That leaves $7.41 to trip the shutter. Looks like this is going to work!

Tripping The Shutter 
Dec. 27, 1999

Idea #1

I bought a bag of assorted rubber bands at the discount store. These will be used to experiment with a shutter activation system. In my mind some sort of lever under rubber band tension will depress the shutter button. This lever will be restrained by another rubber band which will be wound up like a rubber band powered airplane. I am currently stumped about how to slow the unwinding of the rubber band, there may not be a simple solution.

Idea #2

Another solution to restrain the shutter button lever just popped into my head. Use a small rubber balloon, wedged between the camera and the lever, to hold the lever back. Place a plug in the open end of the balloon that will have a very small hole to release the air very slowly. As the balloon looses air it will eventually allow the lever to depress the shutter button. I think this idea has more promise. The only problem this will create is getting the balloon away from my 2 year old.

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Never Say Die!

The Stage:

Here in the Northwest we don’t have certain niceties, We have trees. ..some 175 feet [tall] or better and 10 feet at the base are not uncommon. We have wind

…well sometimes, we have wind…
but it’s never nice steady winds…at least when you’re trying to shoot. And it can change direction quickly. But then it figures, the wind has to travel over lOO miles from the ocean to get to me. ..over a mountain range over various land and water masses, over hills, and over ancient forests. ..sometimes referred to as old growth. We have some of the tallest trees in the World here. And oh yes…we have converging winds. our weathermen call them. ..because of all the bays around here. I have a nice shot of the full moon at night with the clouds going at a right angles to each other. Over at this house I’ve been trying to shoot I had the smoke from a burn pile going one way, the weather vane on top of a 2 story house going another, and the clouds going a third way needless to say I didn’t launch that day.

Oh yes…
did I mention. …it’s on the edge of a bluff that eagles love to soar. Now if you know what happens when wind hits a bluff… you’ll really love the chase.

The Chase:

I launched one 8′ Delta conyne. ..not enough to get it up into the wind above the 100 foot trees. Added another DC, let out 130 feet, felt good. ..right pull, plus DC’s stabilized each other and aren’t all over the sky …kind of like two kids tied together.

Attached the rig, let out 150-200 feet and started firing away… wind was gusting and changing direction due to the turbulent air, but I was used to that, and used to dodging the 175 foot trees, my power pole, wires, Blackberry bushes, numerous fruit trees, etc.

Brought the rig back down… #$@% …
and sent it right back up. (it now has a big “TURN CAMERA ON” sign right next to the RC switch). Got my shots and then started hauling in…

then it hit.
I have a good wind gauge…the Bay… several from my vantage point. I always watch the water…but today it didn’t warn me… neither did the sky.

Suddenly it was all I could do to hang onto my reel. It took 5 minutes for me to move 10 feet to the Grape arbor and another 5 minutes for me to get 5 raps around a post….

?The Good Part:
Then Bang…
the kite and wind switched direction… not good… I’m almost in a forest with very tall trees all around me. Now I’m a fighter kite pilot… and I’ve got some good stories to tell of how I’ve maneuvered my DC’s inbetween 2 trees that you couldn’t go straight up between because of the overlapping branches… but not today….there was too much wind. The kite headed for the middle of a 175 foot tree. I pulled…they hit the top 1/4 of the tree top. One wrapped… the other just sat there.

I knew my neighbor Roger might climb the tree, and was due home in a hour… so I went home to close my business up and get my daughter. On the way back. ..I saw another neighbor (This is country side here…neighbors are 2.5-10 acres apart) kids looking up at something in the sky about 1000 feet from my kite. Hummm. …nah. …couldn’t be… I kept driving by. Told my daughter (we kid around a lot) just look for the tallest tree and you’ll find my kites. I flew down my 500 foot driveway…
and imagine my surprise…
the neighbors are still talking about how those kites untangled themselves and somehow unwound the reel from the grape arbor… and somehow… dragged the reel (the kind you put extension cords on) though a lOO foot wooded barrier, though two very thick blackberry barriers. was 120 inches wide and 6-10 feet high…before catching it on a 2,7000 volt power line. I got to it just in time to see the reel sitting on the ground under the power line… the line going over the power wire to the top of a 150 foot tree, around the tree at a 70 degree angle (another wind shift) and was flying about 500′ out for all to see.

My neighbor Jim has what could be called a small junk yard, and you never know who he has over. (we get along fine… very fine as you shall see). Out of his house piles 4 people all grinning.

…and two volunteer to grab the reel,
which we can’t figure out what is keeping it on the ground,
I say no…

and we debate…
the choice is made for us. It [the reel] snaps up to the power wire and hangs very tightly. The one guy grinning says… If he had known it was my kite he would have gone up and got it… he saw it… and was a tree topper. I mutter something under my breath about my luck… this guys first time over here and he picks today to visit…. nobody is over here when I need them, only by accident. Jim, my neighbor just happens to have electricians gloves… so we improvise a long grappling hook, etc. and the Tree topper (TT) goes up the tree. I tell him he’s crazy… he agrees. ..that is why he’s a topper. I tell him I’ve written the kite off… but he says he’s bored, and he needs to climb a tree.

Read also : Measuring Wind Speed

The Plot Thickens:

The plan was to go to the very top of the 175 foot Douglas fur, which was really swaying at this point in 30-40 MPH winds, where it [the kite] was caught…
pull in enough [line] to tie it off…

cut the line to the power wire,
and either pull in the kite or top the tree with the line attached.

We were afraid to leave it because a storm was moving in.. 3 storms to be exact. We were confident we could top the tree… which would fall in my 20 foot wide driveway, cut though the woods, and then pull it in when the wind was right…. just to tree top level where it would loose wind and die… and quickly let the line out so it would land in another neighbors clearing, instead of the woods that borders our property on that side. 

What we should have done was have our “TT” attach another line and drop it to us on the ground and we would help him pull it in… but we weren’t smart enough to think of that at the time, and the pull was either too much for him or he was on automatic up in a tree and he called down for the chain saw and we sent it up without question. He later said he didn’t know what he was thinking because he had planed to pull it [the kite] in.

The Pattern Keeps Forming:

But before he has it tied off we hear…
“YeoW…Yeouuuuuuuuuuw “.
Me, “What happen”
TT, “I got a shock”.
Jim and I… grin at each other… we had already told him about 50 times that he was crazy …(Tree topers up here have to be… it comes with the job).
I shout back… “PUT THE GLOVES ON… the kite is expendable… you aren’t”.
Another “YEEOOWW…”
“put the GLOVES ON”.
TT, “send up the heaver gloves”.

Oh yes…

I called the power company… what a joke… it was now after hours and I got forwarded to some regional center. The best part was when I called back to cancel the emergency 2 hours later and told them

“Don’t ask… but, we resolved the problem and now our kite is in no danger of coming down and frying our neighbors kids.”

I had a different lady this time and she came unglued that they hadn’t responded on the first call.

TT pulls in enough line to tie it off and cuts the power [electric] side….

boy did that line snap.
Then TT goes down 10 feet from the tree top…
I want at least 200 lbs. on that line when it falls…”MORE…MORE…OK.”
Jim… “I don’t know… looks more like 265 lbs.”
Me.. “we better make it 300.. we want it to fall almost straight down and not have the kites pull it into the trees on the other side of the driveway… more…OK”.

Chain saw sound…          
          tree top falls on target…
hey… we’re good. Hey… you got to appreciate this…. the kites had to pull the tree top out 12 feet to miss the impermeable blackberry patch under that side of the tree. Jim and I start pulling in… everything goes to the plan… we get the kites to tree top level… they fade in the eddy…and fall…we let line out… blast… a wind gust

(Now you’ve got to realize we are controlling the kites by a dog stake if you will… for the line is now running over the top of a 110 foot tree that is next to the forefront of a 50 foot strip of trees that borders my 500 foot driveway…the gust of wind hits the DC and it becomes a fighter kite and takes off in the direction that it’s aimed (again) the only tree that it could hit, a 150 footer… we let line out so fast we just wound up letting go of the line and getting out of harms way… the 150 feet of remaining line snapped taut…

too late…
the line’s now caught in that tree. Everybody is grinning at each other, the line is so taut 2 of us can’t pull it. (400lb. 1/8″ line… Hey, I always over use… you never know when a wind gust will come up ). It’s now determined that if one was flying with 20 acres clear with one tree, that’s where the kite would go. Jim says the wind will die…
we all laugh…

We decide to wait things out…
2 days and 2 storms later, the wind died for 5 minutes inbetween storms…and you guessed it…The line was the perfect length…and the wind never ever blows that direction, that anyone can remember . The kites came down in a group of three 110-130 foot trees in the very far extreme corner of my neighbors 2.5 acres. Two days later my tree climbing nut is back with his climbing irons and belt… (He just used his bare hands the first time). The kites survived 40 MPH winds (good Line), but broke the spars and poked 5 very small holes total in the two kites. Did I say broke the spars? The spars were also severely bent from the strong winds…some 40 degrees.

Read also : Kite 101 : Flying Characteristics

Lessons Learned:

Take a 2nd person as backup in unpredictable conditions to help bring the kite down.

A wind up reel that attaches to the body that you can lock the winder and easily remove and snap to something (Not tie… takes too long to tie and untie). Climbing snaps work great. My “NEW” reel also has a wrist strap… like some stunt flyers use.

DC’s need tails to tame their movement.

DC’s make great fighter kites, but are not the best kites for aerial photography.

In unknown wind conditions, fire off a small 4th of July rocket ( one that really smokes as it goes up) to test different levels of wind. ( fortunately…we have lots of Indian reservations around here that sell the good stuff).

Use at least 400 lb. line when possible… Granted, 300 lb. will out live the kite but if you get the line in a tree, and get abrasion factor working…you need a safety margin. I had 400 lb. touching in 6 places for 2 days in 20-30 MPH winds… and oh yes… it also survived 2,700 volts and we know voltage was flowing though the line…. our human tester told us that… and that was when he was at the top of a 120 foot tree connected by 1/8 inch line that was bone dry, 150 feet long that was touching the wire.

I’m now working on a rig for horrible conditions. if I can just come up with a good name for it…

May the wind be at your back..

Kite 101 : Flying Characteristics

Behaviors noticeable after attachment of cradle to kite line.

Frequently individuals who are interested in KAP (Kite Aerial Photography), but have never flown a rig, have false expectations about the stability of a flying KAP rig. A KAP rig is almost constantly in motion because of small changes in wind speed and wind direction. The periods where the KAP rig appears fixed to one point in the sky only last for a few seconds.

#1. Yo-Yo Effect

The wind constantly changes speed. The amount of pull on the kite line will also be constantly changing, producing the yo-yo effect. The KAP rig will gain and loose altitude with every small change in wind speed. The magnitude of this effect varies with different style kites, and some locations may have steadier winds than others.

#2. Lateral Swing

A picavet and a properly designed pendulum will keep the rig level as the angle of the line changes, however neither will prevent lateral swinging caused by the kite constantly changing horizontal direction.
(see l’arc stabilisateur below for a solution)
Most KAPers wait to trip the shutter when the swinging motion has subsided and the rig is level to prevent motion blur and to achieve a nice level composition. In high winds this problem is more persistent.

Read also : Measuring Wind Speed

#3. l’arc stabilisateur by Christian Becot

Christian Becot published this solution to lateral swing in the aerial eye (4:2). Two small sails are placed on a bowed horizontal spar. This creates a dihedral between the two sails which helps dampen the lateral swinging motions. Notice that the crosspiece is mounted high on the pendulum near the kite line, this keeps the stabilizer from pushing the pendulum back from vertical. Brooks Leffler used a variation on a picavet mounted stereo rig (the aerial eye 4:1)

#4. Camera Distance From The Anchor Point

This is an overhead view of a person flying a kite with two cameras attached at different locations on the line, the camera furthest from the person moves a much greater distance in the same amount of time than the camera closer to the person. The furthest camera is therefore moving faster than the closer camera.

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This faster speed will cause greater lateral swinging. The combination of increased swing and greater lateral speed could cause blurred photographs. In turbulent winds moving the camera closer would lessen the chance of blurred pictures.

I think that’s all. Any question? 🙂


Measuring Wind Speed

windmill pointing east

When measuring the wind speed with an anemometer you discover that the wind is constantly changing speed. It makes more sense to refer to the wind speed as a range of speeds. For example you would say that the wind speed was between 4 miles per hour and 8 miles per hour.

This is the beauty of the Beaufort scale it groups wind speeds into logical groups and assigns a single number to that group of wind speeds. This makes it easier to refer to the speed using a single number. This number can then be understood by anyone whether they are more familiar with mph or kph. I suggest that you become familiar with using the Beaufort scale.

The National Weather Service has an interesting article about the Beaufort scale. It includes a history and pictures that show what the sea looks like at each Beaufort number.

I would caution you not to make numerical estimates of wind speeds if you have not used an anemometer to verify your estimations. It is ok if the estimates are for your personal use, but be careful to qualify your observations when sharing them with someone else.

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Before I had a wind measuring device my estimates were as much as 6 mph too high. This would translate to a Beaufort number higher by 2. Learn to read the wind signs for Beaufort 1, 2, and 3. Kite selection in these three ranges is more critical. In Winds of 4 Bft. and above just about anything will fly.

0 Beaufort (Bft)– Too light for flying any type of KAP equipment unless you are using the “No-Wind” techniques.

1 Bft.– Still too light for most KAP applications. You might be able to use a Dopero to lift a rig that weighed 0.5# (227g). That would be a disposable camera with an ice trigger and a balsa cradle.

2 Bft.– The upper half of 2 Bft. is where serious KAP work can begin although you need the right kite and light cradles. My LASS rig with a Dopero works great in this range.

3 Bft.– You can lift most cradles with most kites.

4 Bft.– Winds generally dictate going to smaller kites to cut down on the amount of pull.

Bft. 5 and above– I don’t fly. That is my personal preference. At these wind speeds the experience ceases to be fun.

Bft. 6-7– I have lost a kite and cradle in winds that were between 6 and 7 Bft. when my 200# line broke.


November 20-25, 2005 Paris, France

Cer-Volant Club LogoOrganized by the Cerf-Volant Club de France.

Dates: Sunday 20th to Friday 25th, November 2005.

Place: Dammarie-les-Lys, 77190, near Melun, at 45 km in southeast Paris area, France

Capacity: 50 people

Plan: 4 full days and evenings through:

  • – lectures on history, technologies, techniques, know-how.
  • – kap outing,
  • – exhibition of pictures, equipment,
  • – exchanges, social activities.

Estimated Costs: 450 euros for single, 700 euros for a couple, comprising registration, accommodation, all meals and conferences.

News letter: If you are interested with, ask the news letter You will receive automatically the coming detailed informations.


Seminaire d’aerophotographie,
Cerf-Volant Club de France
BP 186, 75623 Paris, FRANCE

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