BOSTON — Indoor kite-flying. sounds impossible, doesn't it? Not to John Ruggiero and a handful of his fellow kite enthusiasts.
On a recent winter's night, he and his friends (all members of Kites Over New England) converged at a Congregational church in a Boston suburb for an indoor-kite-flying demonstration and workshop.
In an adjoining function room they found ideal conditions: a large, open space of at least two stories, and a receptive audience. In this case, the audience was Cub Scout Pack No. 4 of Needham, Mass.
The Scouts arrived to a curious sight: A small stunt kite was swooping around the room, "dancing" to the beat of recorded music. And when this practice run was over, kiteman Paul Berard entertained with his mini four-kite train, made with Mylar sails no bigger than bubblegum wrappers. And guess what? There wasn't a floor fan in sight.
You don't need a breeze to launch an indoor kite. Any air current will do, says Mr. Ruggiero. You can create your own air current simply by walking with your kite. But first the Scouts learned how to build a simple Eddy kite. (Plans for this diamond-shaped, single-string kite are on page 23.)
The kite's materials are readily available: wooden dowels, strapping tape, kite string. The blue and gold sails were cut from thin plastic tablecloth material. It can be bought by the yard from a party supplies store.
The boys spread out on the floor. Then Archie Stewart, a semiretired business executive and full-time kite enthusiast, walked them through the simple construction steps. The dowels are called "spars," he noted, and the bowed spar gives the kite a "dihedral." (A dihedral, in aviation, is created when two flat surfaces meet at an angle.)
This bow in the kite is like the keel of a boat. It stabilizes the kite. The Eddy kite was designed by Bayonne, N.J., photographer William Eddy, who wanted to use kites to lift cameras and weather equipment. Kite tails and multistring bridles got in the way.
"These kites don't require tails to keep them stable," says Ruggiero, who works as a computer software consultant. "We put them on because people expect tails."
As for lift, well, that's just a matter of air pressure on the kite face. Even when there's no perceptible air movement, you can create your own.
"With these kites," Ruggiero says, referring to the kites the Scouts were making, "you may have to walk a little faster than normal. A brisk walk and they'll fly just fine." Some of the Scouts ran around the room with their newly made kites. But the air turbulence that running created actually made it harder to fly the kite.
DON'T expect these kites to float like butterflies. The materials used make it more durable, more versatile, and heavier than the ultralight models more-experienced kiters make and fly. To lighten this model, Ruggiero suggests using lighter tape, or less of it. Cellophane tape could be used to fasten the spars where they cross. And instead of tablecloth material or a plastic garbage bag, you could use flimsier dry-cleaners' bags. But then you couldn't fly the kite outside, too.
When did indoor kite flying begin? Ruggiero says he thinks it's a relatively new idea. It may have started in the mid-1980s in Europe, the result of kite-flyers' frustration with wet weather. (It's not safe to fly kites in the rain.)
Ruggiero's interest was sparked when he and other hobbyists began flying kites in a deserted shoe factory on weekends (with permission). Looking for a cleaner site, they arranged to use the gymnasium at Marblehead (Mass.) High School, where Kites Over New England meets monthly from September to May.
Ruggiero prefers indoor flying. You can do "all sorts of things indoors that just can't be done outdoors," he says. "On top of that, it's warm and safe and dry."
Outdoors, he explains, wind direction and speed can change suddenly. That cramps the style of a stunt flyer. Indoors, out of the wind, you can do what you like.
But isn't part of the thrill of flying a kite seeing it climb higher and higher in the sky?
Well, for some people it is, Ruggiero says. For them, the fun part is seeing your kite practically disappear. But accomplished kiters may spend months building sophisticated, high-performance kites. "We don't want to hide them," Ruggiero says. So even when flying kites outdoors, some kiters use less line, not more. The shorter the line, the greater your control.
The highest Ruggiero has heard of an indoor kite flying is 200 feet inside an old dirigible hangar. "The kite will only go so fast," he notes. "You have to spiral it up there." It must have taken a lot of patience, he says.