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Flying a Hi-Flier–If Not Very High

PegasusKiteFlying500Wide.jpgYesterday afternoon, Carol and I went down to the schoolyard near Safeway, and we did something I keep telling people not to do: We flew a vintage kite. It was an experiment to see if my advice was always good, or if there might be exceptions.

The advice came out of three separate experiences I’ve had in the last ten years, attempting to fly vintage kites. In each case, the kite didn’t survive even five minutes in the air. In one case, the paper sail more or less disintegrated, and in retrospect I should have seen that one coming. Mercifully, it wasn’t an especially valuable kite, and it was in lousy shape.

CarolAndPegasusKite350Wide.jpgIn the other two cases, it was the sticks that went. Both times, wind pressure against the kite caused the bow stick to snap at the vertical spar. In neither case was the breeze hurricanic, or even particularly fresh. The lesson? Thin sticks of cheap pine dry out over forty or fifty years and get very brittle.

In this case, the kite in question was present in a lot of ten kites I bought at auction. It’s a 36″ Hi-Flier “Pegasus” plastic kite from the mid-1970s. Its sticks were already cracked, and I simply replaced them with new wood of similar size bought at Hobby Lobby and cut to the same length. The plastic sail had remained wrapped tightly around the sticks in an (evidently) very warm place since 1975, with the expected crinkles and bleedover of the paint on the plastic. So it wasn’t a great kite to begin with, and probably the worst in the lot of ten. If I lost it, I wouldn’t cry. (Too hard, at least.)

The wind was a little stiff for this kind of kite; probably 15 MPH. In a 6-8 MPH breeze they often fly well without a tail at all, but I gave it about seven feet of tassel-tail made out of kite-paper rectangles pinched in the middle and taped to a mylar ribbon. And well that I did: It went a little wild with about 100 feet of string out, which is all I wanted to give it. Any more, and it would have been out over Highway 115 or (worse) Fort Carson. There was plenty of leaning and looping and a couple of outright nose-down crashes into the grass, but nothing broke and nothing tore.

The mark of a truly successful flight is being able to lie on your back on the hillside, and after the wind shifted to the north a little and banked down to about 10 MPH, things got satisfyingly snoozy and I declared the outing a total success. Reeled the kite in and took it home, and I may in fact dare to fly it again at some point. So the advice against flying old kites is generally true if the old kites are really old, and all original equipment. Replace the sticks with new pine, and if the sail isn’t already crumbling to dust, well, you’ve got a chance. Tree problems, heh: That’s up to you.

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7 Comments

  1. Lee Hart says:

    Ah, it brings back fond memories. I flew a lot of kites as a kid, too. Some purchased, but many I made myself (I was of course the most proud of them).

    I read your other articles on kites, and they were enjoyable, too! The “Green Giant” kite was particularly intriguing. I’ll have to try making one some day (as I’m not willing to pay $50 for one as a collectible).

    The last time I went kite flying was about 5 years ago, with my then 10-year-old son. We got it up and flying, and then he said, “Is that all it does?” Sadly, the internet generation was not amused.

  2. Gazzoo says:

    How cool is this ! ? ! Nice job Jeff !! Whether it was near your home at Edison Park School, my home by the Monestary, or anywhere else it is fun flying kites with you. Looking fwd to doing it again in Galena next month !!

  3. Zengard says:

    Hi, I was just thinking about these kites and wondering if they were still around. I grew up in Decatur and can tell you a family named Sellars owned the company. They had a son named Stuart who graduated a few years ahead of me from MacArthur High School. The most interesting information I can give you is that the company gave all the triangular corners that were cut off paper rectangles used to make the kites to the kids in town to make homecoming floats by stuffing the colored paper corners into chicken wire. If you ever come across a yearbook from a high school in Decatur from the sixties, you will find pictures of floats made by stuffing the kite corners into chicken wire shapes.
    Thought that might interest you.

  4. […] paid $25 for it, and I’ve told people for years not to fly classic kites. But having done that, I went back to the car and did something even nuttier: I flew an original […]

  5. Ronald Thomas says:

    thanks for the memories jeff.

  6. David Huggins says:

    I grew up on Hi-Fliers and never had a problem cept maybe the bribel.Former Special Fores who has passion for things he loves.Great post Jeff,admirer

  7. William Reely says:

    I have been building my own wood and paper kites based on the dimensions of a vintage Hi-Flier “Big Ben” since whoever owns Hi-Flier and Top-Flite got stupid enough to abandon the market to those crummy overseas contract plastic abortions one sees in store these days that have the flight characteristics of a 5 lb. field rock (no wonder you don’t see kids flying them anymore!). If you look at the realized prices for Harvey Seller’s paper classics on Ebay you will realize that some slow witted business people have missed the profit boat as well as the market. Whoever you are that owns the brand you’d better wake up or someone else will eat your lunch and laugh in your face. Free market capitalism has no room for slackers or the non-visionary.

    Heck I even build my own paper box kites by hand as well and they fly just great. I even hand decorate them and I don’t have access to a factory full of equipment to do it with either.

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