Question: Question: Do you guys retract the kite / balloon line manually?

madapeti is asking a question about balloon-mapping
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by madapeti | October 26, 2014 10:38 | #11301

What I want to do or know

I was wondering if the line of the mapping balloons / kites is operated manually (hand spooling) most of the time. Using a special spool with a cordless drill / driver with a direction toggle could make the process much less tiring and faster while avoiding rope burns.

Designing such a spool, with an attached rod that can be mounted in the drill should not be very difficult, and could be valuable for the community due to the easy access to cordless drills.

You can find some similar designs on google image search by querying "drill line spooler".


I only fly kites, and the kite is usually pulling really strong. I also use a lot of line, always have at least 1km. I have been thinking about using a spooler and I've seen some commercial offerings that even include shoulder and waist straps like a backpack, which would be awesome to have, but none that come with a big enough spool. The other thing I've not seen is this small mechanism seen in fishing rods that moves the spool right and left to produce uniform winding along the spool, which in my experience is very important.

The technique I find most effective is where one person holds the line and another one walks away with a pulley, pulling the line to the surface, then grabs the line, walks back to the first person, and they repeat it until all the line is on the ground, and only then start winding it. (alternatively the person with the pulley stands in place and the other one walks away, or the both walk -- or run, if there's no tension on the line)

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Pulling line in automatically requires two things-- a line that doesn't stretch much, and a strong enough winder.

The reason for the not-so-stretchy line is that if wound under tension, the spool is liable to crack. the pressure can be enormous. A strong spool is also importnant. I'm sure it would be possible to build a de-tensioning winder, but they are generally very bulky.

with kites, I prefer having manual control, even if I'm using a big cranked spool. kites are sensitive and I prefer feeling the tension as I wind.

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A couple neat options if you're interested in winders -- mathew has one of these:

And @natevw's drill winder -- similar to @gonzoearth's design too:

that page also has an upside-down bike winder :-)

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I've flown kites more than balloons. In my limited experience balloons don't pull like kites but I've never flown a balloon in a serous wind. In any case a good pair of gloves is a must. I use a pair of leather ones found at a welding supply store at reasonable price. They're much better than the others I've used. I don't have trouble with rope burn any more.

I manage kites by hand and don't use a winder. Seems like winding directly to a spool creates an awful lot of tension, so maybe walking the kite down and spooling the slack once it's loose is better. At least that's my experience. I can't imagine using a power drill to reel in line.

I always use an 11" surveyor's stake hammered into ground to fix the kite down. In heavy wind I'll use two of these to help me walk the kite down. Lowe's sells them here.

If the tension is too much I use something called a gamma hook. Actually I don't use the classic design, instead I use a large carabiner in the same way as a gamma hook. Honestly I don't know if I'm using it right but what I do with it seems to help.

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@gonzoearth also uses this spool with Spectra line (low stretch) and a drill to put balloons to 3000'

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Thank you guys - was wondering the same too......

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