Public Lab Wiki documentation

Helium Kite

2 | 4 | | #1730

(copied from GrassrootsMapping Wiki)

Prototype a helium-filled kite that flies in low wind but does not drop due to wind:

See this Ram Sled for a possible design: swap out the rammed air cylinders for helium?

Black Knight 1

At WhereCamp 2010 at Google Mountain View, a few of us built a prototype helium kite from a single 99 gallon trash bag. (JeffreyWarren, DanLyke, ReidBeels, and a few more)

See photo gallery here: Flickr photos of Black Knight 1


  • made from a single 99-gallon trash bag
  • minimal extra bits needed; packing tape, duct tape, 2 key rings, string, scissors
  • flies in light winds

Lessons learned

  • the connection of the side reservoirs to the center line (belly) burst immediately; it really needs to be an order of magnitude stronger
  • should add 4 bridle points instead of 2 so we can adjust the angle of attack in flight tests. Ours didn't climb enough.
  • make it bigger, or out of thinner plastic: we used 2.7 mil and it was a little less than neutral buoyancy.

Black Knight 1.1

Suggestion: try making 2 cylinders of helium that are reinforced and sealed with rings of tape. Then connect them with a membrane.

Balloon-Kite testing

NathanCooke, OliverYeh, and JeffreyWarren prototyped some small balloon kites using a plastic bag welder from MIT's D-Lab.

See photos on Flickr here

We used 2.7 mil plastic with the welder set to 5.5. Triple seams were tough - like in 3d where three lines meet, which is how the old Black Knight design worked.

Suggestion: try just sealing horizontally instead of doing a complex joint.

We also tried just sealing a bag closed, then welding lines down the middle, so we use the bag as-is, water-tight, but create pontoons. Easier to show in a picture than explain in text, so here:

Simple balloon-kite from trash bag

Flight tests:

Balloon-kite wind tunnel tests

Kite / Balloon Hybrid History

Domina Jalbert (of the parafoil fame) experimented with these under the name "Kytoon". They generally seem to be teardrop-shaped balloons with kite-style wings. Here's a reprint from an old Popular Mechanics article.

Also see the "Helikite": Helikite on YouTube