Location: The Northwest School, Gasworks Park, Seattle, Washington
From: March 28, 2006
To: March 28, 2006

Fighter kites are the beetles of the kite kingdom. If one in every five members of phylum animalia is a beetle, perhaps seven of every ten kites are fighters. A predominant species, they fill the sky by the thousands at traditional events and festivals in Asia and, increasingly, around the world. And the extraordinary popularity of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner among school, college, and community reading groups has stimulated even more interest in fighter kites within the United States.

The Drachen Foundation has long wanted to create a school program about the Indian-style fighter kite, but had doubted whether students could build, launch, and maneuver this kite—seemingly such a simple shape, but potentially tricky to construct and finicky to fly—especially without the direct guidance of an experienced fighter kiter. Luckily, Drachen partnered on this project with Bruce Lambert, formerly North American fighter kite champion, whose persistence and ingenuity created a design well within the independent capabilities of older grade-school students. Bruce brought nothing but “biggrins” (his e-mail signature) to eighth-graders at Northwest School when he tested the design with them.

Students were given sails pre-cut from 2-millimeter clear plastic to decorate with markers; they followed Bruce’s advice to make the kite’s nose stand out, the better to follow it in flight. Bruce had slightly pre-bent the bamboo spines, and photo corners held the fiberglass bows in place.

Decorating and bridling complete, students bused to Seattle’s Gas Works Park for test flying. After a brief lesson from Bruce on how to work in pairs to launch the kites, students spread out around Kite Hill to practice launching and flying. The key to success was plenty of time to experiment. Eventually, all students were able to get their kites into the air. As one girl, after several attempts to launch, screamed, “I did it! I didn’t screw this up!” Cost of materials: minimal. Payoff in self-confidence: priceless.

And the students had a lot of fun. Reports came back to Drachen of students flying their kites in front of the building after school and in their neighborhoods at night, after play practice. One boy told his math teacher the next day that he had been unable to get to his homework because he had been “occupied by a kite.”

Drachen will next work with students at Hamilton International Middle School in late May, to test whether this design can meet with equal success in a public school setting, where a more rigid class schedule will limit flying time.

Special thanks to Bruce Lambert, and his lovely wife/kite assistant, Donna, for their partnership with Drachen on this project.

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