Using Pilot Kites
Frequently Asked Questions

A Pilot or Ascender kite is very simply, a smaller steady kite flown above larger and possibly less steady kites. We use them primarily with our Peter Lynn inflatables.

  • In lighter winds, pilots produce lift so that we aren't constantly working the kite to get it back into the air.
  • In gusty winds, the pilot can be extended into the higher smooth winds to act as a 'sky anchor".
  • And on crowded fields, a pilot can minimize movement in the larger kite to maximize field use and safety.

Gecko and Pilot

Pilot Kite

Any light steady kite can be used as a pilot.

We produce a specific kite for this purpose, which we have conveniently named the "Pilot". But the fact is you can use any stable foil or flat kite as long as it provides lift and is effectively attached to the primary kite below.

(Note that Pilots can be used to lift laundry as well and are attractive kites for independent flying.)

Some of our large show kites come with a pilot attachment point already provided. This is true of the Teddy Bear which has a connection loop sewn into a reinforced point above the forehead.

If you choose to add an attachment to a larger kite, it is important to reinforce the area or link into the internal support lines and seams of the larger kite rather than simply sew onto the fabric.

Connection on Bear

Other kites, like many Octopus or Geckos already in circulation, do not have factory installed connection points but can easily be retrofitted. Simply attach a length of line (6 feet on middies and 12 feet on maxis) to the two center bridle lines. We'll call this new line the "yoke".

Tie a knot at each end of the yoke. Then you can connect the ends of the yoke to the bridles of the main kite by simply folding a loop into those bridle lines and larksheading around the knots in the yoke. You don't even need to make a permanent knot in the bridles!

Connection on Octopus

Attach your pilot line to the center of the yoke.

We chose the two center bridles because the lift of the pilot needs to be centered on the larger kite below. Usually I will connect the yoke at the top of bridles -- close to where they meet the fabric. Remember that the pilot may fly behind or downwind of the larger primary kite. To keep the yoke line from rubbing against the fabric of the primary kite, I usually attach it a foot or so down the bridle line.

One Flying Line
Two Flying Lines

If you put the pilot high above the main kite, many people will not even realize they are connected.

Depending on flying conditions, I will either attach the pilot's flying line directly to the primary kite, or anchor it to the ground and snap the yoke into the pilot's line with a carabiners.

For smaller and mid-size inflatables, don't tie the lifter line directly to the primary kite. Wind gusts or larger lifters may cause damage. Instead, anchor the lifter on one line, and the inflatable on a second line from the same anchor point. Then attach the inflatable to the line of the lifter using the "lifter loop" with a snap or other slider and let it float up the lifter-line.

Connection loops on our small and mid size kites are not designed to carry the full load of a pilot -- especially since we don't know what size pilot you may use, or how strong the wind may be.

Connecting the pilot directly to the primary kite uses less line and less equipment. However, using two flying lines means that the power of the kites is not focused on just one line or one anchor. It allows you the convenience of launching the pilot and then sliding your main kite up the flying line later. And retrieval is easier since you can disconnect the pilot and leave it flying while working on the large kite on the ground.

The mechanics of a pilot kite can easily be adapted on a congested flying field to launch several large kites into one vertical line. You put the pilot up first -- on say 150 feet of line. You can then connect a larger kite (a Manta in this photo) on about 100 feet of line. Then on a third line of about 50 feet, you can launch another kite (in this case a Bear). Use carabiners - but not knots - at the connection points to hold the lines together. When "training" large kites like this, each of the kites work together to provide stability and control. But it is important to make sure anchors are very secure.

Multiple Kites in Line

Here is another view of big kites being stached from a single anchor. The Pilot Kite (above the bear) is outside the frame.

Newport Aerial View

I have heard philosophical arguments that pilot kites turn large showpieces into line laundry instead of actual kites. Given enough good wine, we could discuss this matter a long time.

Yes - the larger kites are being assisted by a kite above. But Samuel Cody used ascenders 100 years ago to stabilize his manlifters. And each kite in the series below is still providing lift. The Pilot is simply increasing stability.

For me the bottom line is that it works and works well. Anything that makes flying large kites easier, safer, and more visual is a benefit.


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*Go to Foils and Lifters *Go to Bols, Socks, and Line Laundry
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