Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Building a Tetrahedral Kite

Posted on: June 25, 2008


Small tetrahedral kiteThis is a very cool activity. If you look at how this kind of kite is built, you will see it grows like a pyramid. The result is that you have a set number of cells that have to be built to make this work. Here is the link where I got the project in the first place.

http://britton.disted.camosun.bc.ca/tetrakite/tetra.html

Also an NCTM site:  http://illuminations.nctm.org/LessonDetail.aspx?ID=L639

Now for some pointers:

  • Think light. Apparently there is a kite season. Good luck finding kite string when it isn’t kite season. I use macramé string I get at AC Moore. The macramé string is strong and inexpensive.
  • It helps to precut the strings and the tissue paper. Again, I purchase tissue paper at the dollar store. They have 30 very colorful sheets for … yep, a dollar.
  • Rather than tying the ends of the strings together as instructed, I’ve found that it’s easier, quicker, and better if I use a separate small left over pieces of string and just tie the corners together. It’s much easier to get a tight joint and tight connections make for a happier kite.
  • I’ve made these kites with 4, 10, and 20 cells. With 4 cells it wouldn’t get off the ground. With 20 cells, only the slightest of winds and we couldn’t keep it on the ground. I like to supersize my science whenever possible.
  • Pay careful attention to step 19, creating the bridle. You are going to have a hell of a time making it fly if you don’t put it in the right place.
  • I had never seen one of these fly, so I was surprised when I realized they fly upside down. In other words, the point of the pyramid points down. To launch, simply place it on the ground, give the string a slight pull to try to lift the kite onto the point. If there is any wind, the kite will take off into the air.

4th grade group effort for a 100 cell kiteThere is a lot more you can do with this design. The picture on the right is a group effort by a 4th grade class. There is a lot of great information and ideas at their site: http://www.cit.gu.edu.au/~anthony/kites/tetra/straw_plan/

One final point. I could barely get the 20 cell kite through the door. If you are planning on going larger than 20 cells, you might want to plan to build modules and connect them on site, or maybe have a set of double doors to get your monster kite out of the building.

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5 Responses to "Building a Tetrahedral Kite"

Hello Scott,
I found your blog by chance. I’m looking for activities for a camping weekend for physicist… and your blog is just it. :)

There are very nice activities! Very nice blog!!! :) Eliana

Hello Scott,

I built a 4-sail tetra kite from a kit in the 70′s…most favorite kite ever! Based on that experience I developed a 16-sail tetra kite as a Cub Scout den project maybe 10 years ago. My project used very thin dowels and newspapers, and worked great. Good luck with your projects!

I am planning to make one of these one day soon with materials
you can buy from a store called HOBBY LOBBY.
Wish me luck!

I am trying to make a 10 cell kite. I am having a big trouble flying it.
I am using document http://www.tetralite.com/download.html.
It mentions the bridle point at peak of the front cell and at two ends of a spreader of the back cell of the lowermost layer. But I am confused as to if the strings will go back or in the front . I would really appreciate if you can tell me where to put briddle or show me the pic for 10 cell.

I just skimmed through the directions. Here’s what you need to understand. If you think of the kite as a pyramid, they fly upside-down. So imagine the point of the pyramid facing the ground. I’m going from memory now, it’s been a while. But I recall you tie a bridal from the tip to the base along a side of the pyramid. Then attach the string to the bridal 2/3 of the way up from the point of the pyramid (which is pointed down). Does that help?

I just read over the links, check out the “britton” site, I think that one is the clearest on where the bridal goes. It shows it as 1/4 down from the sitting pyramid, but how it sits on the table is upside-down from how it flies.

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