Prototype A Kite


To prototype is to create an example of something. Prototypes are quick creations that give us ideas for the next stage of what we will make or invent. This project is about fueling your imagination for flight, just like Leonardo. Let’s experience the same forces of flight as pilots do at NASA. Here is the goal: prototype a kite in about 30 minutes, then fly it to gain experience with the forces of flight—thrust, drag, lift, and weight. 


  • Two bamboo barbecue skewers, each 12″ (30 cm) in length (dowels with a diameter of 3/16″ also may be used) 
  • Scissors 
  • Ruler 
  • Black marker 
  • Several plastic shopping bags, colorful and thin enough to see through 
  • Cellophane tape or electrical tape 
  • One 4-inch (10 cm) length of kite string 
  • Two 16″ (40 cm) lengths of kite string 
  • Paper clip 
  • Extra kite string and winder, such as a piece of cardboard 
  • Space to prototype 


1. If you are using skewers, cut off the pointed ends.

2. Lay a ruler next to one dowel rod or skewer. Divide the length of the wood into fourths and place a hash mark at each one-quarter length.


3. Cut along one side seam and the bottom seam of one of the plastic bags to open it. Cut off the handles.

4. Lay the new, single-layer sheet of plastic on a flat work surface.

5. Place the wood pieces on the plastic so the unmarked piece is horizontal, and the marked length is placed vertically on top of it.

wood pieces on the plastic

6. Place a dot at each of the four ends of the wood.

7. Remove the wood and, using the ruler and marker, connect the dots, drawing a straight line from one dot to the next to define the boundary of the sail. What shape do you have once you have connected the dots?


8. Carefully cut along the guidelines you have drawn.

9. Place the wood back on the plastic. Using a 2″ (5 cm) piece of tape at each end, tape the wood to the plastic, taping over the edge of the sail from back to front.

10. Using the 4″ (10 cm) length of kite string, tie the wood cross pieces together, making a double knot. Trim the tails.


11. Using the pointed end of the scissors, punch a small hole in the plastic over the intersection of the wood. Tightly tie one end of a 16″ (40 cm) length of kite string over the cross pieces of wood and draw this string through the hole. Tie the second 16″ (40 cm) length of string on the hash mark that is 3″ (7.5 cm) from the bottom of the vertical wood piece.


12. Tie the opposite ends of these strings to the paper clip.

13. Tie the kite string on the winder to the other end of the paper clip.


14. Make a tail from the remaining plastic. The tail will add weight and drag to the lower part of your kite. It will stabilize and prevent the kite from spinning in flight. Here is how to determine the tail dimensions: a. Measure the height of your kite. Multiply the height by 8. This is the recommended length. b. Measure the width of your kite at its broadest point. Divide the width by 10. This is the width of the tail. c. Using the dimensions of length and width, cut pieces from the remaining plastic and tie them together. Add about 2″ (5 cm) to the length of each piece to allow for tying them together.

15. Tie the tail to the bottom of the vertical skewer or dowel. You’re ready to test your prototype! In a clear field or other open area outdoors, place your kite on the ground and let out a long line of kite string. Hold the winder and run into the wind!


Once your kite is up, time your flight. How long can you keep your kite in the air? How long does it take you to get the flying line to a 45-degree angle? (Insight: 90 degrees would be directly.

About the Author

Heidi Olinger

Heidi Olinger is a writer, journalist, and creator of STEAMeducation curriculum to inspire and prepare girls to innovate, problem-solve, and lead in the 21st century. She is a faculty member at Colorado State University and the author of Leonardo’s Science Workshop: Invent, Create, and Make STEAM Projects Like a Genius(Rockport Publishers 2019). For information, see https://heidiolinger.com and https://prettybrainy.com.