In a little over a week, I play host to 33 junior high students from Kansas City who are going to come to Truman’s campus and spend three days learning what college is like. For the last few weeks, I’ve been madly putting a program together that leans somehow on model rocketry. What can be more fun that controlled explosions, right?

I’m also going to do some low-altitude ballooning. (Balloons demonstrate another way to overcome the force of gravity.) My approach is based off the “Helium Balloon Imaging Satellite” project in Make Magazine, volume 24. That project has some hidden pitfalls that I’ll share if people are interested. For today, I want to show a picture of a rig I made to overcome a lack of a working helium canister (or regulator). I thought I’d test lofting my payload with a kite.

Normally, I’d get my 9 year-old to help me by holding the kite off the ground while I pulled it into the sky, running upwind. Holding it off the ground is especially important, given that I’ll have a payload hanging off the bottom of the kite. Can’t just let that drag on the ground. But the family was out of town, and I had to do this solo.


Above is a picture of my rig: it’s two 2x4s wedged into my truck’s roof rack so they are angled up. The truck is parked facing with the wind so when I pull the string on the kite, the kite will be moving into the wind. The rig worked great, and it would have worked better if there had been a breeze.

Kauffman Kite

The project in Make Magazine has you construct a camera system using a digital still camera. I made one of these (three, actually), but I thought I’d test my kite-rig with a MinoHD video camera. In the video I recorded, you can hear the kite zip off my launch rig, and you can watch as it flies across my front yard; you see the chicken tractor, part of the driveway, the front walkway, a garden hose, and when you see the Queen Anne’s Lace in the long grass, get ready for the crash.

The test-of-concept was successful, I thought. It would have worked better if there had been any wind to provide lift.