Tried & Tested: High and flighty: Tempted to do battle with the breeze or tangle with turbulence? Our panel takes to the hills to probe the pulling power of eight kites

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IF KITE FLYING spells childhood memories of struggling to get a flimsy paper and wood diamond into the air, you'll find that things are very different today. Kites have gone technical, with enthusiasts willing to pay several hundred pounds for power, speed and manoeuvrability. To understand some of the latest designs, a degree in aeronautical engineering might be useful, but the fundamental thing to appreciate is the difference between one-string and two-string kites. The first are

easy to fly but considered less exciting, while the second can perform acrobatic stunts but require a degree of skill to control them.

Whether you've advanced to swoops, skims and dives or would simply be thrilled to see your kite fluttering in the sky at all, which designs are the best to try? We asked three young, less experienced kite flyers and an expert from a kite club to take to the air with a selection. The results demonstrate that you don't need a two-string stunt kite to have fun.

THE PANEL

Eric Poultney (age 11) and family; Jessica Blackstone (12) and friends; John Levis (13) and family; Tony Gilbey, of the Essex Kite Group, and other group members. They flew the kites in both light and stronger winds.

THE TEST

Panellists gave the kites marks for how easy they were to assemble, how clear the instructions were, how easy they were to get up in the air, how robust they seemed, for speed, manoeuvrability and looks, and for how much fun they had overall.

**** WINDY CAT .TX.- Spinnaker nylon/wood frame,

one-string, pounds 28, for age 10+

This kite was extremely popular and voted as much fun as the Brookite Stunt Kite despite being a single-line design and so not suited to tricks and stunts. The striking cat design - described as 'a crowd-puller' by a panellist - was the easiest to assemble and get in the air. It also had excellent instructions. 'Great kite, great design, really easy to get up and fly. The holes in the eyes make a meowing sound,' said Jessica Blackstone. But despite its immediate appeal you might find the novelty wears off after a while. 'It was a bit boring standing there, but it would be lovely for onlookers,' said nine-year- old Judith Poultney. It can fly in only a light wind - in fact, Tony Gilbey thought a strong wind might break the spars, though they could easily be replaced from a DIY store.

***WORLD'S APART

POCKET ROCKITE

Rip-Stop nylon, no frame,

one-string, pounds 12.99, for age 6+

The big plus point about this kite is that you can just stuff it in your pocket if you're going out for the day, in case the chance comes up to fly it. With no frame, it's very simple to assemble and the panel found it very easy to get it into the air and fly, if not terribly exciting. 'A real goer but no stunting. Everyone liked to go back to this each time the others got too complicated,' the Poultney family said. Tony Gilbey's expert view was: 'It flew well with an attractive dancing motion but collapsed when the wind rose. Robust enough to stand crashing due to fold- up when the wind blows too hard.'

*BROOKITE BOX KITE

Spinnaker nylon/glass fibre and wood, one-string, pounds 10.10, for age 6+

This is a traditional single-string kite, fairly easy to assemble and get into the air. But it doesn't have the speed and manoeuvrability of other designs. 'It went up very well but just stayed there,' said Jessica Blackstone. Tony Gilbey's expert view was: 'A 'good fly at the seaside' kite, easily carried and assembled. It flew well in light to moderate winds but went wild in strong winds and crashed. It was robust enough, though, not to be damaged.'

*** WORLD'S APART RAPIDO

Rip-Stop nylon/glass fibre,

two-string, pounds 14.99, for age 8+

The panel found this stunt kite, in the popular delta shape, fiendishly difficult to put together. But once it was in the air, most found it fast and easy to manoeuvre. Tony Gilbey said: 'Small stunter with very good performance in light and up to strong winds. The flying and control were impressive. It was eager to fly even before you were ready if you were not careful.' But Jessica Blackstone found it impossible to fly. 'This kite is probably very good if you have know-how, but we didn't. The instructions were very unclear. Even Dad couldn't understand it. A no-no for beginners.'

**KAYCEE FLYER

Rip-Stop nylon, reinforced plastic,

two-string, pounds 24.99, for age 10+

This is aimed at newcomers to stunt kites. It got similar marks to another kite suitable for this type of kite-flyer, the World's Apart Rapido, but as the KayCee Flyer is more expensive, it has a lower star rating. The manufacturer points out that, though it costs more, it has extra stand-offs - strips of wood which, in theory at least, make the kite easier to launch if you're on your own and mean it can fly in a wider arc. The Poultneys voted it their favourite: 'The champions. Everyone felt they could turn professional with this.' The Levis family, though, could not get it to fly. John Gilbey's view was that, as recommended, it needs about a 10mph wind to get good results. 'In a blow, the flying became much more exciting.'

**WORLD'S APART

SUPER STUNTER

Polythene/glass fibre, two-string,

pounds 5.99, for age 8+

The panel found this kite, decorated with Disney characters, complicated to assemble and not very easy to get up in the air. One, John Levis, couldn't get it to fly at all. Once the kite was up in the air, Eric Poultney enjoyed flying it: 'It was easy to control. One of the most enjoyable kites.' John Gilbey found an over-long spine made it flap about and thought the instructions too difficult for an eight-year-old: 'Despite this, it did fly, it did steer, it did survive strong winds without damage and I am sure a young flyer could enjoy it after Dad or Mum had put it together.'

**** BROOKITE .TX.- STUNT KITE

Spinnaker nylon/glass fibre,

two-string, pounds 10, for age 12+

A diamond-shaped kite with a long tail, the panel gave it top marks on speed and manoeuvrability. It may need a bit of practice, though, if you haven't used a two-string kite before. Jessica Blackstone couldn't get it into the air at all at first. 'On the second day it was much better. I'd never flown a two-string kite before and it was well worth the effort. My favourite.' Tony Gilbey said: 'A good trainer for expensive and sophisticated sports kites. Well-made and tough enough to let you see if you are really into serious stunting business before spending pounds 300 on a top-class performer.'

**FLEXIFOIL STACKER

POWER KITE

Rip-Stop nylon/glass-fibre polyester

resin, two-string, pounds 59.95, for age 12+

You'll need some muscle and probably a bit of expertise to fly this powerful kite, which looks very different from a traditional design: 'More like a sleeping bag than a kite,' said John Levis. Its design, which works on the same principle as an aeroplane wing, means that it has a very strong pull. One family could not get it to fly. Jessica Blackstone, who did, found it the hardest of all. 'I think I'll leave it to the pros. We could barely keep it up for 15 seconds.' But Tony Gilbey was rhapsodic about it: 'A thrilling, exhilarating experience, superb speed, acceleration and control. Will fly in a light wind or a howling gale if you have the strength, stamina and nerve. Not for the young - or the irresponsible old.'

STOCKISTS: All the World's Apart and Brookite kites are widely available from toy shops, department stores and from specialist kite shops. The Windy Cat is also available from kite shops, as is the Flexifoil - for Flexifoil stockists, ring 0638 668422. The KayCee Flyer is available (including by mail order) from Kite Corner, 657 Watford Way, Mill Hill,

London NW7 3JR, tel: 081-959 0619

NEXT WEEK: DESK LAMPS

(Photograph omitted)

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