Airpup

by Head Full of Air LLC

A kite-balloon offering quiet, long-term flight for videography, communications, and meteorology.

$8,310 raised

of $8,000 goal

103% Funded! Order Below

Product Choices

$5

Support Airpup

Thanks for helping make Airpup a reality! You will be rewarded with warm feelings, regular backer updates, and your name will be printed in the Airpup manual.


$10

Airpup Stickers

Thanks for helping make Airpup a reality! You will be rewarded with cool Airpup stickers illustrated by Justin Nichol, warm feelings, regular backer updates, and your name will be printed in the Airpup manual.


$25

Airpup Postcards

Thanks for helping make Airpup a reality! You will be rewarded with a pack of five postcards featuring Airpup in action and aerial photos from Airpup. In addition, enjoy stickers, warm feelings, regular backer updates, and your name in the Airpup manual.


$650

Airpup

Get Airpup-- the small kite balloon with a 500g payload capacity. Made in the USA, in partnership with Blimp Works. Add gloves and a wooden winder with 500' of braided Dacron line. Winder made in the USA from sustainably sourced birch plywood. Braided white dacron line made in the USA by Shanti Kites. Premium cut-resistant driving gloves are made from goatskin with a woven kevlar liner. Get smooth motions while protecting your hands.


$50

Winder, Line, & Safety Gloves

Premium cut-resistant driving gloves made from goatskin lined with woven kevlar. Get smooth motions while protecting your hands. A wooden winder with 500' of braided Dacron line. Made in the USA from sustainably sourced birch plywood. Braided white dacron line made in the USA by Shanti Kites.

Details

Recent Updates


As Featured In

Hackster.io

"Airpup Is a Balloon-Kite Hybrid That’s Perfect for Aerial Photography"

Geeky Gadgets

"Photographers, meteorologists or those looking to expand communication to their projects may be interested in a new balloon kite hybrid device aptly named the Airpup"

droneblog

"Airpup’s silent, long-duration flight fills a gap in the drone market: flight capability for locations where FAA rules and site restrictions make drones unlawful or unwelcome."

Overview

Airpup is a small kite balloon that can fly quietly for days, opening new frontiers in videography, communications, and meteorology. Lightweight construction and a novel kite shape allow Airpup to use 40% less helium than spherical balloons while also flying in much higher winds. No-fuss attachment rails make mounting your payload to Airpup a breeze.

Who Needs It and Why?

Videographers looking for a new way to shoot

Fly around an event without making a sound, capturing audio and video without the drone of a drone. Tow Airpup behind a vehicle or boat for hours. Fly in locations drones are prohibited. See smiling faces happy to see Airpup.

Radio experimenters lifting antennas

At 500’ Airpup has a 25 mile line of sight, extending the range of low-power communications. Airpup and a helium tank together weigh 25lbs and can be carried into remote areas.

Researchers flying weather and air sensors

Kite balloons are a great way to capture weather data above boundary layer turbulence. Climate researchers use them to take vertical profiles of the atmosphere. Airpup brings these capabilities within reach of everyone who wants to collect weather data.

Features & Specifications

Specifications

  • Payload capacity: 500 g, 17.6 oz
  • Flight time: Two days (no night flying)
  • Inflated dimensions: 1830 mm x 990 mm x 1120 mm, 72” x 39” x 44”
  • Volume: 1040-1080L, 36-38 cu ft
  • Flight conditions: Winds from 0-20 mph

Features

  • Standard 1/4-20 tripod mounts for payloads
  • Puncture- and abrasion-resistant polyurethane envelope
  • Designed for easy transport both deflated and inflated
  • Moored balloon, not an aircraft under FAA rules
  • No registration required

Images

Airpup in flight. Photo by Colleen Donaldson

As the wind picks up, Airpup maintains a high flying angle of 60° - 75°.

Airpup with Clackamas ARES mesh node.

Airpup takes off with a 2.4ghz mesh node from Clackamas ARES. The node has 50% signal strength at 0.2 miles on the ground, in flight at 500 feet, 50% signal strength was observed at 1.25 miles.

Airpup packed up. Photo by Hannah Prince

Airpup fits into a backpack

Airpup and a standard rented 40 cubic foot helium tank in a backpack. Combined weight is 25lbs.

Airpup's belly rails for quick mounting. Kestrel 5500 weather meter. Photo by Hannah Prince

Airpup’s belly rails accept standard 1/4-20 attachments for a variety of payloads, including this Kestrel 5500 weather meter. Proper balance is important to a kite balloon, and rails make balancing quick and easy.

Airpup's Boston valve. Photo by Hannah Prince

Airpup’s dual-function Boston valve makes for quick inflation and deflation.

An 18" flat winder

Airpup’s deluxe kit comes with an 18” flat winder to eliminate line twist.

A kite balloon?

Kite balloons are tethered balloons that fly like kites, and are often called ‘aerostats’ in the US. Invented in the late 19th century, Most kite balloons are fairly large tethered blimps used for advertising, weather measurements, photography, and to lift radar systems.

Kite balloons are prized for:

  • Inherent stability: No active controls, no software, no moving parts. kite balloons just point into the wind and follow where towed.
  • Safety: Puncture- and tear-resistant envelopes doesn’t pop. Even with a large hole, a kite balloon descends slowly.
  • Bulky payloads: The large surface of a kite balloon is useful for mounting antennas and radar equipment.
  • Long deployments: No refueling means kite balloons have lower operational costs than powered aircraft.
  • Marine operations: Tethers simplify landing on boats.

Large kite balloons are a mature technology. Until recent innovations in electronics, there hasn’t been much demand for kite balloons that lift small payloads. The physics of volume constrain very small kite balloons, and existing small kite balloons like the Skystar and Helikite use a Mentos-shaped “oblate spheriod” gas envelope that is made like a mylar party balloon.

Airpup is the first new kite balloon design in 25 years. Airpup’s envelope is designed to be more stable than an oblate spheriod envelope, and to make fittings like wings and bridle lines less laborious to attach, bringing down manufacturing costs. Airpup is also designed to mount payloads directly to the belly rather than dangling below, simplifying payload rigging and reducing tangles. By using the thinnest urethane available and hollow carbon fiber spars, Airpup is designed to lift more payload for the same gas volume.

Comparisons

Cost Helium Payload Payload mount Wind range Inflated Dimensions Durability Stability Open hardware
Airpup $650 37 cu ft 500g included 0-20 mph 72”L x 39”W x 44”H fully reusable high yes
1m³ Helikite $1000 35.3 cu ft 200g no 0-30 mph 66”L x 48” W x 39” H fully reusable high no
tethered blimp $500 72 cu ft 250g no 0-20mph 120” L x 30” W x 30” H fully reusable high no
5’ Sphere $250 65 cu ft 300g no 0-12mph 66” sphere fully reusable moderate no
5.5’ chloroprene balloon $40 60-87 cu ft 300g no 0-10mph 66” sphere easily popped, 2-3 flights poor no

Manufacturing Plan

The balloon envelope (the part that holds helium) is manufactured by Blimp Works. For a small run, I will sew and attach the rest of the fittings at my studio in Portland.

The first 20 or so Airpups will provide critical production experience, allowing me to revise and optimize the design. I have a kite sewing expert lined up to assist me, and will engage other people in contract sewing if orders are high.

Throughout the fall and winter I’ll refine the production details of Airpup with kite experts I know through years of experience as an American Kitefliers Association member and workshop leader.

Shipping & Fulfillment

Airpup is designed for mailing. The deluxe Airpup kit fits in a 4” box 37” long.

All orders ship from Crowd Supply’s fulfillment services in Portland, Oregon.

To learn more about ordering, please visit the Crowd Supply Guide

International Shipping

International shipping fees cover USPS Priority Mail. USPS uses their own carriers to deliver packages internationally, simplifying tracking, insurance, and returns.

Orders are limited to USPS Priority International because Airpup will be produced in small batches, and we cannot stock inventory to quickly replace lost, delayed, and returned packages. Less expensive international mailing rates require transferring packages to local carriers. This transfer introduces risk and delay regardless of the reliability of your mail system.

Risks & Challenges

While Airpup has been designed in consultation with with balloon experts and will be made with the assistance of experienced kite and balloon manufacturers, Head Full of Air is a one-person company. You’re trusting me to finalize the Airpup design, do a portion of the fabrication, provide support, and manage the process.

Airpup is not my first crowdfunding campaign or product. For over five years I directed the Public Lab Kits program, arranging the manufacturing and shipping of tens of thousands kits, their packaging, and their documentation.

Production challenges

Airpup is made by hand by skilled kite and balloon makers in the US. Maintaining a delivery schedule with multiple skilled artisans is challenging. Airpup has a fairly simple pattern, but more work is needed to optimize the design for manufacturing. Full seam patterns must be created and assembly instructions must be written.

This campaign is scheduled to allow a production run during the winter, a slow period in the kite and tethered balloon industry, however, making sure all the production patterns are ready and tested before the spring rush will be a challenge.

If production quantities hit 100 or more, more contract sewing services will have to be lined up, and contractors may need to be trained on lightweight kite materials.

Certain fittings on the Airpup payload mount are 3D printed, and it is unlikely Airpup will be in enough demand to injection mold these plastic parts. Producing and checking the quality of large number of 3D printed connectors will be a challenge.

Airpup rental challenges

Rentals require coordinating between multiple customers as well as a mail carriers, and inspecting returns for damage. People may break, lose Airpup or fail to return Airpup.

Flying Airpup

Airpup flight safety

  • Fly responsibly. Airpup is not a toy.
  • Flying with a friend is much safer than flying alone.
  • Airpup is conspicuous- be ready to talk with people.
  • Always have space to safely ground Airpup.
  • Do not fly within range of power lines. Airpup is a shock risk! Do not attempt to free Airpup from power lines; call the power company.
  • Develop practice and familiarity with Airpup before flying over people. Be especially cautious with operations below 50.’
  • Communicate with people you are flying over. Avoid invasive photography.
  • Do not operate above 500’ unless you are more than 5 miles from an airport and not in a flight path.
  • Communicate with airports and other airspace users.
  • Avoid flying where string may cross high traffic areas or roads.
  • Don’t be a hazard. Use your judgement and plan for worst-case-scenarios.
  • Don’t fly Airpup in the District of Columbia.

Is Airpup really unregulated in the US?

While Airpup is an unregulated device, we all have a responsiblity to share public airspace without creating a hazard. Always follow safe flying guidelines. At less than 115 cu ft and less than 6’ in diameter, Airpup is an exempt moored balloon under Federal Aviation Regulations 14CFR, part 101A, and is not considered an aircraft. You can’t fly Airpup in the District of Columbia.

Can I fly in National Parks?

While no rules prevent moored balloons in National Parks, please communicate with rangers about your intentions. National Parks are shared recreation and conservation spaces, managed by the National Park Service. Plan to avoid crowds and wildlife refuge areas where nesting birds could be disturbed.

What about outside the US?

Please consult your local authorities. Canada is similar to the US. Moored balloons and kites are not subject to EU-wide regulations and rules differ by country.

Helium

I’m making a map of helium suppliers. If you have a helium supplier, please add them to the map. If you can’t find a good local helium supplier, get in touch and I’ll help.

How much does helium cost?

Helium is best sourced from welding supply stores, not all party stores sell pure helium. A 40 cubic foot aluminum helium tank rental currently costs $53-59 in the Portland, OR area. An in-store fill-up is $40.

How much helium does Airpup lose per day?

3-5% of Airpup’s helium permeates out every day. Day-to-night temperature shifts may also reduce Airpup’s lift and stability. Airpup can go two days of flying between top-ups.

Can I fill Airpup with a gas other than helium?

At your own risk and with extreme caution. Helium is the safest choice by far.

Can I buy my own helium tank?

Talk to your helium supplier about the tanks they will fill. Often they prefer to have you pay a tank deposit for helium tanks filled off-site. A 40-60 cu ft aluminum helium tanks are about $150-350 for certified DOT 3AL 1800 (seamless aluminum, 1800 PSI tank). A CGA 580 valve is standard. A balloon regulator is also needed. Steel is cheaper and heavier, carbon fiber is much more expensive.

Can I pump helium back into a tank?

No. Pressurizing helium to 1800 PSI is hard. Move Airpup fully inflated.

Is the world running out of helium?

No. Drawing down the US strategic helium reserve destabilized the helium market between 2011-2013. A lack of refining capacity lead to popular reports that the world was running out of helium. The market has since stabilized.


Credits

Head Full of Air LLC

Mathew Lippincott created Head Full of Air LLC to further his passion for low-cost kite and balloon flight systems and open hardware. Through Head Full of Air, Mathew has created learning resources for NSF- add NASA- funded educational projects as well as led public workshops.


Mathew Lippincott

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