Airpup

by Head Full of Air LLC

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

View all updates Oct 25, 2018

What is a Kite Balloon?

CNES Aeroclipper balloon preparing to chase down a typhoon in the Pacific.

Kite balloons are balloons that fly like kites, and they were the first reliable way to fly and land in the same place.

The first kite balloons were sausage-shaped and inspired jokes, one of which potentially led to the term ‘blimp.’

A Belgian version of the Parseval-Sigsfeld kite balloon common at the start of WWI. 1914 or 1915, private collection of Frits Van Der Veldt

Invented a decade before airplanes, kite balloons continue to be valued for their simplicity and endurance. Do you need a flying advertisement or a temporary cell tower? Are you monitoring the path of a typhoon? Measuring greenhouse gas emissions or boundary layer weather? A kite balloon might be the right choice.

Although they’re now called tethered aerostats and made from plastics instead of rubberized silk, most of today’s kite balloons are nearly identical to those flown in the 1920’s. All that changes is the name: barrage balloon, kytoon, tethered aerostat, tethered UAS, and myriad others have been used to update the same idea.

CC-BY Bob Harvey, image of a small Goodyear blimp replica kite balloon.

Beyond the tethered blimp

NOAA Dart balloon, 1967 collection of the family of Vice Admiral H. Arnold Karo.

Two goals lead to new kite balloon designs in the 20th century. the demand for small kite balloons and attempts to fly to altitudes above 15,000 ft.

In the 1960’s Goodyear’s Vee balloons were designed to fly as a train of multiple balloons on the same cable, all the way up to 100,000ft. Tests by James Menke proved that 1960’s cable technology wasn’t up to the task, and experimental use in balloon logging was abandoned as the lumber industry entered troubling times in the 1970’s.

Bohemia Logging using a Goodyear Vee balloon, 1960’s, Forest History Society

Domina Jalbert experimented with flying small radios on his Kytoons in the 1940’s-1960’s, and Goodyear made smaller, less successful versons of the Vee balloon called the Dart, but neither found regular customers in an era of heavy payloads.

Jalbert Kytoon 1944, Drachen Foundation collection

Since the 1990’s, miniaturized electronics have driven demand for smaller kite balloons. Because volume contracts exponentially as an object gets smaller, kite balloon designs other than the tethered blimp shape are often used.

The SkyStar balloon has had contemporary success by reworking a stabilization strategy from the 19th century updated by Arthur Mears— hanging a mesh below a balloon.

Image from page 40 of Airships Past and Present: 1908, Army Wasp Aerostat, image: US army

The Allsopp Helikite uses the same ‘oblate spheriod’ balloon shape as the Sky Star joined to a traditional diamond kite shape, and is the smallest contemporary kite balloon.

Arctic Technology Evaluation, US Coast Guard. Image Alexandra Swan.

My own design, Airpup, is the first new kite balloon in 25 years. My goal was to shift payload attachment from dangling strings up to the balloon’s belly. My goal is a balloon as small as a Helikite, but easier to rig and fly.

With the advent of extremely small sensors, networking gear, and cameras, I believe there is a bright future for more small kite balloons. Just as airplanes never replaced the simplicity and endurance of kite balloons, small kite balloons will continue to complement drones.

Historical images

NOAA, 1969. image Albert E Theberge.

During WWII, barrage balloons became an iconic feature of trans-Atlantic convoys and the British landscape, dangling cables to foul dive bombers.

RAF image of London, 1945.

RAF pararoopers practice jumping from a Caquot Type-M kite balloon in 1984– 68 years after its invention.

Photo by John E. Long, RAF 1984

In 1904 Kite balloons were first used in combat during the Russo-Japanese War. The Russians had limited experience and deployed both an early Parseval-type design and a spherical balloon. The Japanese used a kite balloon designed by Isaburo Yamada.

Isaburo Yamada kite balloon.

Russian balloons at the battle of Liaoyang


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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.

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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