NASA Powerwing Traction kites - Compare NPW 5 and NPW9

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Originally designed as a prototype braking parachute for the Gemini Space program, these kites provide superb pulling power for all traction activities, at an unbeatable price.  I've amassed a collection from 0.6m2 to 15m2 so far, and still want more!

My current NASA quiver includes:

  • Nasa NPW5 @ 0.6m2, 2.3m2, 3.1m2 & 8.0m2
  • Nasa NPW9 @ 3.4m2, 5.3m2, 7,6m2 and 15m2

The most impressive feature is the price - I've bought most of mine through eBay and its easy to pick up a 5.3m kite, handles, kite killers and lines for less than £60, the smaller ones can be £30 .....   Even to monster 15m2 only cost me £80 (kite only).

Most of the later examples are made by HQ from Germany, however many are homemade, and plans and instructions for them are freely avaliable on the internet.  The HQ ones come packed away in a small drawstring bag with a small velcro pocket on the front in the case of the NPW9's . Cheap and very portable, no flashy rucksack costing extra money here!

Removing the kite from the bag, the first thing you realize is that the kite is single skin, there are no cells to burst in heavy landings.  The shape of the kite is held by the bridling.  Unfolding the kite, you are next confronted by the bridle system. I have to admit, there seems to be a lot of bridle, but on closer inspection its actually very simple, with the brake lines attaching near the trailing edge and the rest of the bridle forming the power lines.

  • On the HQ NPW 5 the brakes go to the centre only, and are attached to the bottom three attachments.
  • On the HQ NPW9 the brakes are attached to all 6 positions at the trailing edge, as well as extra ones in the middle.

Neither configuration seems to effect the overall flying performance.  Bridle tangles are best avoided by leaving the line attached to the kite when packing away, andc making sure the bridles are folded into the kite. 

Its in the bridle that the differences between the NPW5 and NPW9 are apparent.  The NPW9 has an extra set of bridle lines this leads to a flatter profile in the air and less bellowing.  It also as a longer straight section of the trailing edge to accomodate this extra panel.

Setup

There are four options for attaching the power line on the usual NPW 5 & 9's

  1. Attach the power lines to the top bridle and the break lines to the lower bridle (as you'd expect). The standard set-up - makes the kite handle like the c-quad, ie you steer on the brake lines. Fine if you like that sort of thing...
  2. Attach both bridles to a single line and convert it into a two-line kite. Again, fine if you like that sort of thing. I personally prefer more control.
  3. For really windy days, attach the handles directly to the bridle and you have yourself a sail! Works well for boarding and paracarting and greatly increases the usable wind range of this kite!

The HQ NPW9's come with the additional option of cross linking the power and brake lines...

  1. Attach the brake line to both the lower bridle and the top bridle by virtue of the built-in power-link line option, and the top lines purely to the top bridle. Sounds complicated but makes sense when you see it. Gives you the control of four lines, still handles a bit like a c-quad but helps stop the nose of the kite collapsing in the air. My preferred choice!

Flying

First time flyers usually complain that the kite "flaps" and has no power.  This is understandable.  Most modern foils fly perfectly well on two lines, the Nasa's need four ...

If the kite is flapping add a little brake.  At the right tension the sail goes tight and the power comes on..  Add a bit more brake and the kite will happily fly backwards.   Its all about keeping the balance of brake tension right.   I find it helps to hold the handles between the power and brake lines, to keep the tension equal.

It clearly isn't a high performance kite. By this I mean that it doesn't fly very aggressively - however it is very responsive and can turn on a sixpence.  When the wind is gusty, it becomes a bit unpredictable, sometimes collapsing the nose on the inside or choosing to fly backwards for no apparent reason.  Slackening the brakes then reapplying the right tension with a snap of the wrists usually sorts it out.   

Once you have got the hang of the different handeling, you actually find yourself with a very powerful (ie more so than foils of an equivalent size) kite, which will turn on its own axis and provide good constant pull.

It here the difference between the NPW 5's and 9's appear.

  • NPW5 turn slightly tighter and have more constant pull and no lift
  • NPW9 are faster, have a wider wind window and a small amount of lift

Regarding the wind range for chilled buggying with my Nasa's 9 I use ..

  • 2-4 mph = 15m
  • 3-10 mph = 7.6m
  • 6-18 mph = 5.3m
  • 10-25 = 3.4m

I've found that the larger sizes tend to "hang" in the air in light breezes, and hence have a very narrow wind window.  however as soon as the wind gets up they have FAR too much pull.  Hence I think the 7.6m is the optimum low wind kite in a buggy.

Summary

This is a single skin kite so you can crash it as many times as you like and relaunch no problem.   There are no cells to burst and it has no spars so no matter how hard the crash theres nothing to break!

And at the end of the day, it all folds up into its tiny drawstring bag, ready for the next adventure!

So in conclusion... cheap, high quality, powerful and indestructable. Makes an excellent first buggy or land board engine, or maybe a kite for anyone to get out in those conditions which make you scared to use your expensive foil kites.

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