Public Release: 

Sensing wind speed with kites

American Institute of Physics

College Park, MD (July 27, 2010) -- Kites have a storied history in meteorological research -- think of Benjamin Franklin and his study of electricity -- including being used to carry aloft sensors that measure wind speed. Previously, however, these sensors, because they were exposed to direct sunlight, were prone to temperature errors that affected their accuracy. Now researchers at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom have developed a way to use a kite itself to measure wind speed.

The researchers, professor of atmospheric physics Giles Harrison and applied meteorologist Kieran Walesby, describe their device in the AIP's Review of Scientific Instruments. The instrument consists of a 2-meter-long and 1-meter-wide Rokkaku-type kite -- a simple-to-construct Japanese kite design with "good stability, reasonable load-carrying capacity, and a low sink rate when the wind speed drops," Harrison says -- attached to a ground-based strain gauge that monitors the tension in the kite's tether line. That line tension, Harrison and Walesby found, is linearly related to wind speed.

"The kite method is portable and cheap, and removes the need for a mast to support an anemometer," Harrison says. "A particular use is to provide measurements above those reached by masts" -- although, he adds, "it will work less well at low levels, or in very turbulent conditions. We expect to refine the kite design to allow operation in a wider range of conditions, and to encourage wider adoption of our approach."


The article, "A thermally stable tension meter for atmospheric soundings using kites" by K. T. Walesbya and R. G. Harrison was published online in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments on July 21, 2010. See:

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Review of Scientific Instruments, published by the American Institute of Physics, is devoted to scientific instruments, apparatus, and techniques. Its contents include original and review articles on instruments in physics, chemistry, and the life sciences; and sections on new instruments and new materials. One volume is published annually. Conference proceedings are occasionally published and supplied in addition to the Journal's scheduled monthly issues. RSI publishes information on instruments, apparatus, techniques of experimental measurement, and related mathematical analysis. Since the use of instruments is not confined to the physical sciences, the journal welcomes contributions from any of the physical and biological sciences and from related cross-disciplinary areas of science and technology. See:


The American Institute of Physics is a federation of 10 physical science societies representing more than 135,000 scientists, engineers, and educators and is one of the world's largest publishers of scientific information in the physical sciences. Offering partnership solutions for scientific societies and for similar organizations in science and engineering, AIP is a leader in the field of electronic publishing of scholarly journals. AIP publishes 12 journals (some of which are the most highly cited in their respective fields), two magazines, including its flagship publication Physics Today; and the AIP Conference Proceedings series. Its online publishing platform Scitation hosts nearly two million articles from more than 185 scholarly journals and other publications of 28 learned society publishers.

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