IF YOU WANTED to fly a kite in Washington, you were out of luck between 1892 and 1970 -- it was illegal. The reasons for the ban are obscure, but it apparently had something to do with spooking horses and tangling telegraph lines. The statute, which also outlawed hot-air balloons, was repealed in 1970.
But don't cast caution entirely to the winds -- there are some rules in the Wild Blue Yonder:
* Kites are best flown in wide-open spaces where the wind can blow steadily and close to the ground. Fly the friendly skies -- find a spot with few kite-eating trees, houses and especially power lines.
* Don't fly a kite in the street, for obvious reasons. Or at Hains Point -- the FAA will be grateful.
* Best wind velocity is 8 to 20 mph. Less than that will make the kite hard to launch; more will make it hard to handle, with the possibility of damage to the kite. Call 936-1212 or 471-1741 for a forecast of the area's wind and weather conditions.
* Ben Franklin notwithstanding, never fly a kite in the rain or when a storm is approaching. Wet kite lines conduct lightning, brass key or no brass key.
* Contrary to popular belief, you needn't run with a kite to launch it. The preferred technique is the two-man method. Stand with your back to the wind. Your partner should be positioned about a hundred feet away, holding the kite pointing upwards. As your partner releases the kite, pull in on the line with a hand-over-hand motion, causing the kite to rise in the air.
* If at first you don't succeed, try again.
* Controlling the kite. For elevation, pull in the line. Slacking the line and letting it out allow the wind to carry the kite farther away, but also cause a decrease in altitude. A combination of the two, in a kind of pumping action -- pull, slack, pull -- will make the kite fly high and far.
* A note: Pulling on the line makes a kite move in whatever direction it is already heading, so if your kite is diving or out of control, don't pull. Let the line go completely slack. The kite should right itself, and then you can pull on the line to make it rise again.
Fledgling flyers may find these publications helpful:
Kitelines is the comprehensive international journal of kiting, and the only magazine of its kind in the U.S. Subscriptions to the quarterly are available for $9 a year (the price goes up with the next issue, so act soon). Write to 7106 Campfield Road, Baltimore MD 21207. 301/484-6287.
Membership in the American Kiteflyers Association is available by sending $15 for one person; $1 for each additional family member. Payable to AKA, to 113 West Franklin Street, Baltimore MD 21201.
Copies of Windy Notice (six issues per year), the breezy little newsletter of the Maryland Kite Society, are available at the Kite Site, 3101 M Street NW, or through membership in the society. Write MKS Membership Committee c/o Robert S. Price, 3839 Dustin Road, Burtonsville MD 20817.