Washingtonians sent their souls soaring on the Mall yesterday, as more than a hundred glorious kites reached for the sky in the 17th annual kite-flying contest sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution and its National Air and Space Museum.

As an elusive spring released yet another trial balloon of sunshine and faintly warmer temperatures, some kite flyers, including two from Taipei, flocked to the Mall with the determined calm of professionals, others with the giddy rush that comes from doing the utterly silly.

Michael Swartz, an architect from Glover Park, and Caren Lombardo, a computer programmer from Georgetown, had a visible bounce in their steps as they walked their tie-dyed kite to the contest site.

"We stayed up until 3 o'clock making it, dying it, and running down to the drier," said Swartz. "It's perfectly designed and it's programmed to fly," added Lombardo.

Many of the bright kites crowding the sky around the Washington monument yesterday were not entered in the contest but were flown for pure pleasure. But the registration line this year held a large number of unusual flying devices designed and built by committed kiters, according to several of the contest organizers.

There was the 200-foot-long dragon and the chicken-feather-tipped "centipede" flown by Kin Kan Hsieh, president of the Taipei Kite-Flyers' Association; Jon Burkhardt's seven-by-five-foot reproduction of William Blake's engraving, "God Measuring Out the Universe," showing a figure with calipers measuring space for mountains; and a scale model of the Columbia space shuttle, with a "booster" craft that detached on takeoff, built by Luther F. Hux Jr.

There also were those for whom the show was the thing: Hadyn Mathews marched onto the exhibition area surrounded by two bagpipers and an assistant standard bearer.

The four men, wearing kilts, escorted a gigantic replica of the Scottish red lion on two unsuccessful flight attempts.

Perhaps it was the intoxication of spring that accounted for the mood of frivolity on the Mall yesterday.

One family contorted itself into a human jungle gym for a photograph. A couple wrestled each other to the ground. A woman walked a police dog who managed to look just right with a blue-and-white bandana tied rakishly around his neck. And a young, well-dressed woman sang "Doodle-do, doodle-do" quietly and happily to herself.

Children also flew kites in the contest yesterday, but they were outnumbered and, somehow, it really was not their day.

Instead, holding their breath on the end of a string while running in front of squares of paper, hundreds of adults turned momentarily into children, gazing upward, setting dreams to float in the sky.

"Isn't it just a beautiful day?" a woman asked a stranger next to her, and she smiled contentedly.