Saturday, 16 January 2016

Value for money?

I check eBay frequently and regularly for kites, and quite a few kites in my quiver have arrived there via eBay. One kite which keeps popping up is a small dual-line kite, which appears to be official (?) merchandise for the McLaren Mercedes F1 team. It's also available via amazon, where it is described as a 'classic'. Classic in what sense? Not quite clear ... Price for the kite usually varies between £9.99 and £14.99, but when it was listed for £4.99 on eBay, a sudden morbid sense of curiosity made me click the 'Buy It Now!' button .... How bad would a £5 kite be? I just had to find out!

Wing span is 1.14m, and it has a fibreglass frame. Stitching quality is as you would expect: Tim Benson would probably rather start selling knitting sets than sell a kite with this level of workmanship ... So no surprises here: you get what you pay for.

So how does it fly?

Well, much better than I expected! Which, of course, says heaps about my level of expectation ... It tends to oversteer, but once you get used to that, it doesn't fly too bad, is a little bit noisy (but nothing like a North Shore Radical), tracks reasonably well, and I even managed to squeeze an axel or two out of it (and keep in mind, I'm not a trick flyer by any stretch of the imagination). It does need a bit of wind pressure in the sail; although it flew fine from 5-6mph onwards, it tends to drop out of the sky when the wind goes below that. Launching in light wind can be a bit tricky, but there's always the 'throw it up in the air' method to fall back on!

So it this wee kite value for money? Well, let's put it like this. Assume, for simplicity sake, that a top end kite will set you back £250. Is that top-end kite 50x as good as this McLaren kite? If you were offered the choice to either fly a top-end kite for one weekend per year (and no flying kites for the rest of the year), or fly this McLaren kite every weekend of the year, what would you choose? Fly once a year with a top-end kite, or fly every weekend with this £5 kite? You decide whether the kite is value for money ...

Taking my tongue out of my cheek again, is Flying Fish going to get a second one for pair-flying? Ermmm, no ...

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Double Oxray!

If you mention the name 'Dunford' to a kite enthusiast, he or she will surely think of his Flying Machine. Much less well-known is the fact that Don Dunford designed more kites besides the Flying Machine: the Stingray and related kites. This 'family' of kites consists of three: the basic Stingray, the Oxray (an improved version of the Stingray) and the Skyblade (a larger, multi-coloured Oxray). Being interested in the early history of dual-line kites, of course I've been keeping my eyes peeled for these kites, and the Oxray turns out to be like buses: don't see one for ages, and then two pop up ...

One of these two was a present from Bill Souten / MKF, the other one came straight from the original source, as Cochranes of Oxford still had a few in their warehouses (before you ask: yes, they also had a basic Stingray and a Skyblade!).

Oxrays are small kites (99 cm wing span) and are fun and easy kites to fly, but do need constant wind pressure on the sail, 10-12mph is ideal. This means they don't like stalling or flying at the edge of the wind window. But they can really turn on a dime, though!

Having two of them means we have to fly them as a pair, of course.

Flying them side by side shows they're not exactly the best precision kites. They're very sensitive to input so difficult to get them to track well. We took them through a series of official STACK figures, and I don't think we would have scored high for any of them .... Still, we had fun flying them together, and I don't think there are many kite teams in the world who have a pair of Dunford Oxrays in their quiver!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Piranha & Piranha Bait

Flying Fish is and firmly remains a dual-line pair, but that doesn't mean we don't look at kites with fewer or more than two lines, especially if they're a bit fishy ...

Talking of fishy kites, for a long time I've been aware of a pair of fish-shaped fighter kites, designed by Joel Scholz. They're called 'Piranha' and 'Piranha Bait', and as they're no longer produced, getting my hands on a pair of these proved to be a real challenge. Fortunately, perseverance paid off, and thanks to a kind soul on the Gone with the Wind forum, Flying Fish now has a pair of 'Piranha' and 'Piranha Bait' fighter kites!

Their maiden flight was in a quite strong and blustery wind, which didn't make flying them easy. We'd be the first to admit that our skills in flying fighter kites isn't anywhere near our dual-line flying, but we did get them to fly.

And they weren't easy to photograph either ... plenty of pictures showing a clear blue sky with not a kite in sight!

Monday, 23 November 2015

New main routine

When we flew our main festival and competition routine at Portsmouth Kite Festival a few months ago, we had already decided that it was time to retire our 'Ruthless Queen' routine, and to start working on something new for 2016. Doesn't mean we'll never fly this routine again, of course, but we felt we needed to try and up our game a bit, and practice a routine which is much more to the music than with the music. This was the main criticism we got after we'd flown at the National Championships in June.

Now for those of you who have followed this blog for some time know that we still have a routine 'on the shelf', which we started some work on a while ago, but which was then put on the backburner for various reasons. I'm talking about a routine to 'Chariots of Fire', originally composed by Ron Reich of Top of the Line fame. The nice thing about this routine is that it has already been worked out with time points, etc, so we can focus purely on flying it to the music, and get more experience in flying it no matter the wind strength. A future step would then be to write our own routine, completely from scratch. But that's indeed for the future.

In the meantime, we have started practicing this routine, adapting it as we go along to suit our kites and style of flying. Sometimes, that tweaking is just a matter of leaving out or adding a single element; sometimes it involves more major changes to a pattern, or even doing something entirely different, if we feel it can be made more interesting or adds more variety to the routine.

The practicing we've done so far has clearly shown flying a routine to music is a completely different ball game! Especially adapting your flying to the prevailing wind such that those circles are flown at exactly the same point in time, no matter whether your kites go slow or fast. That in itself ought to make us better flyers, if nothing else.

We sincerely hope to have this ready as our main routine for 2016, at festivals and for competition, and that's what we're really going to work for over the winter. Hoping to come to a festival near you!

Monday, 12 October 2015

Flying Fish banners

Loyal readers of this blog, and those people who have seen us fly at festivals and competitions will know that we have a pole with five 'fish windsocks' as our 'official' event banner, flying next to our tent.

Fish flying, flying fish, seems pretty obvious, right? But you only know it's a banner for Flying Fish if you actually know us as Flying Fish ..

With that in mind, we decided to get ourselves another banner, one which makes it more obvious that we're Flying Fish. And the to-go-to people for that job are of course Roy and Hayley at Kites Up, who also made the team banner for L-katz

In trying to come up with a design that we really liked and wanted to fly, we went through a whole series of options, playing with colours, fonts, and other elements. At some point, we couldn't see the wood for the trees anymore, and I put some designs on Facebook to gauge people's reactions. That really helped, and I got some good suggestions to consider. In the end, we went for a design which incorporated the Flying Fish logo, the blue and red from the logo fading from the top and bottom, and a pair of Airdynamics T5 Taipan kites symbolising our main competition set.

So here they are, flying in the sun on their swivel stakes! 

Yes, 'they' ... we decided in the end to get a pair of them, to be erected on both sides of our tent, and printed such that you can always read the 'Flying Fish' on one banner, no matter where you or the wind is coming from.

They look great, we think, and we really look forward to flying them wherever we perform in public. Thanks to Roy and Hayley for a job really well done!

By the way, we're not ditching the 'fish windsocks'; they will remain flying at our tent as well.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Flying Fish goes quad

Flying Fish is a dual-line pair, and we have no plans to change that in the foreseeable future. But that doesn't mean we can't add something a little different to what we can do at festivals, does it?

You may or may not be aware that we have a Flying Wings VampDevil quad kite in our quiver. Not as precise as a Revolution, but a fun kite to fly, with a really great presence in the sky. We actually flew a little 'off the cuff' demo with this kite at Malmesbury Kite Festival two years ago. What has always been in the back of my mind was to get a second one, so we could fly them as a pair. VampDevils come in many different colour schemes, and ideally we'd want one which is the mirror image of the one we already have, i.e. red where ours is black, and black where ours is red.

To make a long story short, we finally succeeded in getting exactly that VampDevil, with thanks to Karl Longbottom.

So here's our second VampDevil! Isn't it a cutey?

For pair-flying, we decided to swap the tails around. Increases the contrast of the kites, and so the presence in the sky. They really look fantastic together!

As I said above, they're not as precise as Revolutions, but we had no problem flying simple patterns with the two: follow-ons, infinities, parallel circles, wraps, synchronous wingtip turns, etc.

Windwise, their official wind range is 2-15mph, but I'd say they do need at least 4mph to have decent drive.

We're not planning on choreographing a specific routine for them, at least not for now. But the plan is to fly them at festivals, as and when the wind allows, and making up the routine as we fly. And the music we want to use for them is The Love Crave's cover version of 'Thriller':

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Red Arrows!

You know the saying that some things are like buses? You wait for one for ages, and then three show up at the same time? Doesn't just apply to buses; applies to kites as well ...

I was aware of the existence of a 1970s Peter Powell-like kite made by Mettoy Wembley, called 'Red Arrow'. Plastic sail, partly transparent and with a red silhouette of a jet plane, extended nose, and a plastic tube tail to simulate a smoke trail. I kept an eye out for one for ages, but without any luck, until one showed up on eBay, which I did indeed win. Within a week or two, Allan Pothecary, of Close Encounters fame offered me a bunch of vintage kites on permanent loan, and that bunch included a stacked pair of Red Arrows! So within a couple of weeks, my collection of Mettoy Wembley Red Arrow kites went from zilch to three. Given what we normally fly, we were more interested in flying a pair than a stack, so I disconnected the stack, added red and blue tube tails, and off we went trying out the single Red Arrow I got off eBay ...

... and the front Red Arrow from Allan's stack

We first flew both separately, to get a feel for their flight behaviour. As you might expect, they're pretty heavy kites for their size, so need a decent breeze to fly well. When the wind drops, they tend to stall, and become harder to turn. Essentially, not different from an old Peter Powell.

And of course we had to fly them together! At that point, the wind started to drop away, so we struggled to fly patterns and formations, but they will be fine in stronger winds. Thanks, Allan!

Obviously, I can't have a blog post about Red Arrows without talking about the 'other' Red Arrows, which gave the kites their name in the first place. Especially because not long after we flew our Red Arrows, we were treated to a 20+ minute truly awesome Red Arrows display over Southampton Water! Unfortunately, we didn't have our Red Arrow kites with us at the time (would have been fun to have both in the air at the same time!)

What made the Red Arrows display even more special for us is that there are definite parallels between what they do in their jet planes, and what we do when we fly in a kite team: tight formations, wraps, and even star bursts!

Picture credit of Red Arrows display: Neil Gostling.