Tuesday, 18 July 2017

A.R.C. Reflex

As some of you reading this blog will know, I have a soft spot for unusual kites. Make that a very soft spot. It's fun to fly something that looks different in the sky, kites that you don't see anywhere else.

So you can probably understand that when a pair of A.R.C. Reflex kites was offered for sale, I jumped at it. I knew absolutely nothing about these kites, had never even heard of them, let alone come across them, but their unusual shape, with a single curved leading edge, appealed to me. Add to that that the seller only asked me to pay for postage: no way I could say no!

So here they are in the field, ready for take-off (notice the very long stand-offs!):

The Reflexes don't need much wind, and the spars also clearly send out the message that these are kites for lighter winds. We first flew them in 6-10mph winds, and that was perfect for them. They speed up quite a bit when the wind approaches double figures, so around 10mph is pretty much their maximum. They do tend to oversteer, especially on take-off, and especially if the wind drops. So a relatively narrow wind range.

Obviously, we had to fly them together!

Flying the two Reflexes together showed that they weren't a perfect match. The black/yellow kite was a bit slower than the blue/yellow kite, and handled slightly differently in general (less easy to steer than the blue/yellow kite, for instance). The bridle consists of three separate lines on each side, so no easy option to change the angle of attack by moving the two point slightly up or down. Having the two in the sky close together also made clear that the shapes of the two kites are subtly different: the blue/yellow kite shows a wee bit more curvature. And indeed, when measuring their wing spans, the black/yellow kite had a larger wing span by about 20cm (2.50m vs 2.30m).

And that brings me back to the question of what the story is behind these kites. Searching the web resulted in exactly nothing. According to the seller, these kites are prototypes of a kite that never went into production. The fact that the two kites aren't exact copies of each other, and that only one sports the name A.R.C. Reflex also attests to that.

Obviously, if anyone reading this knows more about the story behind those kites, and who actually made them, I'd very much like to hear from you!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Brighton Kite Festival

I've said it before, Brighton Kite Festival is special to us as, five years ago, Brighton was the first festival to invite us to fly in the arena. Last year, we couldn't be there as a pair due to work, though Irma attended and flew on her own. So we were very glad to be back again in full force on the site that our festival career took off.

Weather was pretty much gorgeous: mostly sunny, especially on Sunday, and nice and warm. Winds were light, occasionally going down to zero and occasionally going up to 7-8 mph; the wind direction changed quite a lot, sometimes within minutes.

Guess the organisers felt we had to make up for last year, so they worked us hard! Three slots each day as Flying Fish, and two slots each day as L-katz (yes, L-katz flying at a festival again as a 3-man team with Neil in #3 position!). This equates to a total of 16 routines flown over the weekend; I think this is the most we've ever flown at any kite festival.

Due to the light winds dropping away completely at times, we fell out of the sky a few times or had to finish a routine early due to running out of arena. Also, when we flew with our Cubans and the wind picked up sharply, the kites could take it, even though they were overpowered, but one of my lines couldn't .... first ever line breakage during a public performance; had to happen at some point!

As Flying Fish, we flew our standard set of routines, to 'Chariots of Fire' and 'Adiemus'. We had brought kites for other routines, but the low wind made flying those impossible.

With L-katz, we flew to Gloria Estefan's 'Can't Stay Away from You'. We are working on a second team routine, but that's nowhere near festival-ready.

Team Spectrum was also present again, flying their sequence of routines: Carl with two kites (Chi Mai; yay!); Bryan and Carl; Carl with three kites. Like us, they struggled keeping their kites flying at times, and also fell out of the sky once or twice.

And if you ever wondered how some of the pictures on their web-site are made, wonder no more ...

Our final arena presence involved joining other BKF members flying the club's Spirit kites.

Because of our own flying in ten slots, plus crewing for Team Spectrum in an additional six slots, I had little time to take pictures, but here's what I managed to take on Day 1 and Day 2.

Picture credit of Flying Fish and L-katz: Carl Wright

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Thornbury Carnival

When we flew at Minchinhampton Kite Day, we were approached by someone who introduced himself as the organiser of Thornbury Carnival. He explained that every year the Carnival has a different theme, and for 2017, the theme was 'flight'. After seeing our pair, team and mega-team displays, he was very keen to have us fly at the Carnival. So the question to us was: what would it take for Flying Fish, Airheads and Flame to come to Thornbury and put on kite-flying demonstrations? Well, easy question to answer: a bit towards travel costs, and we're game!

So, for us our first invite to a much bigger and more varied event. Unlike the 10-20 minute slots we normally have at kite festivals, we were now given two 1-hour slots, alternating with a falconry display. And with Flying Fish as well as members of Airheads and Flame present, the plan was to put on a sequence of demonstrations, going from one person flying a single kite, to pairs (with and without tails), to a 3-man team, a 4-man team, and ultimately a 5-man team. All with commentary to explain to the public what's going on.

Conditions were far from easy, as the field was surrounded by trees, which created a lot of turbulence. That made it difficult to judge appropriate kites and lines to use, as was evidenced by Barry and Fran suffering several line breakages between them (fortunately, we'd just switched to heavier lines!)

So besides flying as a pair (our Adiemus routine), we flew as a threesome (with Fran):

We flew in a few different foursomes, with Pete, Jay and Barry:

And we flew in a team of five, the "Flamin' Fisheads"!

Not bad spacing, especially given the challenging wind, eh?

Additional picture credits: Thornbury Carnival (3-man flying), Jay Taylor (4 kites in a wrap), Sharon Savell (5-man thread)

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

UK National Championships 2017

For the 2017 National Championships, competition was run over three rounds, with the best two counting. As last year, the competition would include compulsory figures, a technical routine, and a ballet. Following last year's feedback, we worked hard over the autumn, winter and spring to add more technically-challenging elements to both our technical routine and ballet. Both now included several axels and half-axels, and we had completely re-choreographed the end sequence of our ballet.

Round 1 - Billing Aquadrome - May 20 & 21

With one round run over a weekend, precision and ballet were split up over the two days in each discipline. So, for instance, in dual-line pair, precision was flown on Saturday; ballet on Sunday. Wind conditions were really tough both days: lots of holes, bumps and turbulence. In addition, Saturday had its share of squally showers ...

In dual-line individual, there were four competitors. Besides the expected Tony Shiggins and Fran Burstall, Irma and I also chipped in. This was a one-off, mostly to increase activity in the arena, given that one round of competition was spread across two days.

No surprise that Tony ended up at the top of the leader board, and that Irma and I, with quite some distance, were third and fourth. Keep in mind that we had never practiced the individual figures, and did not have a technical routine or a ballet. Making it up as we went along was all we could do!

Two entries for dual-line pair: the usual suspects Phoenix and Flying Fish. No pictures of either pair this round, and no surprise that Phoenix beat Flying Fish by a wide margin .... The Phoenix routine did contain my personal highlight of the weekend: a perfectly executed refuel landing! As to our own flying, we really struggled with the wind conditions, made mistakes, and definitely flew well below what we felt we are capable of.

One entry in dual-line team: Flame

Guess who topped the table at the end of the round?

No entries for any of the multi-line disciplines, no entries for multi-kite, no entries for freestyle. Basically, there were only five individuals competing across three disciplines; a pretty meagre showing ...

As you might expect, each day was concluded with some mega-team flying.

The full results of round 1 are shown here, and a few more pictures here.

Rounds 2 & 3 - Dunstable Downs - June 17 & 18

The weather during rounds 2 and 3 was sunny and hot, very hot .... Wind on Saturday was mostly 3-8mph, whereas on Sunday we got 0-6mph. Note the '0' .... upon arrival at the Downs on Sunday morning, there was absolutely no wind, and I felt there was a genuine risk the competition would be called off for the day. Some air movement did happen soon after, and it was decided to give things a go. Throughout the day, the wind often got thermal, often dropped away completely, and there were frequent calls for 'wind check', resulting in 'wind is bad' and a wind recess called.

Apart from that, did I mention it was hot?

Dual-line individual saw three competitors enter: Tony Shiggins, Fran Burstall (one round only) and Josh Mitcheson.

Multi-line individual had a sole entry: Josh Mitcheson.

The usual two dual-line pairs: Phoenix and Flying Fish. Phoenix' 2nd round routine presented the highlight of the weekend for me: the lower leading edge of Tony's Fury broke, resulting in the remainder of the leading edge coming out of the ferrule. Despite having a badly-wounded kite at the end of his lines. Tony completed the routine!

As to Flying Fish, we had our ups and downs. The real down was crashing out of one of the compulsory figures (Boomerang, if you want to know): in the first half-axel, Irma's kite just got too low, and the ground jumped up to grab it ... The up was that we felt that our Saturday ballet was the best ballet we ever flew in public. Not perfect, of course, but it clicked, it felt right, and we hit almost all the axels and half-axels. Made up for the zeroed Boomerang! During our Sunday ballet, we probably covered the most ground ever due to the turning 'wind': walking backwards a lot, first into one corner and subsequently into another when the wind changed direction. We finished the routine, but only barely, and far from pretty.

Only one dual-line team competitor: Flame.

And only a single multi-kite flyer entering the competition: Josh Mitcheson.

What about multi-line pair/team? No multi-line team to be seen, but we did bully the Dunstable Downs Old Gents into doing a demo in the arena, outside the competition.

If they had agreed to enter the competition officially and be judged & scored, they'd have become UK National Champions ... Maybe next year?

The full results of round 2 are here, and of round 3 here, and some more pictures are here. We did fly mega-team on Saturday (no pics; sorry ...), but on Sunday, because of the heat, no one could be bothered (the lack of wind would have made it very difficult anyway).

And that brings me to the

UK National Champions 2017

Tony Shiggins
Josh Mitcheson
Josh Mitcheson

Of the two competitions with more than one entry, the dual-line individual was closest. In dual-line pair, Phoenix beat Flying Fish easily, despite the extra elements we added ... we'll need to up our game next year, but, with an extra year of scores under our belt, we at least strengthened our #2 UK ranking:

Monday, 5 June 2017

Basingstoke Kite Festival

And back at Basingstoke we were, for the 9th time in a row, and for the 5th time as part of the arena displays. Weather was mostly sunny on Saturday, more cloudy on Sunday, with rain the last hour and a half or so. As to the wind, it was the typically challenging Basingstoke wind, especially on Saturday.

We flew our current competition routine ('Chariots of Fire') and our make-it-up-as-we-go-along routine ('Adiemus'). We didn't fly well, far from it, but we tried as well as we could. Especially on Saturday, we really struggled adapting to the wind as it changed so quickly. Just prior to our first slot the wind was suitable for our standards, so we briefly warmed up with them. Wind then dropped and we switched to our ultralights. And then just as we were about to fly our first routine, the wind dropped even more, and we had to switch again, to our Cubans.

Twice we had to abandon our routine before the scheduled end, though .... The first time was on Saturday: the wind speed (or, rather, lack of it) and direction had created a 'Corner of Death' in the south-west corner of the arena. Once you got near it, you simply had to keep walking backwards to keep the kite flying, but as you walked backwards, the wind got worse ... in other words, once you're in it, you can't escape from it any more. And we weren't the only ones caught ... The second time we couldn't finish our routine was on Sunday when an Indian fighter kite swooped down over us as were flying, and circled around my lines. To avoid my lines getting cut, I immediately let my lines go slack and landed the kite. Fortunately, no damage to my lines, but I really can't understand why a kite 'flyer' (I use the ' ' deliberately ...) feels it is fun, or even acceptable, to sabotage a kite performance. To say I was unhappy is putting it mildly ...

Besides Flying Fish, the other dual-line pair was of course Team Spectrum, They flew as a pair ...

... and Carl flew two and three kites solo. Carl also got caught in the 'Corner of Death' on Saturday, by the way.

Two quad-line pairs at Basingstoke this year. First of all, the reigning UK quad-line pairs champions Amalgamation, Josh and Tom:

And secondly, a pair I'd not seen perform officially in a festival arena before (though I know Graham and Bill): the Dunstable Downs Old Gents:

As usual for my festival reports, my focus is on the pair-flying, but of course there were lots more kites in the sky. Pictures of most of these can be found here. And this lifter kite obviously belongs to us ...

Picture credit of us flying: Carl Wright