Saturday, 13 December 2014

Ultralight tails

If you don't like seeing tails on kites, stop reading and look away now ...

For our 'make it up as we go along' routine to Adiemus, the aim is to fly this routine with tails. Not a routine for the UK nationals, but purely for festivals. Tails on kites are popular with the public, as they add to the spectacle. Obviously, we'd like to able to fly this routine in a wide range of wind conditions, and whereas flying tails in stronger winds is not really an issue, flying them in very light wind is, as tails add weight and drag to the kites.

With this is mind, I've been looking around for something that could serve as ultralight tails, and I think I've found this in a humble roll of hazard tape. And I mean the cheapest stuff, as that's usually the lightest. Got a 500m roll from amazon for next to nothing, and cut off 30m of it. And then I cut this strip of 30m hazard tape lengthwise to create two narrow 30m ultralight tails. Piece of dacron added for strengthening at the kite end, so it can be attached to the kite without tearing immediately.

Something that seems to work on paper may not work in real life, so once the tails were ready, we obviously needed to test them out in the flying field. And we felt the perfect kites for this would be our pair of Fire Darts. These kites are essentially ultralights, and the thin tails would be a good visual match for the strong lines of the kites.

Well, I must say they worked an absolute treat! Even when the wind dropped down to 3-4mph, the kites had no difficulty flying the tails. As the tails are so light, they only come down slowly, so the 'after effect' after a couple of loops lasts quite some time.

The narrow tails indeed work really well visually and also colour wise: the black from the hazard tape matches the black of the red/black Fire Dart that Irma usually flies, and the yellow from the tape matches the yellow of the blue/yellow Fire Dart that is my usual kite. I don't expect the tails to last forever, as they'll probably tear quite easily. But we got another 470-odd meters left on the roll, so ....

So, coming to a festival near you: a pair of ultralight tails!

Monday, 8 December 2014

Spirit of Air-o-bian

Some time ago, I wrote about my plans to recreate the Air-o-bian kite from the 1930s. If you've been following me on Facebook, you'll know this project has been progressing steadily. I guess it's time now to tell you the full story.

Stage 1 of the project was to try and recreate an Air-o-bian kite as close as possible to the original patent:

To achieve that, I got myself a pair of Spirit of Air box kites (the idea was to end up with a pair of Air-o-bians, so we could fly them as Flying Fish). I created a rudder from a plastic storage box, and mounted that on a 5.5mm carbon tube, inside which was a 3mm carbon rod.

Note that, according to the patent, the rudder is not connected to the bridle lines, but is connected to the upright spars with a piece of elastic. Kite was bridled, and we were ready for the first test flight!

So did the Air-o-bian fly? Yep, no problem at all. Did it steer as it was meant to? Nope ...

The rudder basically didn't do anything, and any attempt at pulling one line or the other merely resulted in the kite rotating around its longitudinal axis, but not moving into the direction of the pulled line.

To be perfectly honest, I would have been surprised to see the kite steer, as the rudder wasn't controlled by the bridle lines, or by anything else for that matter! So on to stage 2 ...

For stage 2, I decided to move away from the original patent, and link the bridle lines directly to the rudder. This way, the rudder would move as the lines were being pulled. I decided to use the second box kite I had for this, and leave the other kite as it was. If it worked, I could simply adapt that one.

Test flight number 2 showed this direct rudder control had no effect whatsoever! It still was the case that pulling on either line resulted in the kite rotating rather than steering in a particular direction.

Now I was still following the patent regarding the attachment points of the 'uphaul' part of the bridle, i.e. on the lateral upright spars as you face the kite. What about making the two 'uphauls' attach together on the flyer-facing upright spar? I know I'm moving further and further from the patent, but I just wanted the box kite to steer ...

So here's what the improved bridling looks like. At the lower (rudder) end of the kite, the bridle lines connect directly to the two sides of the rudder; pulling on one line will make the rudder go one way, pull on the other, and it goes the other way.

And at the top end of the kite, the two 'uphauls' come together on a single spar; that ought to reduce the rotation of the kite, as all pulling will now only go to the rudder.

Test flight number 3! Will it steer now?

Well, yes, actually! After getting used to the kite flying to and fro a lot, I actually managed to fly it into loops left and right!

It turned out that the position of the tow point was pretty crucial. Too low down, and the kite wouldn't have enough angle to fly; too high up, and the bridle lines connected to the rudder would remain slack, and it wouldn't steer at all. But a bit of trial and error seemed to give me the sweet spot.

Even though I managed to steer the kite in the end, control is not even close to what we would need to fly two of them side-by-side, so it'll remain a one-off for now (unless I get a sudden brainwave as to how to improve control massively).

So here's our "Spirit of Air-o-bian"! The name is a nod to the maker of the original box kite, and to the fact that that the end result has the 'spirit' of the original Air-o-bian in it, even though I've veered further and further away from the patent. It definitely was a fun experiment!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Double Nirvana!

This one slipped through. And with 'this', I mean this blog post. I'd meant to report we had a second vented Nirvana, which we got some time ago, but hadn't gotten around to taking a few pics of the two Nirvanas in the air and write a brief blog post. So here's our pair of R-sky Nirvana HW kites! We already had the red one, and the blue has now completed the pair. Very nice kites to fly, with good tracking and good trickability, which is exactly what we want in our paired freestyle kites.

So that means that, after our two Fury 0.85s, our two Cosmic ULs, our two Mambas, and our two Inner Spaces, the roll-up bag that contains our pairs of freestyle kites is now full. It also means that, as the red Nirvana moved from the roll-up bag that contains our (non-paired) trick kites, this bag now has a spare slot. This bag already contains a Vapor, Amazing, Gemini UL, Talon UL, Widow Maker UL, Deep Space, Sea Devil, SuperFly and vented Silver Fox; suggestions for which trick kite should fill this final slot welcome!

Friday, 3 October 2014

Routine plans for 2015

Just over a year ago, I posted about our routine plans for 2014, and suggested they might be a bit ambitious .... well, they indeed proved to be just that! So let's look ahead to 2015, and try to be a bit more realistic ...

First up, our routine flown to Kayak's "Ruthless Queen". This will remain our main routine next year, to be used at festivals and competition. Following our competition d├ębut this year, we received good and constructive criticism from especially Keith and Vee. We have already changed some of the routine to deal with that criticism, and have a few more ideas on how to make it a bit more interesting in places, replace a few patterns which didn't really work so well, or which we now feel are a bit 'meh'. These mostly go back to a time when we were just very happy to get from pattern A to pattern B! The new version of the "Ruthless Queen" routine is definitely going to be ready for the 2015 season; nothing too ambitious about that!

Next, the routine we have already started to use at DunstableMalmesbury, and Portsmouth: our make-it-up-as-we-go-along routine, flown to "Adiemus". What we need for that one, first of all, is to add a few more patterns to our quiver, and especially some more complex and intricate patterns. And second, the ultimate aim for that routine is to fly it with tails, so we really need to get a lot more practice flying with tails, so we get a better feel for what works and what doesn't, and for the challenges of flying patterns with something like 100' tails. We also have a rather unusual ending in mind, which we need to try out to see if it really works. Needless to say that, given the tails and lack of strict choreography, this will be a routine purely for festivals.

Finally our "Jaws" routine, flying our Fish/Shark kites to the theme music of 'Jaws'. We had hoped to have this ready for the 2014 season, but we simply didn't get that far. Partly because we shelved it when the first festivals were approaching. And partly because the weather last autumn and winter was such that we lost a lot of practice days (keep in mind that the kites have a relatively narrow wind range, so we can't always fly them). On top of that, we're not happy with the end as we have it now. As Flying Fish was essentially born with these two kites, we definitely want to have a specific routine for them, so we need to pick up the '"Jaws" routine again, and come up with a better ending. I know last year I said it would definitely be ready for 2014; this time no promises, but I hope it'll be festival-ready in 2015. And it will always be a festival routine; we don't expect to use it at competitions.

And what about the "Chariots of Fire" routine, that I mentioned about a year ago? That will definitely become our next main routine, to be used for festivals as well as competition. We really want to use that routine to get better at flying specifically to the music. We started working on it, and have practiced flying maybe the first half or so, but do not aim to do much on it in preparation for the 2015 season. Let's not be too ambitious this time, ok?

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Radio system for pair/team-flying

You're flying in a pair or team, and you're the caller. The other member(s) are of course usually behind you, and it will often be windy. So you're calling away from the other pair/team member(s), and you're calling essentially against the wind. Is it a surprise that your calls are sometimes misheard, unless you really bellow, in which case you have no voice left after a training session?

To avoid all this, we've been looking around for some sort of communication system that would allow easy transmission of the caller's commands for when we fly as Flying Fish or with L-katz. I put a call for information on our Facebook page and received several replies, one of which was from David Morley, suggesting to look into systems used for guided tours. Now if you follow our Facebook page, you'll already know we found a tour guide system (thanks, David!) that does exactly what we want and need. So here's a bit more detail now that we've flown with it a few times.

What we decided to get for Flying Fish is a Tourtalk system, sold by Sound Induction Systems. Our system consists of a transmitter with headband microphone, and a receiver with earpiece. It also comes with the necessary wires and connectors to plug in our own mp3-player, such that everyone can hear the music during practice sessions, as well as the commands over the music. Everything comes in a small sturdy case.

So how does it work in the field? An absolute treat! Commands can be heard crisp and clear, and even in 20+mph winds, no wind noise whatsoever is picked up by the wee microphone; the wind guard is really doing its job. The headband is not in the way of sunglasses, cap, and earphones when using the mp3-player (obviously, the caller needs to hear the music as well!).

Range is said to be up to 120 metres; we haven't tested this to its limits yet, but have no problems over a range of 40-50 metres, and you don't normally need more than that. The receiver allows the volume to be turned up or down, so by balancing the volume of the receiver and the mp3-player, you can quickly arrive at a situation where both music and commands are clearly heard.

Both transmitter and receiver clip onto your trouser belt and are powered by a single AA battery; we still need to find out how long one battery lasts. The system can operate on 40 different channels, so should it interfere with the PA system at a kite festival, it's easy enough to switch to another channel.

We've now used it at Portsmouth Kite Festival (if you look closely at the first picture in that blog post, you can see the microphone) and a few practice sessions. And it really does exactly what we need, while being very quick and easy to set up and operate. There has already been interest from another kite team (Fusion), but should we fly on the same field at the same time, the multi-channel feature allows several systems to operate in the same space without interference. And in case you're wondering, we still need to convince the other members of L-katz to get a few more units for the team ...

I must also say that I have been impressed by the excellent service provided by Sound Induction Systems. They replied quickly to my initial queries, and offered to send us a demo kit, at no cost to us, to try out for a weekend (an offer we gladly accepted). They've always been professional and pleasant to deal with; thanks guys!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Portsmouth Kite Festival

As always, Portsmouth Kite Festival represents the close of our festival season, but there was one big difference for us compared to last year: we were officially invited flyers! We were pretty lucky with the weather on both days in that it remained dry all weekend (I'm writing this the day after the festival, with the rain pouring down outside). On Saturday, the wind started out very light (< 3mph), but gradually increased to about 15mph as the day progressed. We warmed up with our T5 Cubans before there was anything happening in the main arena.

Our morning slot, flying both our Ruthless Queen and Adiemus routines, was flown with our T5 Taipan SULs.

And the afternoon slot on Saturday we flew with our T5 Taipan Standards.

Sunday's wind was quite variable, mostly between 1 and 8mph. We were struggling with our T5 Cubans in the morning slot (especially during the Adiemus routine, the wind dropped to almost nothing). We stayed with the Cubans, but on heavier lines, for the afternoon slot as we really needed them for those 20-30 second periods where the wind dropped to very little. In general, we're pretty pleased with our official Portsmouth debut. The Ruthless Queen routines went without any obvious errors (always little niggles, but of course, the public won't have noticed; you're your own worst critic). The Adiemus routines didn't go as well as they could, especially the first one on Sunday. I think the concept of a 'make it up as you go along' routine does work, but we really need to add more patterns to choose from over the autumn and winter. And practice flying the routine with tails!

Two other dual-line teams were on the programme: Team Spectrum flew their usual festival routines (Chi Mai on Sunday, yay!)

Cerfs-Volants Folie flew their Titanium routine, and this routine really shows off their unique and instantly-recognisable style of flying. Great to watch!

The three girls within CVF fly under a separate name: Mademoiz'ailes, and were joined by Lisa Willoughby for the weekend.

In terms of quad-line teams, the three leading UK Rev teams were present:

The Flying Squad

The Decorators

and Fusion

And with those three teams present, trying to stop them flying mega-team is impossible!

More pictures of the weekend are here, including a Vietnamese musical kite bridled for quad-line flying (!).

Picture credit of us flying: Roger Backhouse

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Malmesbury Kite Festival

Malmesbury turned out to be a festival of two halves. On Saturday, we had persistent rain until about 1pm, and then some brighter weather with one front after another coming through. Our Flying Fish banner pole snapped in a strong gust, and another one blew over one of the organisers' marquees! The original arena schedule went out of the window at the start of the day, quickly followed by several updated versions ... We did get some flying done in the quiet spells, with, believe it or not, our T5 Cubans.

Sunday gave us a really nice sunny day, although the wind remained variable. Before our first slot, we flew our Taipan Standards, but then quickly changed over to the Taipan V1s for our main "Ruthless Queen" routine. For our second routine of the slot, to "Adiemus", we switched to our Peter Powells, but, exactly as we launched, the wind dropped, so it was back to the Taipans. Second slot of the day was Taipan Standards again for both routines.

There were no other teams present at the festival, but Dave Salmon (of Sky Symphony) flew a one-man-two-kites routine ...

... followed by Dave Green flying a one-man-three-kites routine.

Various single-line flyers were present of course, among which our fellow countrymen, the Sky-Flyers; more photos can be found here.

A highlight of the festival for us was meeting up with the Peter Powell gang, including 'the man' himself. Mark gave us the chance to fly a triple-stack of their new ultralight version; lots of fun to fly!

They then tried very hard to convince us that it would look great for Flying Fish to fly a routine with a pair of these stacks ... hm, it sure would, so maybe we'll get a pair of these ultralight stacks one day. Please don't tell anyone, especially not the Peter Powell boys, but I've already played around a bit with sail design, and Mark said he would soon be able to supply silver-coloured tails, which will look great with the sun shining on them ...

From Flying Fish, Dave Green, and the Peter Powell bunch: hello from Malmesbury!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Dunstable Kite Festival

We hadn't been to Dunstable Kite Festival before, though we had flown on the site during the National Championships. Good memories to go back to, in other words! Weather over the weekend was warm and sunny, especially on Saturday. Wind showed itself a bit finicky: quite strong Saturday morning, but then rapidly falling away to almost nothing; on Sunday, the wind was up and down.

Team Spectrum was present, flying their usual displays of Carl with two kites, Carl and Bryan, and then Carl with three kites. As we usually crew for them, my photos are usually 'from the other side', but I was glad to capture Carl launching his two Air Devils.

The Airheads flew both as a pair and a threesome, where Peter joined Keith and Vee. One of the pair displays turned out to be especially challenging: as the wind dropped, a huge inflatable octopus came down exactly on top of Keith and Vee .... Although I tried as much as I could to pull the tentacles away from flyers and lines, it was a bit of a losing battle!

The Flying Squad was there, of course, as Dunstable Downs is their home ground. Buoyed by the obvious home advantage, they flew a solid set of routines throughout the weekend.

And what about Flying Fish? How did we fare on our debut to Dunstable Kite Festival?

First of all, we had decided to fly two routines in our slots this weekend: our normal routine flown to Kayak's "Ruthless Queen" and a second routine, flown to "Adiemus". This second routine has a choreographed start and finish, but in-between it's mostly 'make it up as we go along', with me calling out the various patterns and moves as I see fit. It turned out that we really needed that second routine, as the PA system couldn't read our CD with "Ruthless Queen", couldn't read the back-up CD with "Ruthless Queen", and couldn't deal with a memory stick .... So we were down to just flying the "Adiemus" routine on Saturday, using our T5 Cubans, which only went so-so (the wind had dropped to almost nothing, but at least the PA system could read that CD!). As we were staying in a B&B in Dunstable, we had no opportunity to burn another CD, but Carl (of Team Spectrum) did go home for the evening and was kind enough to burn a new CD for us with "Ruthless Queen". Carl, thanks a lot, you saved our butts for Sunday, and we could fly both routines in our slots (flying T5 Cubans in the first slot, T5 SULs in the second one). Pretty happy with how the routines went (no major errors in any) and we're now officially a two-routine pair!

Mega-team, do I hear you ask? Well, of course! The Flying Squad and friends (including at some point, I think, Chris Matheson, and Marjorie Truchet from the French Now'Air team) flew a quad-line mega-team:

And for the dual-line mega-team, Flying Fish joined Barry Savell of Flame, Keith, Vee and Peter from the Airheads, Mick Burls, Carl Robertshaw, Thomas Chavinier from the French Panam'Air team, and several members from The Flying Squad (Simon Dann, Gary Tyrrell, Stephen Hoath, Andy Phelps, Steve Matchett, if I remember correctly); a truly international mega-tream! For us, the largest mega-teams we've ever flown in.

Other flyers making their appearance in the arena included Carl Robertshaw and Chris Goff. Plus, of course, many single-line kites and kiters as well; more photos can be found here. We had a great time and sincerely hope we'll be back in the coming years!

Picture credits of us flying: Carl Wright; picture credits of the dual-line mega-teams: Andy Taylor and Sharon Savell