Thursday, 13 April 2017

And then there were four ...

Remember I wrote last December  that Irma got a pair of Trilobites for her birthday? And that I mentioned I also had an upcoming birthday? If you remember that, you probably also managed to put 2 and 2 together to make 4 ...

Yes, guilty as charged: we didn't order one pair of Trilobites last year, we ordered two pairs .... Here are the other two, on the Kaixuan Kite Company factory floor:

And here they are, finally released from the stuff bags they've been in for half a year or so, happily flying in the UK air.

Happy birthday to me!

Of course, now that we have a family of four Trilobites, or, rather, a 'tribe of Trilobites', they all came out to play. Our very own mini kite festival.

And a video of all of them as dessert; enjoy!

Monday, 10 April 2017

STACK boot camp

It has been in the pipeline for quite a while, but Flying Fish finally subjected themselves to a STACK boot camp! These coaching weekends can be tailored to specific needs, with the coaches coming to you. When we met at Minchinhampton Kite Day with our coaches-to-be (Keith and Vee, of Airheads fame), we discussed what we would most like to get coaching in: landings, half-axels, and taking our figures 'to the next level'.

Vee and Keith arrived Friday night, ready to provide us with two full days of pair-flying coaching at our primary flying site: Stoney Cross Plain in the New Forest. Needless to say, we made sure our coaches were well taken care of outside the flying sessions. After all, you don't want to be subjected to a boot camp run by people who are cranky due to lack of sleep or food (or, worse, both), do you?

Weatherwise, we really hit the jackpot: bright sunshine with hardly a cloud in the sky all weekend. Light winds (1-6mph) on Saturday and a stronger, though variable, breeze (7-18mph) on Sunday. On day 1, we alternated between T5 Cubans and T5 Taipan ultralights, and on day 2, the T5 Taipan Standards and V1s came out to play.

As I said above, our boot camp would focus on landings, half-axels, and figures; plus anything Keith and Vee felt they could help us improve on, given they've seen us fly time and again at festivals. Starting with landings, we're not consistent with them, and that really is a weak aspect of our flying. Sometimes we hit them fine, sometimes we really fluff them, and it's all a bit too random. Not surprisingly, the stronger the wind, the more we struggle. So, first, Vee and Keith took us through the different possible landings, explained the crucial aspects of each and under which conditions which landing is most appropriate to use.

And then, of course, they got us to try things out. And as this is meant to be a boot camp, the call for so many push-ups was replaced by: "OK, both of you: five proper two-point landings each; loser makes the tea!"

Flying half-axels we've basically taught ourselves, but we're struggling more with these as the wind gets stronger. Keith and Vee got us to pay more attention to the set-up (especially when flying them synchronously), and to fly them from every direction: horizontal, diagonal, vertical (going both up and down). From vertical down is definitely the hardest, as there is this ground racing towards the kite!

And so on to figures: to get to that next level in scores, we need to start paying more attention to the spacing in the grid, in addition to flying the shape. And there are two figures which we don't particularly enjoy flying, and so they tend to get ignored .... Obviously, I'm not going to say which ones, as that might just influence STACK in creating this year's shortlist ... Anyway, we got to fly these figures again and again, with pointers as to how to make them easier to fly. Don't think they'll ever become our favourites, but we definitely feel we got a bit more of a grip on them.

In addition to all of the above, we flew our technical routine and competition ballet, and got feedback on both of those. The changes we made to both technical routine and ballet in terms of technical difficulty, following feedback on our routines at last year's Nationals, were noticed and appreciated, so we were very happy with that. And then we got plenty of tips on a wide range of aspects, from creating a specific warm-up routine, to general arena craft, and to pointing out of a few bad habits, which will take some time to unlearn ...

Final session on Sunday was simply play-time: Flying Fish and Airheads joining for fun 4-(wo)man flying. We learned a few new 4-kite patterns ('Airrex minus centre', 'fly-through', 'jitterbug', and 'Airheads cross'), at least some of which we will no doubt try out with our own team, L-katz, in due course.

In conclusion, this boot camp was very very useful, and I would strongly recommend it to any dual-line pair or team in the UK, whether you're a new pair/team, or want to get 'to the next level'. Teaching yourself is possible of course, but getting specific pointers from experienced flyers works so much better. What worked especially well for us, lucky enough, was to have very light winds on the first day, and then the second day with stronger winds. This forced us to adapt what we learned the day before to the change in conditions. Of course, we didn't become expert landers in one weekend. Or fly all figures with consistent 90+ scores. We now need to work on everything we were taught and incorporate that into our flying over the coming weeks and months. The boot camp really gave us specific tips and tools to do just that, but our heads were spinning towards the end of the weekend with the effort to digest it all.

We got a lot out of it, and very likely more than we realise at the moment. Vee and Keith: massive public thank-you for the time and effort you put into this weekend!

Picture credit of the T5 Taipan in the air above Keith and Lex: Vee Griffiths. 

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Minchinhampton Kite Day

Spring 2017 isn't even two weeks old yet, and we already had our first kite festival of the year! The organisers of Minchinhampton Kite Day are keen to expand their annual event, and invited a number of dual-line teams to come and fly there, in a proper arena. Flying Fish was glad to be among them.

We arrived with Minchinhampton Common basking in sunshine, and under a decent breeze. Keen to have our VampDevil quads be part of our displays, we quickly got them out for a spin, and they flew fine in the smooth morning breeze.

Unfortunately, this nice breeze wasn't going to last; more on that later ...

Besides Flying Fish, there were team performances by the Airheads, flying as a pair in the morning, and as a 3-(wo)man team in the afternoon.

The reigning UK pairs and team champions, Phoenix and Flame, respectively, were present to fly their internationally acclaimed routines.

Is one man flying three kites a team? Whether or not, Dave Green flew three kites in the morning, and two in the afternoon.

Definitely not a team, but performing his solo Rev routine: Les Storey.

Back to Flying Fish: what did we do? As I mentioned above, the nice morning breeze quickly started to drop away. Like the other teams, we struggled with this rapidly decreasing wind, which meant we couldn't fly our VampDevil routine. It was down to T5 Taipan UL at first, and T5 Cubans later. First time we flew our updated 'Chariots of Fire' routine in public, and unfortunately, the wind dropping to almost nothing at times meant we couldn't fly them as well as we'd wanted .....

We also flew our pair of Trilobites for their official festival debut. Once launched, they flew fine in the light winds.

Quite some time in the programme for mega-teams, and we flew with the other team flyers in varying compositions, and with between four and eight kites in the air.

The final arena display of the day was an 8-(wo)man mega-team, combining Flame, Airheads and Flying Fish:

As we were flying (or crewing) so much, I hardly had time to take pictures, but a few more can be found here. A great opening of the 2017 kite festival season for us; if they want us back next year, we will be!

But not only did we leave with good memories of the start of the season, we also left with something very special ... A little girl had seen us fly, and had made a drawing for us. She handed it to the organiser, asking for it to be passed on to us, and then rushed off. So, sadly, we never met her. Look at the drawing: she put a lot of detail in it: the clouds over the Common, lots of public, us flying as a couple. And she has looked carefully at our Cuban kites and really succeeded in capturing their panel design. We really must have struck a chord with her. As we didn't get the chance to talk to her and thank her, we don't know whether she has a kite or not. If nor, maybe we lit a spark, and I do hope in that case that her parents will get her a kite (or two, or three) to fan that spark into a life-long passion. Wouldn't it be great if in 10-15 years time a young woman called Violet becomes UK National Champion, and the seed of that was sown at Minchinhampton Kite Day 2017?

For us, getting something like this from a member of the public is really special, and we will treasure Violet's drawing as a cherished memory. Violet, if you or your parents see this, please do get in touch.

Credit for the picture of us flying: David Joyce; of the mega-team: Sharon Savell; video credit: Marianna Dimakopoulos; drawing credit: Violet

Monday, 20 March 2017

Festival dates 2017

It's officially spring now, so time to look ahead at the 2017 kite festival season. Where will Flying Fish be flying? Below the ones we'll definitely be at.

Minchinhampton Kite Day - April 2
New event for us! The organisers are keen to make this a bigger event, and invited a few dual-line teams, Flying Fish among them. Report here.

Streatham Common Kite Day - May 14
Our third appearance at this community-run festival. Always a very nice atmosphere.

Basingstoke Kite Festival - June 3 & 4
I lost count how often we've flown at Basingstoke. Guess we're almost part of the furniture now!

Brighton Kite Festival - July 8 & 9
Happy to be back at Brighton, after last year's absence due to work. Brighton gave us our very first invited festival performance, so it has a special place in our fishy hearts ...

Dunstable Kite Festival - July 29 & 30
Always a great festival to be at and fly at. Excellent site, and lots of other flyers to mingle with, chat with, fly with.

Exmouth Kite Festival - August 5 & 6
Our third invite for Exmouth; wind can be challenging, but always a great variety of invited flyers.

Portsmouth Kite Festival - August 12 & 13
Essentially our local festival, after the demise of Southampton. Great memories of attending and flying here.

There are one or two more events in the pipeline, but these are not 100% confirmed yet. And, in addition, there will be a few rounds of Nationals to attend.

Hope to see some of you reading this at one of the festivals this year; do come say hi!

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Elliot Mystic

I'll say it before someone else does: this is probably a bonkers idea .... So, with that now out of the way, here it is:

Last year, I was given an Elliot Mystic. Yes, given, for nothing, nada, noppes. It needed a bit of TLC and one spar needed replacing, but if I wanted it, it was mine. Bit of a no-brainer, right? Getting a spar replacement turned out to be not as easy as I thought, as it has 12mm spars. But once the kite was R2F, I took it out for a spin.

So how did I manage this 4.20m wingspan beast? Well, I was slightly apprehensive, but it proved easier than I thought. I flew it in a 8-12mph wind, which was perfect. Kite takes some effort to launch: big sweep with the arms, and run backwards a few steps. Once flying, it didn't pull as much as I feared it would, but it's still a handful; no doubt this monster will develop serious power when the wind goes above 15mph and goes towards 20mph.

You need to keep the kite flying; it doesn't like stalling at the edge of the window. Also, it has a huge turning circle, so I had to make sure all turns down were initiated high up. Flight is slow and serene. In all, it was quite an experience flying this beast!

So what's the bonkers idea? Well, what if we had another Mystic .... Would we be able to fly a bit of a pairs routine with them? Felix Mottram, of The Decorators fame, told me he once flew an impromptu pairs routine with two Force 10 kites, and these have a 4.50m wing span. So flying these massive kites in a pairs routine can be done ... Whether we will be able to do it is another matter, and there's one way to find out ... Anyone have an Elliot Mystic gathering dust, looking for a new home and up for a challenge with a sibling?

Monday, 9 January 2017

A pair of special Phantoms

If you're asked, as Flying Fish, to become custodians of a unique pair of kites, which have relevance to the history of team-flying in the UK, you're not going to say 'no, thanks', are you?

Here's the story ...

Cast your mind back to 1989. A UK kite team, called 'The Decorators', becomes interested to move from flying roks to getting into dual-line team-flying. They contact Tim Benson with a request to make them a set of dual-line kites. Tim builds a set of four Phantoms, in a custom colour scheme, which is different from the graphics that Phantoms became best known for.

This set of Phantoms brought 'The Decorators' international success.

With the introduction of the Revolution, 'The Decorators' switched to quad-line kites, and this is still what they're rightly famous for.

So what happened to their set of Phantoms? Bill Lancashire, very interested in and knowledgeable about the history of Phantom kites, got hold of two of the four 'Decorator Phantoms': the yellow and green ones; the whereabouts of the other two (red and orange) remains unknown. The kites were in pretty bad shape, but he restored them to the best of his ability, and with original spars and parts as far as possible.

And this is where Flying Fish comes in: Bill contacted me, asking if I was interested in taking custody of this unique pair of kites, and for Flying Fish to fly them in public on selected occasions. Why Flying Fish? Mostly because of our enthusiasm in flying at UK festivals, and our interest in the history of dual-line kites. Bill, did you honestly expect me to turn this down???

So, shortly after xmas, the postman delivered a long parcel, and here are the 'Dec Phantoms' on the ground of our regular flying field in the New Forest!

And here they are in the air ...

... and, as they're obviously meant to flown together, with both of them in the same shot!

When we flew them, the wind was mostly 1-4mph, so very light winds. They were struggling at 1-2mph, but started to fly solidy, though slowly, at winds of 3mph and above. They really are a dream to fly, tracking excellently. We went through most of the STACK pairs figures with them, and they had no problem flying these. Given the spars they're framed in (Beman light), and the fact that they're old sails, they need to be handled carefully and I wouldn't like to fly them in winds above 8-9mph; most definitely not with winds in double figures.

Bill, we feel honoured to be given custody of these unique kites, so thank you for trusting us with them. We'll bring them to selected festivals, and, who knows, one day we may fly them as part of a mixed dual/quad-line 'Decorator and guests' line-up!