Thursday, 7 December 2017

El Pronto

If you know me as a kite-flyer, you may well know I have a weak spot for 'unusual' kites. Years ago, when I stumbled across a Cerfs-Volants Azur Tandem for sale, I couldn't resist. It turned out this kite is a very good team kite, so when I had the opportunity to get my hands on a second one, I pounced. Since then, we really enjoy flying our pair of 'Azurs' together!

Cerfs-Volants Azur was a Canadian company, producing kites in the 1990s. Their top-of-the-range 'Tandem' team kite (it sold for well over $300 in those days, so far from cheap!) had an unusual design with an extra pair of winglets near the bottom end of the spine. As I mentioned above, they are excellent 'old school' team kites, tracking extremely well, and with little variation in flying speed across a wide range of wind speeds.

The company produced more models, most of which were pretty normal-looking dual-liners. Except one ....

In an attempt to break into the emerging trick kite market, Cerfs-Volants Azur produced the El Pronto. Where the Tandem has a pair of extra winglets near the bottom of the spine, the El Pronto has a flat 'stabiliser' at the tail. Currently it's a very rare kite; I've seen just a few pictures on the web, and only ever come across one for sale. That one, you guessed it, is now in my possession (thanks for giving me first dibs, Charly!).

The El Pronto really is a gorgeous-looking kite! Against the sky, because of the use of ripstop as well as mylar in the sail, the kite appears to made of stained glass.

In terms of flight characteristics, it doesn't feel as solid on the lines as the Tamdem. Slightly nimbler, but it has the same level of tracking as its older brother. In terms of tricks, it does axels and half-axels easier than the Tandem, but that's not very difficult to achieve: the Tandem can be coaxed into flying (half-)axels, but only very reluctantly (and that extra pair of winglets is always ready to snag your line if you don't give plenty of slack). Keep in mind that I'm not a trick flyer, and my tricking skills are pretty basic.

Given the looks and flying characteristics of the kite, I'd be very happy to add a second El Pronto to our pair quiver should I stumble across another one; colour not important!

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Tails, tails, tails ...

Flying at a festival with tails attached to your kites is always appealing to the public. The tails clearly add something to the visual spectacle. When we fly our Peter Powell routine, we obviously fly with tails, and the same goes for our VampDevil routine.

But what about dual-line deltas?

When we fly with the Airheads, we occasionally fly their tails, but as Flying Fish, we have not really flown dual-line deltas with tails at festivals as of yet. We do, however, have a pair of Tramontana's fitted with 100' black/red/blue transition tails ...

... and a pair of modern North Shores with 100' rainbow transition tails.

Recently, we decided to expand our options flying with tails. First, we got ourselves organza ribbons in green and orange to use as wing tip streamers on our Cubans.

We first flew them on a bright sunny day in very light winds.

The organza wing tip streamers were shimmering in the sunshine, and turned out a perfect match to the partly translucent Cuban kites!

Boosted by this, we got some 25m satin black ribbons, again with the aim of using them as wing tip streamers, but in stronger winds than the organza ones.

We flew them off our T5 ULs,

we flew them off our Rare Air Stealth Cheetahs,

and we flew them off our Cyborgs, not as wing tip streamers, but as double tails off the X in the centre of the frame.

For our Stealth Cheetahs, we also got 30m satin tails, in lilac and pink to match the non-black colour of the kites.

This gives us the option of flying the Stealth Cheetahs with a single tail as well.

And of course, we can also fly kites with both tails and wing tip streamers. This looks best on our Tramontanas:

For the upcoming festival season, we will try and fly our 'Adiemus' routine primarily with tails, and we now have a wide range of options for that, depending on the wind: from Cubans with organza wing tip streamers to Tramontanas with tails as well as wing tip streamers.

For our Cyborgs, however, we have a special plan ...

Monday, 6 November 2017

Tribord R244, and a new dual-line pair

It all started at Portsmouth Kite Festival. After we had just completed one of our routines, and carried the kites back to our tent, a member of the public came to the arena boundary and said he wanted to thank me. It's always nice to hear that and have an opportunity talk to our audience, of course. But he stressed that he really really wanted to thank me. Turned out that he and his partner had seen us fly at Brighton Kite Festival the previous month and that that had suddenly turned on his partner's interest in kites and flying as a pair. Talk about leaving an impression! We obviously chatted a bit more with Piyush ('Pea') and Lisa, asked them where they lived, and, as that was well within driving distance from our normal team flying site of Stokes Bay, invited them to join us one day for some joint flying.

That day came pretty soon, and we flew with them, using our Dream Ons and their HQ Jives, for their very first experience at team-flying. While Pea was used to flying dual-line kites (though not in a pair or team), Lisa had never flown a dual-line kite until after Brighton. But, despite that, even in the time of a few hours she quickly gained confidence enough to fly with Irma, doing her best to follow Irma's lead.

Around that same time, Pea had stumbled across a full-size team kite called Tribord R244, sold by Decathlon for only £54.99. Would this possibly be a kite they could buy a pair of that would serve them well as their first full-size team kite, but for for less than the £200+ that a professional team kite would cost? Pea said he would take the gamble, order one and take things from there. I said that, depending on his experience, I would be willing to fork out for a pair for us as well, allowing us to fly with four, and would try to convince Roger and Neil, so we could fly as a 6-strong team.

Fast forward to us having indeed six Tribord R244 kites between us!

In terms of workmanship, the kite is not up there with the Airdynamics and Bensons of the kite world, but you can't expect that from a kite which costs about a quarter of what those top-end kites cost. Tribord R244 tracks well, and shows very little over- or understeer. Basic tricks (axels, half-axels) are easy, and I personally feel it's very good value for money.

Next time we met up at Stokes Bay, there were six of us, and six Tribord kites ready to fly. Pea and Lisa first flew a bit as a pair.

After which we threw them in the deep end, flying as part of a 4-strong and 5-strong team. 

We took them through follow-on infinities, ladders up and down, and boxes in various permutations.

Both of them, but especially Lisa, impressed us with how quickly they learned. Even though they made mistakes, and went the wrong way occasionally, they never panicked and usually managed to get themselves out of tricky situations.

Flying myself as part of the 5-strong team meant I couldn't take pictures at the same time, but trust me, they also got that exhilarating experience! At one point I called for threads, mistakingly thinking Lisa had already flown threads earlier that day as part of a 4-strong team. Turned out afterwards that Pea had thrown threads earlier, but Lisa hadn't ... despite this, she kept her cool and managed to fly repeated threads without taking anyone down.

It really is fun to take a new pair under our wings, just as we were taken under Allan and Marilyn Pothecary's wings when we started out on our pair/team-flying journey. Pea and Lisa are extremely keen to learn and improve, and we are equally keen to help wherever and however possible. I am very curious where their journey will take them, but I'm sure that journey will include plenty more team-flying with us!

Monday, 16 October 2017

EuroCup 2017

The European Championships took place in Dunkerque this past weekend (Oct 13-15, to be precise). Competition format was 'mixed', i.e. figures and ballet; no technical routine. The usual six disciplines: dual-line individual, pair and team; and multi-line individual, pair and team.

And here are the final results!!

UK participation was limited to Josh Mitcheson, in dual-line and multi-line individual, and together with Tom Greenfield as Amalgamation in multi-line pair. So no Flame ... 

Well done to especially Amalgamation for a very respectable set of scores. And congratulations to Stephen Versteegh for picking up a Dutch gold medal in multi-line individual. Standard must have been very high, with Josh finishing 7th with an overall score of well in the 60s. 

No surprises in dual-line pair and team, with Courant d'Air and Start Air, respectively, picking up the gold medals and retaining their European titles.

Dual-line pair brings me to Flying Fish .... we were given the opportunity by STACK to compete in EuroCup 17. The reason why we didn't participate was two-fold. First of all, as the competition took place during term time, and partly during the week, it simply wasn't possible for me to take time off work. Secondly, we don't feel we're ready yet for international competition. Of course, we'd have nothing to lose, and it would have given us extra competition experience, but at the same time, we don't want to make fools of ourselves. This year's national championships showed we still have a lot to learn! 

But maybe in two years time ...

Wednesday, 27 September 2017


Recently, I wrote about possible plans to develop a routine around our Micron and Micron 5-stack, our smallest dual-line kites, for future festivals. Prism Microns have a wing span of 98cm, and weigh 58gr; one reviewer described them as 'bumblebees on amphetamines'.

Given the size of the Microns, I was really intrigued to see an announcement on Facebook by Ocean Shores Kites. They were in the process of producing an even smaller dual-liner, the SuperBee! With a wing span of 93cm and a weight of 43gr, it beats the Micron by 5cm and 15gr.

You (probably) know me: I couldn't resist and pre-ordered two SuperBees in the yellow-black colour scheme (they also come in other colours, but yellow-black appealed to me most). And yes, it is unusual for us to have paired kites in the same colour (eh, Simon?).

Once they'd made the journey across the Atlantic, we could have a closer look at what are now the smallest dual-line kites in our potential festival quiver. I must say that they look very well made, and the quality of the stitching is top notch. Time to set them free on Stoney Cross Plain!

We first flew them singly, and on the ~15m lines the kites came with.

These SuperBees are very fast, requiring only very minimal input, hardly more than finger movements. Initially, being used to 8-footers, we gave way too much input, resulting in massive oversteer, uncontrolled spins and, often, a crash (don't worry; they're very sturdy).

Once we got a bit of a feel as to how to fly and steer our 'Bees, we moved to the next stage: fly them together.

We first flew them on the lines they came with, and then experimented with line lengths up to 35m. To us, they flew best together on 25m lines. 

They really are fast and furious, but we had a blast! It will take practice flying them smoothly together, though. 

Final stage: remove the tails .... this makes them truly mental to fly when the wind picks up (highest gusts were just short of 19mph). And sorry, no pics of them flying without tails; they were way too fast to fly and take pictures! 

Music to fly them to? Just has to be 'Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee'!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Red Arrows, again

Some time ago, I posted about our pair of Red Arrow kites. Or, rather, about our three Red Arrows, as one came originally as part of a stack. Recently, I got my hands on a fourth Red Arrow, which prompted me to create a pair of 2-stacks. And here they are on our regular flying field in the New Forest:

Wind was quite variable, but we managed to get both stacks airborne.

And of course we had to fly them together!

As we had both stacks in the air, I heard the noise of approaching jet planes behind me. When I looked around, I saw the real Red Arrows fly past (as it later turned out, on their way to Bournemouth for their next show). What are the chances of flying Red Arrow kites just when the Red Arrows fly past??? Fortunately, I had my camera in my hand!

And mea culpa, I really couldn't resist photoshopping the two pictures together .... This is what it would have looked like if the Red Arrows had passed in front of us rather than behind! 

OK, back to our Red Arrow kites, you may have noticed in the first picture that there is a colour difference between the kites, with two being slightly more red and two slightly more orange. Here are the front kites of the two stacks again, side by side. 

The kite on the left clearly sports the Mettoy brand, whereas there is nothing indicating a brand name in that same location on the sail (or anywhere else, for that matter) of the kite on the right. 

And this is not the only difference between the kites. In each pair of photos below, the Mettoy kite is in the left, the unbranded kite on the right. And, by the way, the two kites within a stack are identical in every aspect. 

The tail end of the Mettoy kites have a strip of red tape reinforcing it, which is absent on the unbranded kites.

The diameter of the red circle in the wing emblem is larger (5cm) on the Mettoy kites than on the unbranded kites (4cm).

The leading edges of the Mettoy kites are not connected to the spine, whereas on the unbranded kites they are.

And the cut of the sail around the wing tip is different between the Mettoy and the unbranded kites.

So what's going on here? Are we dealing with two different versions of Mettoy kites, one of which does not carry a brand name? If so, why not? There is another possibility, though. One kite book mentions the Red Arrow kites first made by a company called Schofield, and later by Mettoy. So are the unbranded kites the earlier Schofield products, with Mettoy making changes to their design when they took over production? Flying them side-by-side showed that the Mettoy kites do fly a tad better, especially at launch. That would support them being a later, improved design.

But I'm purely guessing now. Does anyone reading this know more about these kites?

Friday, 8 September 2017

Back to basics

When we started flying kites, now almost 9 years ago, our very first dual-liner was a HQ Yukon. At the time, we weren't sure whether we'd like flying kites, so went for a relatively cheap kite which got good reviews as a starter kite.

As you're probably aware, things have moved on from those days and that very first Yukon .... Recently, we were thinking of ways to get the public interested in trying out pair-flying. Now I gather that one hurdle might be that people watching us fly at festivals think you need expensive kites in order to fly as a pair or team, and that that stops them in their tracks there and then. So how about showing the public that pair-flying can be fun with a basic ~£50 kite, and that you don't actually need £200+ professional 8-footers? In other words, given that Yukon sells for around £50, how about getting a second Yukon, and develop a simple routine for them to fly at festivals?

One problem quickly revealed itself: although the Yukon is still very much available, the 'cool' colour scheme is no longer produced. Pity, as flying kites with similar or identical graphics just has more of a visual impact. A call on Facebook for another Yukon 'Cool' quickly led me to HQ, who still had one in their warehouse and, when I explained my intention with the kite, were happy to let me have it (thanks guys, and also thanks to Chris Matheson, who put me in touch with HQ in the first place).

So here we've got both our Yukons together on our flying field in the New Forest!

We made no changes to the kites, but added double blue and purple Prism ribbon tails for increased visual impact (tails always appeal to the festival public). Also, we flew them on 35m lines (25m plus 10m leaders) to give us a somewhat bigger window to fly in as a pair than we would have with the 20m lines the kite comes with.

With both in the air, we only needed some minor bridle adjustments to make them fly at the same speed.

Obviously, they are not as precise as our ~£200 T5s, but we can do most things we normally do with them, including axels and half-axels. And that at roughly a quarter of the price.

So we now have a pair of decent basic kites, to be flown with music appropriate to the kites and hopefully connecting with especially the younger members of the public, and with a commentator explicitly explaining pair-flying is not only fun but can also be affordable.

I must also admit that it's appealing to have our very first kite now in our festival team bag!