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Balloon Assisted Trilobite
External balloon assisted Trilobite at Wuhan yesterday. $1500 worth of Helium!
On account of my getting "critiques" of last month's newsletter wordier than it was, this one is just about kites- no politics- except that like for politics, flying kites when there isn't enough wind is very much the "art of the possible".

Of the 500 or so overseas kite events I've now been to - OK, OK, I need to "get a life" - but hey, this is the hand I've been dealt- or rather, it's the one I picked up-for some unknowable reason..

So where was I then?

Right; of the 500 or so kite events I've flown at so far, there have been lots of events with unpleasantly strong wind, but very rarely has flying been impossible because there's been too much. From 50km/hr up, difficulties increase rapidly, but on an unobstructed kite field with solid anchoring, suitable kites, strong lines, some luck, and by avoiding the use of Andrew Beattie's "special" knot, flying through occasional 100km/hr gusts is just possible. This is provided that the gusts are not completely unexpected so that everything can be appropriately rigged just in case. When there's more than 100km/hr, even momentarily, kites crash and burst, lines break, anchors drag and "best practice" is be somewhere else- preferably a different country (which Scotland isn't by the way).

A very few times I've been at events that have been totally blown out; like at least once on St Peter Ording (German North Sea Island), memorably so at Portsmouth (England) in the early 1990's, and on Mt Sunday (NZ Southern Alps) earlier this year, when the wind was so strong that even kites in bags were being blown away; Tan Xinbo bridled and flew one of his shoes.

Whether choosing to fly in strongish winds is always been entirely prudent is another matter though!

But at probably half of these 500+ events there have been substantial periods when there hasn't been enough wind to get or keep any show kites up.

Extending our ability to fly in ever lighter winds is critical to making kite events work better for their organisers and the public.

The approach that I've been working on for the last 10 years or so has been to develop ever better pilot kites.

22sq_m Airbanners Lifter with internal balloon assist
22sq_m Airbanners Lifter with internal balloon assist
From which program, balloon assist [May 2014 Newsletter] emerged as a pretty much complete solution.

But in practice I don't usually have this system available because it weighs around 6kg (kite plus balloons), and arranging for a timely local Helium supply is neither easy nor cheap, while balloon assist is only useful for about one festival in every five. Unless there's interest from the event organiser, it gets left at home.

But even without lighter than air gases, pilot kites have improved during this time. Ten years ago their threshold wind was 10km/hr (8sq.m standard pilot), now it's 8km/hr (9sq.m Airbanners stackable). This doesn't sound like much progress for 10 years effort, but this small gain is now not infrequently the difference between keeping kites up all day as compared to not being able to fly at all.

Paradoxically, using lighter fabric is not necessarily advantageous. Sure, as Charlie Brown so eruditely expressed; minimum required wind speed is basically a function of the kite's weight/area ratio. But for soft open cell kites like pilots, heavier stiffer fabrics hold the shape better in light to non-existent winds so can often survive lulls when a kite made of softer lighter fabric will crumple and fall.

With 9sq.m Airbanners pilots, usually stacked to generate more lift, show kites can now be kept up substantially more of the time than I could generally manage even 2 years ago.

But there is an alternative light wind flying technique that can trump the pilot and show kite train approach (but not balloon assist) when the wind is very light and thermally. Albeit, it only allows the flying of one kite at a time- but in these conditions, even one is better than none.

Maxi Tattoo Ray
Maxi Tattoo Ray
This is to use a single show kite flying pilotless. This approach has the advantage that if the wind is available for periods of only a minute or so before disappearing completely, there may not be enough time for a train of kites beneath a pilot or pilots to get off the ground but a single kite can be launched and kept up for most of the "gust's' duration. Weifang, earlier this year, was a clear example of this; the piloted train of kites I was attempting to fly spent less total time in the air than other kites that were being flown single and pilotless- notwithstanding that I worked at launching and re-launching without let for the three days.

But there are currently only a few large show kites that fly well enough pilotless and in light enough winds to be usable for this approach to light wind flying.

Pierre Faber's Spaceman
Pierre Faber's Spaceman
One is the maxi Tattoo Ray from PL Kites Ltd. It's a combination of the higher aspect ratio single colour design, but with a bucket tail rather than smooth tail. They fly reliably without pilot assist - and will hang up in winds that are marginal even for the latest pilots. John and Irene Tan (Singapore) are exponents of this kite style. I would be also, if I could get my hands on one- they're in short supply right now.

Another is Pierre Faber's Spaceman. This is a phenomenally successful design; it's just about the best largish kite there's ever been in light winds (perhaps by benefiting from some hot air lift because of its large internal volume) and handles strong gusty winds with aplomb as well.

Ma Qinghuas Grasshopper Weifang 2014
Ma Qinghuas Grasshopper Weifang 2014
A third is the Grasshopper by Ma Qinghua from Shandong (China). Graphically dramatic and with just three bridles, this kite is almost always the last kite down when the wind drops- and is impressively easy to re-launch.

We need more designs that can be flown this way.

But whether you're using the pilot and train or single kite approach, there are other techniques that are useful when flying in very light winds:

Using lines that are as long as possible within the space available is one; helpful because there is very often more wind higher up than near the ground and because the higher a kite is, the better its chances of surviving through a lull.

Keeping movements and line handling smooth and gentle is another: Especially for soft kites, jerking the line will very likely make it collapse rather than fly higher.

Being careful to use every downwind movement to maximum advantage is the third; it's easy to keep kites up for a minute or two by pulling in line or walking downwind, but then you'll need to drag them back upwind and re-launch. The less often you need to do this, the more brownie points you get.

Most of all, for light wind flying, like for just about everything that's worth doing, the more persistent you are and the harder you work the more successful you'll be.

Oh, and there's one more thing; climbing ability is an essential skill for light wind kite flying;

Power poles, buildings, trees, everything that can catch a kite will catch a kite.

Charlie Brown

And if you never have to retrieve kites from out-of-reach places, then you haven't been trying hard enough.

PS: And yes, you guessed it; on the final day at Shenzhen (last week) there was almost no wind, and we did all practice our climbing skills.

PPS: And yes again, single skin single line kites are waiting in the wings to burst onto the stage- but haven't quite learnt their lines yet.

Peter Lynn Kites Ltd
105 Alford Forest Rd
Ashburton 8300
Ph: +64 (0) 3 308 4538
Fax: + 64 (0)3 308 1905
Email: peter@peterlynnhimself.com
Website :www.peterlynnhimself.com

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