KNOCKED OFF MY PERCH
I've been keeping a sharp eye on Simon David Chisnall's kite making for some years now.
Talent he has; it's been a wonderful thing to be around watching this develop.
And he's in it for the long haul, doesn't get distracted; the discipline without which talent is wasted.
An all too rare combination.
And there's another good bit; he's here at Peter Lynn kites Ltd in Ashburton.
Which we tend to take for granted, but is pretty unlikely by any statistical standards.
There are very few competent designers of single line soft kites in the world, very few. And by competent I mean not just one trick ponies who chance on one or two designs that work, but those who can come out with three or four successful designs every year, year after year.
By now you'll probably have a number in mind. Five? But even if it's ten, then this is one person in every 700 million and the chance of one such popping up in Ashburton (district population 33,000) is 1 in 21,212. Granted, Simon would probably not have discovered his talent if he hadn't found himself working for a kite business (though he started with us in 1996, out of school, as a trainee engineer, moved over to kite making almost accidentally). And granted that there are many more people in the world who could be good at this job if the world's interest in kites was great enough to support them all.
But still, a very nice surprise for us here and for me in particular given that without Simon or someone like him, PL Kites (single line) would most likely have faded as I lost the plot or became distracted (a character flaw I'll confess to)- take your pick.
But it's also personally a bit worrying- what if he's better at it than I am? What if he's the rising star that eclipses everything that's gone before? Oh oh oh!
Nah, not even a teensy bit true, all power to Simon.
But for the sake of a good story let's assume I am feeling challenged for a bit:
Through to when Simon took over the responsibility 10 years ago, I managed (with help) to get enough good designs (Ray, Octopus, Trilobite, Fugu, Bear, Flags etc) to keep the business going and growing.
Simon's output has been more prolific- as it's had to have been to get noticed amongst the ever expanding pantheon of large soft single line kites that buyers can now choose between.
His Whale series, Crabs and Dragons are particular favourites of mine- the flying Pig too I think, though they're so new I haven't yet flown one myself-and have only seen them in videos.
But there's one design area that he hasn't shown any talent for as yet, and this is a field I've excelled at, even if I do say so myself, - so I've been feeling relatively secure, reputation wise,
Simon doesn't do ugly.
Or that is, he hasn't until now.
Maybe his Dugong and Scorpions were early harbingers of a talent for ugly lurking in there somewhere, but the verdict on this is equivocal because these critters are not known for their beauty in real life.
Simon's latest, an alien jet plane thingy, is pure unadulterated ugly though- there's just no way to pass this off as an accident. Profound and deliberate ugliness!
He's leaving me nothing, my reputation is in tatters!
From when Simon took over primary responsibility for new designs - which was at the time Elwyn and I withdrew from direct involvement in kite business ownership (retaining connection by continued ownership of the PL brand name), I was released from the daily grind of having to pump out specific designs and could explore more fundamental ideas.
At which, since then, I have been almost completely unsuccessful so far, excepting perhaps for some contributions to Airbanners.
The projects that I've put most effort into are further attempts at attaching kites directly to small boats, the smooth tailed Ray, various pilots and single skin kites.
New ideas for rigging kites to boats came up against the same problem that had sunk all my earlier attempts (sometimes literally); that it's almost impossible to keep kites up in marginal and turbulent wind (the overwhelmingly common varieties) without the feel that direct hands-on control provides. Very large kites (which respond much more slowly) on very large boats well out to sea (where the wind is cleaner) are an exception to this, but not one that I'm particularly interested in because the fuel savings to be made cannot be justified by the expense and inconvenience. This is especially true considering that useful winds are likely on only one day in five or so.
Smooth tail Rays seemed like a good idea, a very suitable retirement project. And clearly achievable, I thought, on the basis that diamond form single skin sticked kites can fly very well tailless, so why not a ram air version? Alas, 9 years, a thousand hours or so on the time clock and 10 or so versions later, they are still not working well enough. Mid and strong winds; no problems. But when the wind fades even for just a few seconds, they tip over and slide off to one side or the other. I have more theories for the why of this than have been unsuccessfully applied to reconciling relativity (theory of the very big) with quantum mechanics (theory of the very small) since Einstein failed to achieve this in his 30 years of trying.
It still seems do-able though (both).
And I put a lot of time into trying to making pilot kites better; particularly towards the 3 bridle self de-powering type. In this quest I have had to contend with malevolent trees- that would hold off until a developed design was having its final test fly before being measured up for replication- and then snatch it from the sky. This happened three times in five years. Since last year, when Elwyn bought me a chainsaw (not sure if there may have had some ulterior motive in this), the tide in the tree war has turned decisively, but by then new single skin pilots had largely made this development irrelevant. And that the old 8sq.m 8 bridle Standard and later 12 sq.m 8 bridle Airbanners pilots are still everyone's pilots of choice when conditions are difficult is a reality check for both of the new types anyway.
For single skin kites of the traction variety I took a pause after doing the 4Skins when Michel Dekker at Vlieger Op (PL brand traction kite licensees) took up this quest- getting very much better results than I had. There's unfinished business for me in this though and I will return to it with the new insights I've gained from developing single skin single line types.
Which are a relative bright spot: The 1Skins are flying pretty well now and are my pilots of choice at most events because they have so much lift for their size and cost. Persistent problems with "diving over"- a tendency to dive-off to one side or the other irretrievably as the wind gets stronger- seem to have been solved by a recent leading edge development. But whether the problem really is cured or not is surprisingly difficult to determine. Comparative flying at various events I'll be at in the next few months should settle whether my hopes are justified.
And maybe I'm being a bit too hard on myself here; the themed single skin kites I've been working on are also looking very promising. At the Nelson event last week, a 34m single skin serpent with ram air leading edge flew for 2 days painted to the sky at a ridiculously high angle and became ever more stable as the wind increased (to 40km/hr or so). Addition of the ram air leading edge has allowed the bridling angle to be reduced a lot; it now has less than half the pull of a pure single skin version. In very light winds it has a falling off problem- collapsing to one side or the other, but most other kites in the world won't fly in wind this light anyway- and I expect it's a fixable problem (leading edge detail). Interestingly, a close to identical octopus version of this kite will barely fly pilotless at all. Like with the two-boat development programs used by America's Cup contenders, finding out why there is this difference will be a great opportunity to get a better grip on the field- next week's job.
Neither of these kites are particularly ugly though- am I losing my touch?
And when I think about this, Simon has left me some space- his alien jet plane thingy is ugly, but it also flies pretty well, whereas when I make an ugly kite it doesn't fly worth a knob of ungulate excrement either.
Ah ha, pride and reputation intact!
PETER LYNN, ASHBURTON NEW ZEALAND, 1 FEB '16