A railway photographer has contacted me with an interest in using KAP to see over the all too common lineside growth in the UK (since the days of steam the weeds seem to have been left to grow into forests!) So I thought it’s time to get up to date on what I have found to work. This is what I have learned so far about the 3 way load/lift/camera choice.
Saftey first. There is no margin for error when flying kites next to a working line, the safety box needs to be well understood and the line of fall (the downwind zone swept by the line at zero wind speed) kept well clear of the track!
The saftey ‘box’. This is the zone you can expect to occupy with line at any time during a kite flight, it includes the space you need to haul line and move upwind to clear obstructions when the wind drops. Assume the wind will drop. The zone intended to fly in requires a clear cone roughly 60 deg wide centred on the wind direction and from about 20 deg to 90 high from the horizon. Fear the rotor: any obstruction to the airflow (building, tree, embankment etc) can trigger a vortex that will down a kite, getting to know the site is as important as getting the right kit in the right place.
Have a plan: If you are going to lift 1kg in to the sky by wind power you will need to be able to get it back to mother earth, if the wind picks up or gets dirty what are you going to do? A dog stake, line clips, a good harness and a winch are all handy but most importantly a quick check for an upwind anchor point is a good idea. I have used park bench, fence post, sign post, tree, my bike and the boot catch of the car. You may not need to use an anchor but if you do it might save a real mess if you thought of it before things got hairy!
Have options: I have options as to what I fly according to how I feel about the conditions on the day at the field. To get the lift I need I now work with 3 kites and 2 line weights.
Test & test again. Always get the kite flying on a good length of line in clean air and watch it for a while before hitching the rig to the line. Anticipate the effect of the load on the angle of flight and make sure the down wind zone is clear. In the UK we are limited to 60m flying height, be preapered to use 10- 20m of it to get a stable lift. If its not going to work, walk away, the wind will blow another day!
Choose your weapon: I have settled on 4 cameras for the present: they offer the best resolution I can afford for their weight and I have 2 options for suspension: AutoKAP or directed camera depending on how steady the wind is. AutoKAP has the great advantage of allowing full concentration on keeping the kite aloft so if the wind is ‘soft’ or variable then I can remove an element of the risk by opting to keep my eye on the rig and hands on the line.
If the kite sits up in the sky and stays there then I can consider using a directed camera to shoot what I want. This is far and away the most satisfying way of working in KAP. You get to see what you shoot and react accordingly.
Because the advantage of the directed camera is so strong for me I use the Leica X1 which is the lightest camera with the best resolution as the RC VTx (Radio Controlled, Video Transmitter) platform. This might seem counter-intuitive but my best KAP platform is 800g heavy. The logic is that if I have the best conditions I want to get the best out of them and that means 3 things: control, range and duration. Range because in the low end of Bft 3 I can expect my rig to be around 5 times further away from me than it is up. Duration is important as if things are going well I can have the camera aloft for hours. I use a fairly power hungry Video Tx which draws a high current load. I can power it, a preview camera and a gyro servo for about 2.5 hours. I carry a spare to get 5 hours duration. I use a pendulum suspension to get the best possible stability on the down wind axis (which is the axis the best shots will tend to lie on).
The heavier cameras are lofted on a light AutoKAP rig suspended by picavet. Up they go, round they go…and sometimes I get a shot in hundred that’s close to what I want. Easy on the arm, light on the hit rate.
Matching the lifter, load, line weight and airflow is not as straight forward as it looks. I have other options to work with such as the Paul’s Fishing Kites Nighthawk and a growing collection of flowforms and parafoils which have fallen into disuse through old age or just plain bad performance. Kites of this size are manufactured in relatively small numbers and production runs often don’t get repeated. The cost of producing high quality precision designs for a small specialist market means the profit margin on these kites is low.
All of these kites are available ‘off the peg’ at reasonable cost. I have found they are stable, don’t invert and are robust enough to survive transport by bike, foot and car.
Perhaps the Ostend Bird is an odd choice for KAP ( the legendary Levi Levitation Light would be better but it is not available in the UK) and its wind range is very limited, it’s is a lovely thing to fly when conditions are right, it launches really easily and has a slow weave to it in the lightest air.
The Jones Rokkaku is special, there are mass produced 2 and 3m roks out there but the care of manufacture Mike Jones puts into his makes a light wind lifter that is durable and safe across a wider wind range than the average.
I’m quite sure cameras will get lighter and resolutions will improve, the Sony RX1 shows the way there. Kite designs evolve slowly and the 3 groups represented here (Flowform, Rokkaku and Delta) have endured since the ’70s and will expand in time.
And yes, hanging your camera off a kite is a great way to see over the thicket: