The tools we love, conversations on kites

The better things work for us the fonder of them we are.

Levitation_04I did not expect the reaction to my first thoughts on Christoph Fokken’s 9 foot delta. Folks love delta kites and their experiences with them have generated some intresting opinion.

I have been inspired to explore the potential of the ITW Levitation 9′ delta by Ramon Palares (Kappix) in the Netherlands who has gained great expertise with it and Mike LeDuc in the USA who has developed methods for extending its wind range. In New Zealand a similar story is unfolding with Tristan Mason, a keen photographer who is just beginning his KAP adventure. From Poland the Blue Kite Team’s Piotr is a kite builder with a passion for the Dopero and the Delta who has an interest in KAP too.

We all agree we need a selection of kites to meet a variety of wind and site conditions and we almost all agree the Delta commands the light to mid range and has a strong contender in the ‘fresh’ end of Bft 5 too.

To get started let’s take a look at the work these kite fliers do, it’s no trivial matter to hitch €100s worth of kit to a kite line in the hope of getting a good photo so anyone doing this takes time to investigate what works for others and, in general, Kappers are only too happy to share their experiences. It’s a small crowd and, although there are many who find they can fling a GoPro into the sky and get pictures, there are a few who realise KAP has the potential to achieve truly great images, and the pursuit of image quality (IQ) will place a quality camera in some peril. We are not fools, nobody wants to mash an expensive camera and minimising the risk depends on knowledge, practice and patience.

Tris in New Zealand:

9014936550_9da9da0702_oRamon ‘Kappix’ Palares in the Netherlands :Kappix 06072013 1k _1Cows 1 1k widePiotr in Poland:9103809438_1210e270b6_oThe challenge is always there, if there is wind and sunlight it is possible to capture something and on occaision it might turn out to something great, why waste the oportunity by not using the best kite, line and camera you can?

20110920-Landguard Fort at 60m AGL proof

It took 4 trips to get this shot. This can get a bit obsessive, a case of ‘try, try and try again’ and just getting a camera above a good subject doesn’t guarantee a good photo. . I’m pretty sure I spend more time ‘practising’ (taking useless photos) than ‘working’.

Tristan asked:

“I’m keen to know the load weight you’re lifting in various wind conditions. I’m not sure if you change your rig in anyway from flight to flight or if the payload stays constant?”

As far as possible I like to use the same kit as often as possible, it’s very easy to make mistakes swapping cameras- there is no standard for menu layouts (for example I have wrecked an entire flights worth by miss-applied EV settings:  when I thought I was reducing screen brightness to save power I was applying a stupid EV value). I have found I am error prone when setting up the DSLR with fixed focus lenses… but I keep trying new ideas to see if I can work better…..maybe adopt an autoKAP approach to save weight, use a better camera to increase IQ, opt for VTx to improve the hit rate, improve the wind range of a kite by adding a drogue or swapping a spar etc etc. So my reply to Tristan was:

“I have 3 rigs and 2 line weights so I can try to wring what I can from the lift.
The rigs are:

  1. AutoKAP Harbord SP with (CHDK) Canon 2300 at 200g in Bft 2 with the 3m delta (I hope, I have used a 4m O bird in Bft 2 so far)
  2. AutoKAP fixed tilt with Canon Eos M at 400g Bft 2 with the 8′rok Bft 3 with 3m delta.
  3. RC pan & tilt with video relay Leica X1 at 800g Bft 3 with 8′rok, Bft 4 with 2.7m flowform.

My favourite is the 800g option and I can swap in a Nikon D5100 with some big glass if the lift allows. The easiest option is the AutoKAP and that’s what I use for testing or if I’m a bit wind shy.

If all goes well with the 3m delta I will be able to retire the O bird and use it in Bft 2 & 3″

Tris replies:

“Now that’s what I call a setup. I think I need to look at my rig as it seems heavy by comparison. Lipo battery may contribute. I’ve been gradually accumulating parts for a second rig which will be RC controlled which is where I started so I have most of what is needed. The weather this weekend is looking favourable (it being winter) so I’m looking to fly the Levi on Sunday. I need to put aside my fear of sending my Nikon aloft. I have all the intentions but when I get to the site I chicken out and put the old faithful Lumix point and shoot on the rig. Having said all that my rig is in bits to address the poorly fitted cogs that drive the pan. It had come so lose it wouldn’t drive the weight of the Nikon anyway.”

One thing that stood out to me is : “I need to put aside my fear of sending my Nikon aloft” that fear is a good thing, it’s what keeps us safe. It is also a sure sign Tristan wants to get the best IQ posible. More weight reqires more power to lift it which either means flying in a bigger wind with its attendant turbulance or committing a big kite in a lighter wind, both approaches have their problems but how do you know which path to take? I decide its down to the numbers I know work:

“It comes down to practice and building confidence with as many options as is practical. Like you I’m wary of the new kite and stick with what I know works in a given wind. I’m now confident the Levi won’t fall over, spin or smash about the sky like wild amimal. So far I have only used it with a 400g load and it’s fine. I know it will fly in up to 20mph and probably lift a DSLR with the 8mm carbon spreader spar but at that speed it was a bit of a handfull ( too much weaving). I thought I would spare myself the stress of hurling a big chunk of metal and glass around the sky- so I didn’t.

The power you need to lift a 1.3kg rig requires a smooth air flow and a big kite, the 8′ rok in Bft 3 is still my best choice for the job. The Levi dosn’t pull like a train even when the wind picks up so I’m unsure of its lifting capacity- the reports are good but I’m tip-toeing towards finding out!

I rarely fly the DSLR now because I have found the resolution (at 60m AGL) of the mirrorless APSC cameras ( Canon EOS m, Leica x1) to be roughly the same as the D5100 with a 35mm lens so the only advantage is if I feel the need to fly a 10.5mm fisheye to get extra width.

All I can say is try it and see: if it rises- let it go if it sinks- reel it in!”

A week later and Tristan is keen to know how I’m getting on the with the Levi:

“Anymore flight time with the Levi Bill? The weekend is not too far away and I’m gearing up for some winter day Levi action weather permitting.”

I have flown it with and without a rig and even managed some decent shots of my current subject, the corona of St Georges Methwold. It’s been frustrating as the wind has been either manic or non existent..and the skies have been cloaked in heavy cloud from horizon to horizon..but I have something to show for my efforts.

“Yes! I have put in about 3 hours with it in variable windspeeds between Bft 2 and 3. The 8mm carbon spreader spar is earning its keep as I’ve had it survive 20mph gusts. The 9′ Levitaion seems to be best suited to lifting about 500g in around 5-10mph.

This is the best of 370 frames ( some were better placed but in poor light) taken with the Canon Eos m 22mm pancake with X0.75 adaptor (all up weight on fixed tilt auto pan rig = 700g) lifted by the delta yesterday..I waited for the sun to return in vain:

Methwold 1

It is a very nice kite to use, very occasionally it will loop in a big lazy circle if it catches an updraught, this is controllable to a degree by paying out line and muttering profanity!”

I was able to get a reasonably good block of images from the 9′ Levitation lifting a 700g rig for around 30 mins static or near static flight at something like 40m AGL.

Wind speed 03072013I was lucky and flew in the 12-10 mph phase avoiding the later collapse in wind speed.

Sadly the light was too varaiable for a really good result; by the time the sweep was complete the glimmer of direct sunlight had passed. Tristan, like me, has yet to screw up enough courage to risk his DSLR :

“Those look good. The top one is nice and rich. Light or a lack of is my problem as well it being winter here. I’m trying to get the best of the sunset but only have the weekend to do so as it’s dark by the time i get home from work. I’m glad your enjoying the Levi and a Delta. I’ve not had the looping (yet) but i’ll be on the look out. I have noticed though that when the wind picks up and looks to be outside the range of the kite it pulls hard and low to the right almost as if it’s being squashed towards the ground. I was flying it over an estuary at the time and yes, the profanity helped a great deal although not with the kite. 700gm is about my rig weight with the Lumix point and shoot and it lifts that with ease and i’m sure i can put my Nikon up and away in the right conditions (paranoia permitting). i’d be keen to know how far away from the kite your attaching your rig approx? i’m really not sure of an ideal for this kite (or any for that matter). Any suggestions welcome on that front.”

We begin to digress onto the more general case of which kite is best for which wind…

“In this instance the delta and the Levi are one and the same.

We are both getting to know the edges of the performance envelope for this kite! Each kite I fly has its own conversation with me and it can take quite a while to learn all the kite has to say. They are all different and learning which matches what wind speed seems to be a continuous process which shifts parameters according to load, site and airflow. As soon as I think I have the mix right I find flying angle, wear & tear, battery life, line weight and deployment speed come into the equation as I try and work in fleeting light or patchy wind.

Your observation is correct, as the wind speed builds the kite is pushed to the edge of the wind window ( to the right horizon..mine as yours for some reason..perhaps the bias of the fabric weave/stitching?). I consider this a dangerous situation unless I have a lot of practice with the kite in this condition. Some kites (Jones 8′ rok, Didak Explorer 2.7, PFK) can hang on at the edge quite well and recover predictably while others will really kick you in the crotch without much warning (e.g. HQ Flowform 2.0, Didak Flowform 4m, PL Pilot/CiM Lifter etc etc). As the wind pressure pulses the kite will either turn and rise to the zenith in lull or spin, collapse and ….power dive in gust.

The separation between kite and rig is a matter of judgement. For me it’s never less than 10m and often a great deal more. In general the longer the lead the kite has over the rig the better for camera stability. The amount of sky the kite needs to find clean airflow will vary according to location and windspeed. Unfortunately my max flying height is very restricted so the ‘light wind= long lead’ vs ‘strong wind=short lead’ rule tends to apply but with the important consideration of getting the kite well clear of the rotor zone around buildings and trees before you hitch the rig to the line. Remember when you add the rig to the line it will drag the kite down so there has to be clearance for that too.

So far I’d say 20mph is really pushing it with the Levi, even with a beefed up stock length spreader. I reckon it tops out around 15mph……but this is a kite with great potential!”

Tristan has sucess at last:

“I did realise they are one and the same. I got the impression you were not such a fan of the delta and thought it good you were enjoying this one, so far!

I had two long sessions yesterday in perfect winter conditions. It was really great.”

Tristan and Levi_01Tristan and Levi_02And so is the photography, perfect low sun, great subject!

Meanwhile Piotrs observations are altogether different. He sees the ITW factory approach as something of an insult to the legendary throughbred deltas made by Mike Leigh and Paul Barnes:

“Very interesting is the discussion ITW 9′. I am the owner of homemade version of the R8, this is a brilliant design. As I watch the pictures, ITW 9′Levi, I think that it’s not worth $ 75. Requiring the R8 level kite [at that price] is immoral. It’s a little bit I would not compare with JA rokkaku or dopero. It is cheap kite for amateurs, and none of it will not make an eagle.”

As a proud owner of a Jones Airfoils 8’Rok I’m well aware of the value of a finely crafted kite but I think Christoph Fokken has done a good job for ITW. It’s true the price is very low: I couldn’t make one for $75 so it could be said the ‘Made in China’ label devalues the efforts of the master craftsmen.

“Poitr, yes, an original by a master builder is a very different experience.

The difference is in the detail and durability: the mass market kites often have loose threads, miss matched bridles and are heavier than the artisan examples. This is why ( when we can afford it) it is always worth paying more for the hand made original. The difference may be as much as 10% increased wind range simply because the fabric joints are exactly matched to the load and wear for a given design- the same join on a mass market kite is often ‘over engineered’ for ease of manufacture. The light wind performance of a kite from a master builder will always exceed that of a mass market one.

Of the mass market kites there are some which are well designed by proven designers, and, within thier limits, they give us the opportunity to aspire to the originals!

Christoph Fokken has done a really good job for ITW and, for the money it’s a great flyer!
I bought this kite to explore its use in community KAP projects and I think it will do well, provided I upgrade the spreader spar.”

It’s a common misconception that a cheap kite is a s good as a dear one. Tristan falls straight into that trap:

“I’d love to have a Porsche too but budget and priority dictates otherwise. My Subaru however is a more than capable vehicle.

I’ve always worked on the premise that it’s not what you have, it’s what you do with it that counts never more so than in creative Indevours.

Horses for courses but there’s no doubt that the artisan, crafted product is of a higher quality and in an altogether higher league. So is the price.”

I have to put him right. A good quality kite is worth having, even at a relatively high cost.

“The Porsche analogy doesn’t quite fit here: any car will get you down the road but a big bespoke lifter will lift a camera when many others won’t, perhaps it’s closer to an artist choosing an instrument to hit the required note, if you don’t have it you can’t play!

Having worked my way though a fair number of lifter options over the last 4 years I came to the conclusion the critical end is the light wind (Bft2) case. This is where I decided to make the investment in quality. It makes a difference to know I can lift 1kg in Bft 2. Once you get into gentle breeze (Bft3) your options widen and there are many good, affordable kites available.

Compared to the price of cameras kites are very good value, not to mention comparison with the cost of a microcopter!”

Piotr is keen to show a ‘set’ of deltas has potential

“Is DL R8 is an older design than ITW 9′? These two kites are very similar.
Today I had the opportunity to fly at 25 – 40 mph. It was an extreme test of my new delta Stealth Kiwi. I consider him very successful, the kite is great.”

And here it is, with no visible signs of damage after takin a beating in the wind. I don’t think all kiwi kites have to be red but Piotr’s copy is:

Piotr KwiIt strikes me that ITW know what they are doing as they got licenced production of Dan Leigh’s delta underway in the ’90s so I see the Levitation as being in the same school of ‘affordable designer’ kite, it may be cheap but it has a good pedigree. I point this out to Piotr:

“I think Dan Leigh got there first, I believe he licenced his design to ITW and they sell it as a ‘Trooper’. Christoph Fokken has taken a slightly different approach to the lay of the fabric weave- by using a radial array of strips he introduces extra stiffness to the wing at the root and less at the trailing edge, something I suspect comes from his stunt kite ideas.

One of the impressive things about Dan Leighs designs is the way he uses the absoloute minimum meterial: look at the keel- he reduces the profile by removal of all the unstressed part of the web.

I like the kiwi copy it looks good indeed. I assume from the ‘Stealth’ description its a bit quieter than the original? I find the original PFK Nighthawk is none too steady in the big winds its designed for and I think this is down to the rigid spreader spar it uses. What do you think to Mike LeDucs ‘dynamic’ spreader idea?”

Piotr is clearly a fan of the PFK, his description of the faithful kite miles out to sea doggedly tugging a big catch home to its master is deightful:

“PFK Nighthawk, it really brilliant design! One should always remember, his destiny. This is a solitary warrior, working often at night, in extreme conditions, one mile away from his master! He’s a bit like a good hunting dog, out hunting. It is completely independent, but the hunt for their lord. In the KAP such extremes are not needed (only a few people), my aim is to light the domestication of of this “Beast”.
Stealth little flutters, but it is definitely quiet kite. For more than one hour of flying, no moments of lack control, gusty wind 25 – 40 mph. I am very pleased.
Mike LeDucs ‘dynamic’ spreader idea, is original, but it requires excellent materials and very good performance. Probably easier is have two spreaders, for strong and moderate wind, In the matter ordinary kite everything is invented, changing only the materials.
For strong winds works DL formula  “

I reply to Tristan on his comment he thought I didn’t like deltas (an understandable impression given I don’t get on well with the PFK)

“About me and the deltas.

My first idea for KAP kites was to exploit the flowforms, simply because they fold up small and deploy quick: the idea was to have a set in different sizes to suit a range of wind speeds, I spent a lot of time exploring their limits, and discovered they just won’t do Bft 2 at all well. The answer to the really light wind end is a super light framed kite like the big rok (or Dopero)…which I discovered was a brilliant low wind lifter but a bit of a fiddle to transport and put togetether. At this point it became clear to me the soft kites work best at the top end of Bft 3 and Bft 4 and above that they either rip your arm off or heel enter the PFK Nighthawk to meet the big bluster and thus I came to the delta kite family from the wrong direction. The highly recommended PFK Nighthawk is a very unusual example, it is something of a chainsaw (gets the job done but its never going to be a precision instrument) in Bft 4 and 5 compared to the lighter wind kites. It fairly drove me nuts with its weaving about.

I decided to give the Levitation a try just to see if the ‘dynamic spar’ idea had legs as it would seem to replace a whole bunch of BFT3 and 4kites if it does. Up to now I have been used to a direct ratio between windspeed and pull. Deltas don’t do that. I’m getting the hang of it… far I have found the 9′ Levitation good..but I’m not quite confident enough with it lifting my 800g rig in Bft3.

There are very few kites I’m adverse to: perhaps the Rowlands ‘Photokite’ is my least liked but its fun to fly all the same.”

And Piotr’s reply shows we are in agreement:

I love dopero, deltas and large rokkaku. With a few kite is the ability to select the best option. Unfortunately kite for KAP, it must have an additional advantage, good cooperation with the rig. You need to try a few, it’s a bit like picking up girls.;o)


PS Dopero is great, but a lot of assembling”

So back in the Netherlands Kappix Ramon has been reading all this with a knowing smile: he’s been flying the levitation for years and knows its worth:

“Hi guys,

First of all this is to let you know I’m still following all this. Just kept my biased opinion for myself to see you guys coming to the same ‘conclusion’ that this kite really has good characteristics for KAP (and for lifting wire antennas). Again, this Levi Light still is my favourite kite for the job – I used it the day before yesterday in a very mild wind. I think it was just hitting the 3 Bft scale when I was trying to use it for my AutoKAP rig. It was a no go but fortunately I managed to keep it aloft by boating against the wind to a point I couldn’t go any further. Took everything down and got back to the spot where I started. Put the kite back up again and tried to keep the rig in the air. Much to my surprise the Levi Light now managed to gain hight and took the rig with it. Another thing that amazed me: the wind had decreased to a point I didn’t feel it at ground level. And the kite was gently flying at about 150 meters agl. Quite special. All pics were razor sharp, even at 1/60.

This is probably the reason why I like this kite that much, besides it can be assembled in less than 30 seconds and airborne well under 1 minute.

Either of the pics I made on Saturday, July 6th, of the cows and that magnificent windmill ‘Het Prinsenhof’, can be used for what you intend to do, Bill. Pick the one that you like the most.


PS a custom made [ Ramon is in contact with Christoph Fokken who offered to make him a one off as a favour] Levi Light is on its way to Zaandijk!”

Ramons Levitataion special

And here is Chrstoph’s creation for Ramon, it looks lovely, a nice choice of colours (very different to the fair ground palette of the production models) and the precise, delicate work of the seams is plain to see: exactly what Piotr knows, the craftsman made examples save material at every joint!

You can do things with this kite I can’t do with any other. Yesterday I went out at dusk, no wind a ground level at all, a gentle rustling of the lightest branches at the tree tops. I paid out about 30m of line with the kite faced to where I geussed the the wind was from and waited for the next pulse…and flicked the Levitation into the air at the moment a faint whisper rocked the grass…she caught and held. I paid out more line and slowly she rose until the trailing edges began to ripple slowly. I fed more line and hitched on a 400g rig, another 30m of line later and the rig hung in the air like it belonged there. I couldn’t believe it; there was no pull on the line all but 400g of metal and glass was hoisted aloft in to the dusk like it was on rails!

I don’t fully understand how this kite is able to do this; it compensates for the load and wind pressure somehow. I can see how the rok works, it flexes against the bow and you can feel it do this on the line- the delta feedback is quite different.

I didn’t really have a photographic agenda, I’d got the rig way too high to make sense of detail and the light had faded to useless but I just didn’t want to bring the wind weed out of the sky: it is a beautiful thing in 5-7mph: I was able to get to the clean air with a manoeuvre that is possible with a big rok but not easy as its cross wind movement on a tow launch requires a lot of space and a good dose of brute strength.

Sunset 09072013

These 4 shots are 150 secs apart with the view point and height determined by the kite…I was only out for a walk.

So, after all the discussion which kite do we like the best?

…the one we are flying!

About billboyheritagesurvey

Heritage worker
Gallery | This entry was posted in KAP, Kites and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The tools we love, conversations on kites

  1. Ramon says:

    Great essay, Bill!
    Not sure if HTML sticks at, but here it is:

    • See above, it looks great. I want one. A lot. Just to let you know I’ll be posting on kite SW antenna after the Royston Kite festival on 4th Aug…if the Wx is ok that is!

      The radio guys I am working with seem to be quite happy with a 40m wire hanging direct from the kite line but I think it should be possible to get the whole 40m ‘live’ wire lofted higher with a feed wire carried on the kite line. Any reason why not?

      …and I finally overcame the fear and flew the Leica from the Levitation:
      L1335330…’twas a joy!

  2. Ramon says:

    Congrats, Bill! Finally you made the jump to let the Levi fly the Leica. Like I commented on one of the pics on ipernity, it seems to be the perfect combination for the job.

    The CF Levitation Light ‘Special’ arrived today. I have had no time to fly it yet but took it out of its sleeping bag to see how it was made. What a gem! More on this later.

  3. Ramon says:

    I’m back.

    Not yet had the opportunity to fly the ‘Special’ here in Tuscany. Hoping to do so next week.

    The reason why they are happy with the 40 m line is probably because of the simplicity. You sort of use the surface of the earth as the counterpoise, being the imaginative ‘other’ leg of the dipole. It would be possible to,loft a whole dipole antenna of say 2 x 20 m, but that type of antenna needs to be fed in the middle with either an open line or a coax cable. That means more weight and more difficulties to keep all that in the air. So that is probably the reason why they’d go for what you have now.

    You could also try to attach the top of the wire to the kite line with a bungy cord so that the aerial is sort of vertical instead of diagonal . Either way it will work anyhow.


  4. Ramon says:

    OK, the ‘Special’ flew last week, but due to the lack of internet connection on our 2nd address during our Tuscan holiday I’m only able to write about it after our return.

    Despite the weird airflow due to the Tuscan hills, the heat (turbulence) and the nearby Tirreno, it flew great! I had it up in the air for only about 20 minutes so it needs more time flying to get a proper assessment, but I’m already very confident about this gem kite. My plan is to use it more often shortly. Maybe tomorrow. I need to fly again as 3 sessions in 3 weeks holiday is way too few…


  5. Ramon says:

    Yep, never a mess up with carbon :0)

  6. Ed Woods says:

    I recall seeing your kite when you were in Methwold and thought you were taking photos. Great to see the results.

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