Never Say Die!

The Stage:

Here in the Northwest we don’t have certain niceties, We have trees. ..some 175 feet [tall] or better and 10 feet at the base are not uncommon. We have wind

…well sometimes, we have wind…
but it’s never nice steady winds…at least when you’re trying to shoot. And it can change direction quickly. But then it figures, the wind has to travel over lOO miles from the ocean to get to me. ..over a mountain range over various land and water masses, over hills, and over ancient forests. ..sometimes referred to as old growth. We have some of the tallest trees in the World here. And oh yes…we have converging winds. ..as our weathermen call them. ..because of all the bays around here. I have a nice shot of the full moon at night with the clouds going at a right angles to each other. Over at this house I’ve been trying to shoot I had the smoke from a burn pile going one way, the weather vane on top of a 2 story house going another, and the clouds going a third way needless to say I didn’t launch that day.

Oh yes…
did I mention. …it’s on the edge of a bluff that eagles love to soar. Now if you know what happens when wind hits a bluff… you’ll really love the chase.

The Chase:

I launched one 8′ Delta conyne. ..not enough to get it up into the wind above the 100 foot trees. Added another DC, let out 130 feet, felt good. ..right pull, plus DC’s stabilized each other and aren’t all over the sky …kind of like two kids tied together.

Attached the rig, let out 150-200 feet and started firing away… wind was gusting and changing direction due to the turbulent air, but I was used to that, and used to dodging the 175 foot trees, my power pole, wires, Blackberry bushes, numerous fruit trees, etc.

Brought the rig back down… #$@% …
and sent it right back up. (it now has a big “TURN CAMERA ON” sign right next to the RC switch). Got my shots and then started hauling in…

then it hit.
I have a good wind gauge…the Bay… several from my vantage point. I always watch the water…but today it didn’t warn me… neither did the sky.

Suddenly it was all I could do to hang onto my reel. It took 5 minutes for me to move 10 feet to the Grape arbor and another 5 minutes for me to get 5 raps around a post….

?The Good Part:
Then Bang…
the kite and wind switched direction… not good… I’m almost in a forest with very tall trees all around me. Now I’m a fighter kite pilot… and I’ve got some good stories to tell of how I’ve maneuvered my DC’s inbetween 2 trees that you couldn’t go straight up between because of the overlapping branches… but not today….there was too much wind. The kite headed for the middle of a 175 foot tree. I pulled…they hit the top 1/4 of the tree top. One wrapped… the other just sat there.

I knew my neighbor Roger might climb the tree, and was due home in a hour… so I went home to close my business up and get my daughter. On the way back. ..I saw another neighbor (This is country side here…neighbors are 2.5-10 acres apart) kids looking up at something in the sky about 1000 feet from my kite. Hummm. …nah. …couldn’t be… I kept driving by. Told my daughter (we kid around a lot) just look for the tallest tree and you’ll find my kites. I flew down my 500 foot driveway…
and imagine my surprise…
the neighbors are still talking about how those kites untangled themselves and somehow unwound the reel from the grape arbor… and somehow… dragged the reel (the kind you put extension cords on) though a lOO foot wooded barrier, though two very thick blackberry barriers. ..one was 120 inches wide and 6-10 feet high…before catching it on a 2,7000 volt power line. I got to it just in time to see the reel sitting on the ground under the power line… the line going over the power wire to the top of a 150 foot tree, around the tree at a 70 degree angle (another wind shift) and was flying about 500′ out for all to see.

My neighbor Jim has what could be called a small junk yard, and you never know who he has over. (we get along fine… very fine as you shall see). Out of his house piles 4 people all grinning.

…and two volunteer to grab the reel,
which we can’t figure out what is keeping it on the ground,
I say no…

and we debate…
the choice is made for us. It [the reel] snaps up to the power wire and hangs very tightly. The one guy grinning says… If he had known it was my kite he would have gone up and got it… he saw it… and was a tree topper. I mutter something under my breath about my luck… this guys first time over here and he picks today to visit…. nobody is over here when I need them, only by accident. Jim, my neighbor just happens to have electricians gloves… so we improvise a long grappling hook, etc. and the Tree topper (TT) goes up the tree. I tell him he’s crazy… he agrees. ..that is why he’s a topper. I tell him I’ve written the kite off… but he says he’s bored, and he needs to climb a tree.

Read also : Measuring Wind Speed

The Plot Thickens:

The plan was to go to the very top of the 175 foot Douglas fur, which was really swaying at this point in 30-40 MPH winds, where it [the kite] was caught…
pull in enough [line] to tie it off…

cut the line to the power wire,
and either pull in the kite or top the tree with the line attached.

We were afraid to leave it because a storm was moving in.. 3 storms to be exact. We were confident we could top the tree… which would fall in my 20 foot wide driveway, cut though the woods, and then pull it in when the wind was right…. just to tree top level where it would loose wind and die… and quickly let the line out so it would land in another neighbors clearing, instead of the woods that borders our property on that side. 

What we should have done was have our “TT” attach another line and drop it to us on the ground and we would help him pull it in… but we weren’t smart enough to think of that at the time, and the pull was either too much for him or he was on automatic up in a tree and he called down for the chain saw and we sent it up without question. He later said he didn’t know what he was thinking because he had planed to pull it [the kite] in.

The Pattern Keeps Forming:

But before he has it tied off we hear…
“YeoW…Yeouuuuuuuuuuw “.
Me, “What happen”
TT, “I got a shock”.
Jim and I… grin at each other… we had already told him about 50 times that he was crazy …(Tree topers up here have to be… it comes with the job).
I shout back… “PUT THE GLOVES ON… the kite is expendable… you aren’t”.
Another “YEEOOWW…”
“put the GLOVES ON”.
TT, “send up the heaver gloves”.

Oh yes…

I called the power company… what a joke… it was now after hours and I got forwarded to some regional center. The best part was when I called back to cancel the emergency 2 hours later and told them

“Don’t ask… but, we resolved the problem and now our kite is in no danger of coming down and frying our neighbors kids.”

I had a different lady this time and she came unglued that they hadn’t responded on the first call.

TT pulls in enough line to tie it off and cuts the power [electric] side….

               zing…
boy did that line snap.
Then TT goes down 10 feet from the tree top…
I say, “DOWWWWWN MORE.”
I want at least 200 lbs. on that line when it falls…”MORE…MORE…OK.”
Jim… “I don’t know… looks more like 265 lbs.”
Me.. “we better make it 300.. we want it to fall almost straight down and not have the kites pull it into the trees on the other side of the driveway… more…OK”.

Chain saw sound…          
          tree top falls on target…
hey… we’re good. Hey… you got to appreciate this…. the kites had to pull the tree top out 12 feet to miss the impermeable blackberry patch under that side of the tree. Jim and I start pulling in… everything goes to the plan… we get the kites to tree top level… they fade in the eddy…and fall…we let line out… blast… a wind gust

(Now you’ve got to realize we are controlling the kites by a dog stake if you will… for the line is now running over the top of a 110 foot tree that is next to the forefront of a 50 foot strip of trees that borders my 500 foot driveway…the gust of wind hits the DC and it becomes a fighter kite and takes off in the direction that it’s aimed (again) the only tree that it could hit, a 150 footer… we let line out so fast we just wound up letting go of the line and getting out of harms way… the 150 feet of remaining line snapped taut…

too late…
the line’s now caught in that tree. Everybody is grinning at each other, the line is so taut 2 of us can’t pull it. (400lb. 1/8″ line… Hey, I always over use… you never know when a wind gust will come up ). It’s now determined that if one was flying with 20 acres clear with one tree, that’s where the kite would go. Jim says the wind will die…
we all laugh…

We decide to wait things out…
2 days and 2 storms later, the wind died for 5 minutes inbetween storms…and you guessed it…The line was the perfect length…and the wind never ever blows that direction, that anyone can remember . The kites came down in a group of three 110-130 foot trees in the very far extreme corner of my neighbors 2.5 acres. Two days later my tree climbing nut is back with his climbing irons and belt… (He just used his bare hands the first time). The kites survived 40 MPH winds (good Line), but broke the spars and poked 5 very small holes total in the two kites. Did I say broke the spars? The spars were also severely bent from the strong winds…some 40 degrees.

Read also : Kite 101 : Flying Characteristics

Lessons Learned:

Take a 2nd person as backup in unpredictable conditions to help bring the kite down.

A wind up reel that attaches to the body that you can lock the winder and easily remove and snap to something (Not tie… takes too long to tie and untie). Climbing snaps work great. My “NEW” reel also has a wrist strap… like some stunt flyers use.

DC’s need tails to tame their movement.

DC’s make great fighter kites, but are not the best kites for aerial photography.

In unknown wind conditions, fire off a small 4th of July rocket ( one that really smokes as it goes up) to test different levels of wind. ( fortunately…we have lots of Indian reservations around here that sell the good stuff).

Use at least 400 lb. line when possible… Granted, 300 lb. will out live the kite but if you get the line in a tree, and get abrasion factor working…you need a safety margin. I had 400 lb. touching in 6 places for 2 days in 20-30 MPH winds… and oh yes… it also survived 2,700 volts and we know voltage was flowing though the line…. our human tester told us that… and that was when he was at the top of a 120 foot tree connected by 1/8 inch line that was bone dry, 150 feet long that was touching the wire.

I’m now working on a rig for horrible conditions. ..now if I can just come up with a good name for it…

May the wind be at your back..

Leave a Comment