Tuesday 29 December 2015

Double Oxray!

If you mention the name 'Dunford' to a kite enthusiast, he or she will surely think of his Flying Machine. Much less well-known is the fact that Don Dunford designed more kites besides the Flying Machine: the Stingray and related kites. This 'family' of kites consists of three: the basic Stingray, the Oxray (an improved version of the Stingray) and the Skyblade (a larger, multi-coloured Oxray). Being interested in the early history of dual-line kites, of course I've been keeping my eyes peeled for these kites, and the Oxray turns out to be like buses: don't see one for ages, and then two pop up ...

One of these two was a present from Bill Souten / MKF, the other one came straight from the original source, as Cochranes of Oxford still had a few in their warehouses (before you ask: yes, they also had a basic Stingray and a Skyblade!).

Oxrays are small kites (99 cm wing span) and are fun and easy kites to fly, but do need constant wind pressure on the sail, 10-12mph is ideal. This means they don't like stalling or flying at the edge of the wind window. But they can really turn on a dime, though!

Having two of them means we have to fly them as a pair, of course.

Flying them side by side shows they're not exactly the best precision kites. They're very sensitive to input so difficult to get them to track well. We took them through a series of official STACK figures, and I don't think we would have scored high for any of them .... Still, we had fun flying them together, and I don't think there are many kite teams in the world who have a pair of Dunford Oxrays in their quiver!

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Piranha & Piranha Bait

Flying Fish is and firmly remains a dual-line pair, but that doesn't mean we don't look at kites with fewer or more than two lines, especially if they're a bit fishy ...

Talking of fishy kites, for a long time I've been aware of a pair of fish-shaped fighter kites, designed by Joel Scholz. They're called 'Piranha' and 'Piranha Bait', and as they're no longer produced, getting my hands on a pair of these proved to be a real challenge. Fortunately, perseverance paid off, and thanks to a kind soul on the Gone with the Wind forum, Flying Fish now has a pair of 'Piranha' and 'Piranha Bait' fighter kites!

Their maiden flight was in a quite strong and blustery wind, which didn't make flying them easy. We'd be the first to admit that our skills in flying fighter kites isn't anywhere near our dual-line flying, but we did get them to fly.

And they weren't easy to photograph either ... plenty of pictures showing a clear blue sky with not a kite in sight!

Monday 23 November 2015

New main routine

When we flew our main festival and competition routine at Portsmouth Kite Festival a few months ago, we had already decided that it was time to retire our 'Ruthless Queen' routine, and to start working on something new for 2016. Doesn't mean we'll never fly this routine again, of course, but we felt we needed to try and up our game a bit, and practice a routine which is much more to the music than with the music. This was the main criticism we got after we'd flown at the National Championships in June.

Now for those of you who have followed this blog for some time know that we still have a routine 'on the shelf', which we started some work on a while ago, but which was then put on the backburner for various reasons. I'm talking about a routine to 'Chariots of Fire', originally composed by Ron Reich of Top of the Line fame. The nice thing about this routine is that it has already been worked out with time points, etc, so we can focus purely on flying it to the music, and get more experience in flying it no matter the wind strength. A future step would then be to write our own routine, completely from scratch. But that's indeed for the future.

In the meantime, we have started practicing this routine, adapting it as we go along to suit our kites and style of flying. Sometimes, that tweaking is just a matter of leaving out or adding a single element; sometimes it involves more major changes to a pattern, or even doing something entirely different, if we feel it can be made more interesting or adds more variety to the routine.

The practicing we've done so far has clearly shown flying a routine to music is a completely different ball game! Especially adapting your flying to the prevailing wind such that those circles are flown at exactly the same point in time, no matter whether your kites go slow or fast. That in itself ought to make us better flyers, if nothing else.

We sincerely hope to have this ready as our main routine for 2016, at festivals and for competition, and that's what we're really going to work for over the winter. Hoping to come to a festival near you!

Monday 12 October 2015

Flying Fish banners

Loyal readers of this blog, and those people who have seen us fly at festivals and competitions will know that we have a pole with five 'fish windsocks' as our 'official' event banner, flying next to our tent.

Fish flying, flying fish, seems pretty obvious, right? But you only know it's a banner for Flying Fish if you actually know us as Flying Fish ..

With that in mind, we decided to get ourselves another banner, one which makes it more obvious that we're Flying Fish. And the to-go-to people for that job are of course Roy and Hayley at Kites Up, who also made the team banner for L-katz

In trying to come up with a design that we really liked and wanted to fly, we went through a whole series of options, playing with colours, fonts, and other elements. At some point, we couldn't see the wood for the trees anymore, and I put some designs on Facebook to gauge people's reactions. That really helped, and I got some good suggestions to consider. In the end, we went for a design which incorporated the Flying Fish logo, the blue and red from the logo fading from the top and bottom, and a pair of Airdynamics T5 Taipan kites symbolising our main competition set.

So here they are, flying in the sun on their swivel stakes! 

Yes, 'they' ... we decided in the end to get a pair of them, to be erected on both sides of our tent, and printed such that you can always read the 'Flying Fish' on one banner, no matter where you or the wind is coming from.

They look great, we think, and we really look forward to flying them wherever we perform in public. Thanks to Roy and Hayley for a job really well done!

By the way, we're not ditching the 'fish windsocks'; they will remain flying at our tent as well.

Monday 28 September 2015

Flying Fish goes quad

Flying Fish is a dual-line pair, and we have no plans to change that in the foreseeable future. But that doesn't mean we can't add something a little different to what we can do at festivals, does it?

You may or may not be aware that we have a Flying Wings VampDevil quad kite in our quiver. Not as precise as a Revolution, but a fun kite to fly, with a really great presence in the sky. We actually flew a little 'off the cuff' demo with this kite at Malmesbury Kite Festival two years ago. What has always been in the back of my mind was to get a second one, so we could fly them as a pair. VampDevils come in many different colour schemes, and ideally we'd want one which is the mirror image of the one we already have, i.e. red where ours is black, and black where ours is red.

To make a long story short, we finally succeeded in getting exactly that VampDevil, with thanks to Karl Longbottom.

So here's our second VampDevil! Isn't it a cutey?

For pair-flying, we decided to swap the tails around. Increases the contrast of the kites, and so the presence in the sky. They really look fantastic together!

As I said above, they're not as precise as Revolutions, but we had no problem flying simple patterns with the two: follow-ons, infinities, parallel circles, wraps, synchronous wingtip turns, etc.

Windwise, their official wind range is 2-15mph, but I'd say they do need at least 4mph to have decent drive.

We're not planning on choreographing a specific routine for them, at least not for now. But the plan is to fly them at festivals, as and when the wind allows, and making up the routine as we fly. And the music we want to use for them is The Love Crave's cover version of 'Thriller':

Saturday 19 September 2015

Red Arrows!

You know the saying that some things are like buses? You wait for one for ages, and then three show up at the same time? Doesn't just apply to buses; applies to kites as well ...

I was aware of the existence of a 1970s Peter Powell-like kite made by Mettoy Wembley, called 'Red Arrow'. Plastic sail, partly transparent and with a red silhouette of a jet plane, extended nose, and a plastic tube tail to simulate a smoke trail. I kept an eye out for one for ages, but without any luck, until one showed up on eBay, which I did indeed win. Within a week or two, Allan Pothecary, of Close Encounters fame offered me a bunch of vintage kites on permanent loan, and that bunch included a stacked pair of Red Arrows! So within a couple of weeks, my collection of Mettoy Wembley Red Arrow kites went from zilch to three. Given what we normally fly, we were more interested in flying a pair than a stack, so I disconnected the stack, added red and blue tube tails, and off we went trying out the single Red Arrow I got off eBay ...

... and the front Red Arrow from Allan's stack

We first flew both separately, to get a feel for their flight behaviour. As you might expect, they're pretty heavy kites for their size, so need a decent breeze to fly well. When the wind drops, they tend to stall, and become harder to turn. Essentially, not different from an old Peter Powell.

And of course we had to fly them together! At that point, the wind started to drop away, so we struggled to fly patterns and formations, but they will be fine in stronger winds. Thanks, Allan!

Obviously, I can't have a blog post about Red Arrows without talking about the 'other' Red Arrows, which gave the kites their name in the first place. Especially because not long after we flew our Red Arrows, we were treated to a 20+ minute truly awesome Red Arrows display over Southampton Water! Unfortunately, we didn't have our Red Arrow kites with us at the time (would have been fun to have both in the air at the same time!)

What made the Red Arrows display even more special for us is that there are definite parallels between what they do in their jet planes, and what we do when we fly in a kite team: tight formations, wraps, and even star bursts!

Picture credit of Red Arrows display: Neil Gostling.

Sunday 6 September 2015

EuroCup 2015

The 2015 European Sport Kite Championships took place on September 4-6 in Dunkerque. Unfortunately, because of work commitments, we couldn't go there and support our fellow flyers and teams. Hope we can make it to the next EuroCup (and maybe even compete one day??).

In the meantime, how did the UK competitors do?

First dual-line pair, 'our' category, Phoenix secured bronze, behind Courant d'Air (gold) and In et Out (silver). Courant d'Air retained their 2013 title.

In dual-line team, Flame took the bronze medal, silver went to Cerfs-Volants Folie, whereas the gold went to Start'Air (who retained their 2013 title).

The quad-line pair category saw Tall and Small end fifth. The winner was Now'Air, silver went to Gli Stuzzucaventi, and bronze to Kangaroo Tango Copter.

In the quad-line team competition, there were no UK competitors, Now'Air took the title, with the silver going to SBananator. As there were only two entries, there was no bronze medal.

In dual line individual, Bryan Beasley came sixth. The competition was won by Matthieu Mayet, with Stephen Versteegh taking the silver, and Julien Lahyani the bronze.

Finally, Josh Mitcheson ended in fifth place in quad-line individual. Guido Maiocchi took the gold (retaining his 2013 title), silver was for Stephen Versteegh, and bronze for Loris Gerbino.

So France did really well overall, taking gold in five of the six categories, and snatching 9 of the 17 medals. Italy took one gold, and four medals overall, the Netherlands and the UK shared the remaining four medals between them.

Keep an eye on the EuroCup's Facebook page; full results and videos of some or all of the ballets will hopefully be posted soon.

Sunday 23 August 2015

Portsmouth Kite Festival

Even though Portsmouth was moved two weeks earlier, it was still the close of the 2015 festival season for us. As I've written before, that always gives a bit of a double feeling, and we were determined to go out with a bang at the biggest festival for us this year. We most certainly did, but more on that later!

Weather gave us a mixture of sun and clouds, and it remained dry all weekend. Wind varied between 6-12mph on Saturday, but much much lighter on Sunday: 3-4mph at most, but often down to nothing ... Warming up on Saturday was with our Airdynamics T5 Taipan Standards, but at the last moment before our first display, we switched down to our ultralights; good call it appeared to be and we stuck with these kites for the rest of the day, for both our 'Ruthless Queen' and 'Adiemus' routines.

On Sunday, with the much lighter winds, it was further down, to our Cubans. There were times during our various regular routines that there simply was no wind to speak of. But with a lot of walking backwards where necessary (aided by TC calling out how much space we still had; thanks TC!), and running forwards where possible, we kept the kites flying, and kept within the arena boundaries. Good no-wind practice for sure!

Over to the other teams present. First of all, our regular neighbours at kite festivals, Team Spectrum.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I simply can't get my head around how Carl can fly three kites at the same time; he must have three separate brains ... but very glad he is doing this at festivals (and glad he flew his Chi Mai routine on Sunday!)

The one team I was really looking forward to see was the Chinese Dalian Storm team. Simply because I'd never seen them fly before, and because I'd heard very good things about them.

They certainly didn't disappoint, and I'll let you watch one each of their team and pair performances for yourself, both from Saturday. Note the synchronised half-axels and axel-cascades!

Doubling the number of lines per kite brings us to the two Revolution teams present: The Flying Squad ...

... and the Decorators

Do they really need further introduction?

Of course, with both of these top teams present, a mega-team is the traditional close of the day at Portsmouth.

I said above, we went out with a bang, and here's why .... As the traditional close-of-the-day Revolution displays and mega-team were about to happen Sunday afternoon, Gill asked us if we were willing to fly one more routine. Happy to oblige, of course! We decided to fly our 'Ruthless Queen' routine once more. Why? Because we had already decided to retire this routine as our main festival and competition routine following Portsmouth, and start work on a new routine for 2016 (more on that in an upcoming blog post). So this was a perfect opportunity to say goodbye to 'Ruthless Queen', especially because the wind had picked up just a tad. As we launched, it was clear that the wind put just enough pressure on the Cuban sails to fly a slow, flowing and gracious routine, and I think we really nailed it. A worthy send-off for 'Ruthless Queen' and we both got a bit emotional when we flew the final heart pattern before landing the kites.

Following on from the last routine, the organisers of Portsmouth, Gill and Jon, always hand out a few trophies (winner of the altitude sprint, best kite, etc). We were really really chuffed when the trophy for 'Best Team Display' was given to .... Flying Fish! Really didn't expect that, going out with such a big bang, and it made the farewell for 'Ruthless Queen' that much more special!

Many more pics of the festival are here. One of these in this blog post, though: the moment when five Rolf Zimmermann Wyverex kites were up in the sky together; absolutely awesome sight!

Picture credits: of us flying on Saturday: Marie Coombs; of us flying on Sunday and receiving our trophy: Joe Brown

Sunday 2 August 2015

Dunstable Kite Festival

Following our first performance at Dunstable Kite Festival in 2014, we were very happy to be asked back this year. Saturday gave us sunny conditions, and a pretty strong, but consistent wind. Unusually for a kite festival, the arena programme kicked off with a mass fly, which included a 7-strong mega-team, consisting of the Airheads, Carl from Team Spectrum, and Flying Fish. First time we flew together with Carl!

For our own performances, we stuck to the Airdynamics T5 Taipan V2 we flew in the 'warm-up' mega-team for our Ruthless Queen routine. Great kites, and they had no problems whatsoever with the strong wind. We didn't even need to take off the patches, so they can take a lot more.

For our second routine to Adiemus, we switched to our Peter Powells. The consistently strong wind really suited them!

As to other teams present, I should first mention The Flying Squad, given that Dunstable is their home and practice ground. Solid performances, and you wouldn't expect anything less from them.

I already mentioned Carl from Team Spectrum; he and Bryan flew their usual three routines.

Besides the warm-up mega-team, the Airheads flew two different routines which I both managed to capture on video. Because of the sun shining in my eyes, I couldn't always see what's on the screen of my iPad, so there are a few times when the kites leave the frame. Still, I got them most of the time!

In stark contrast to Saturday, Sunday started off with a much more blustery wind, plus rain, which was pretty heavy at times. Together with the Airheads, we tried to fly a bit, but soon gave up, especially given that there was absolutely no public.

Shortly after noon, the second day was cancelled, everyone packed up as soon as they could, and left. Real pity, but the weather was decidedly unpleasant, and we did try ...

More pictures of the festival, almost all from Saturday, are here.

Picture credit of the mega-team: Jan Wright; of Flying Fish: Simon Dann.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Brighton Kite Festival

Brighton Kite Festival occupies a special place in our kiting hearts. It was the first festival that invited us to fly in the arena 3 years ago, and so it's the festival we've flown most often at. On top of that, it just has a very pleasant atmosphere. Our fourth attendance as invited flyers offered us two very different days. On Saturday, it was wonderfully sunny, with winds gradually increasing during the day.

On Sunday, it hardly ever stopped raining or drizzling, and the wind was extremely variable and all over the place. I guess the pictures really show the difference!

Also invited, as usual at Brighton, were Team Spectrum. And rather than show a few pictures of them flying, I thought I'd do one better, and embed two videos of Bryan and Carl flying as a pair; one from Saturday:

And one from Sunday:

I do admit to shirking my usual ground crew duty to make these two videos ...

Normally, Team Spectrum and us provide the dual-line precision-flying, but this year, Brighton saw a dual-line team in the arena in the shape of L-katz! Yes, L-katz is back flying at a festival, as a 3-man formation, with Neil in #3 position. I have to admit to being a bit sneaky in making this a reality: Neil had said he'd come and watch on the Saturday, so I phoned him up Friday evening asking him whether he'd be ok with flying an improvised 3-man routine in the arena, given he'd be there anyway; just bring your kites .... It was an offer "he couldn't refuse" ...

L-katz flew twice on Saturday. First run was rather shaky, especially because Neil had to fly several patterns in a mirror image compared to what he's used to when we fly with four (and he flies in #4 position). Second run went a lot better.

Hopefully, this is the start of the return of L-katz to festival-flying (and who knows what else ...).

Because of the bad weather on Sunday, the large inflatables (including the dragons), fighter kites, etc couldn't fly, so Team Spectrum and Flying Fish flew more slots than usual, just to make sure there was usually something happening in the arena.

Did I mention dragons? Smorg, Angalor, and BKF's as-yet-unnamed blue dragon all flew on Saturday:

More pictures of the triumvirate of dragons, who didn't always get along nicely, and other kites, are here.

Picture credit of us flying as Flying Fish and in L-katz: Carl Wright (Team Spectrum).