Monday 16 September 2019

A quartet of 4-Ds

If you've been following this blog over the years, you may well be aware that, as Flying Fish, we're always on the look-out for kites that are slightly out of the ordinary, to fly at festivals. Whereas we have a wide range of such 'other' kites for intermediate wind ranges, when it comes to really low winds, our options are more limited. We do have a pair of Inner Spaces, though, and recently added a pair of Kaijus to our low-wind pair quiver.

Flying Fish is half of the L-katz team (the other half is our sister pair, Twisted Bridle). And if low-wind options are limited for Flying Fish as a pair, they're even more limited for the team. Basically, as a team, we only have our T5 Cubans for when the wind drops down to almost nothing.

Now it just so happens that Twisted Bridle has a pair of Prism 4-Ds, and we have a single 4-D. Three isn't that far from four, is it? Twisted Bridle's 4-Ds were 'Ruby' and 'Cobalt', whereas ours was 'Amethyst'. Just need one more 4-D, in a different-but-matching colour scheme, and we're done! So we got ourselves another 4-D from Kiteworld, in the new 'Graphite' colour scheme, as that matched the other three best.

Now we had no idea whether they could even be flown in pair or team formation, so getting that fourth one was a bit of a gamble. First test was with two being flown as a pair. The 15m lines they come with are far too short for any formation flying, of course. We tried 25m and added 5m leaders, and felt that 30m was the right length to fly them as a pair. Long enough to give us space to do things in, but not so long that the small kites (1.47m wing span) struggle in very light winds to pull the lines along.

The main thing you notice when flying 4-Ds as a pair is how twitchy the kites are. This means input has to be really minimal. We flew them with finger straps rather than wrist straps on the lines, and that does help towards keeping input minimal. Once you get used to that, you can basically do anything you would normally do with much larger team kites. Boxes can't be too sharp, or the kites oversteer and wobble. Axels and half-axels are easy, but refuels, on the other hand, are really tricky, because it's difficult to keep the lead kite stable enough for the following kite to 'dock'.

Two plus two makes four, right?

So the next test was to fly all four together. We stuck to 30m lines, and that worked fine in team formation; no need to go any longer.

Flying them in a team basically worked as well as flying them in a pair. Minimal input is absolutely key; sometimes you barely need to do more than just think about a move, and the kite will do it. We went through almost all our team patterns, including more complex ones such as jitterbug and quadra dazzle, and they all worked with the 4-Ds.

The 'Graphite' having a darker main sail than the other three actually works fine visually, as the 'Graphite' is the lead kite most of the time. And we intent to work more on some patterns where the 'Ruby', 'Amethyst' and 'Cobalt' kites are doing something together, different from the 'Graphite' one.

Of course, 4-Ds aren't designed to be team kites, and they'll never perform nearly as well as our T5s and Impulses. And we will never ever fly them in competition. But they do give us a different option when flying at festivals with the team in very low winds. Coming to a festival near you next year, maybe?

Sunday 8 September 2019

UK National Championships 2019

The 2019 competition season was always going to be a transition year for us, and it indeed turned out to be just that, for several reasons.

The main transition is that we wanted to compete with an entirely new ballet. For our first two nationals, we flew our ballet 'with' music ('Ruthless Queen'). For the next three nationals, we flew 'to' music, using an existing choreography ('Chariots of Fire') that we tweaked and changed a bit. The obvious next step up would be to write our own choreography from scratch, to a shortened version of 'Eve of the War' from War of the Worlds. Writing a ballet from scratch turned out to be very challenging, and it took us much longer than we anticipated to complete it, and so we had less time to practice it than we hoped. Big question would obviously be whether the judges liked it in the first place ...

Only two rounds of the nationals this year, at Dunstable Downs on June 15 & 16, and at Pontefract Racecourse on August 31 & September 1. The weather at both rounds was far from ideal. Very strong blustery wind (with gusts of well above 20mph) and occasional sharp showers on each of the four days of competition .... not the best conditions to fly our new ballet, for sure!

Let me first quickly summarise what happened in the disciplines we did not compete in, before going into a bit more details on the disciplines we did compete it.

Multiline individual

Two entries in this discipline: Dan Hoath and Josh Mitcheson. Over the two rounds, scores were very close between them, and Dan grabbed the title with only 0.1% of a difference!

Multiline pair

Also two entries: Fracture (Josh and Ben Taylor, formally known as Wey Aye Quad) and The Flying Squad (Dan and Stephen Hoath). The Flying Squad took the title convincingly, with a fabulous ballet, full of content, using every possible aspect of the music, and with some humour thrown in for good measure. For me, and many others, by far the ballet of the championships.

Multiline team

A single entry: Fracture. No surprise that they retained the title they won under the name Wey Aye Quad last year.

Dual-line indie

Four entries: Fran Burstall, Josh, Cameron Blair (back into competition after a long absence) and Dan. Fran retained his title.

Dual-line pair

Four pairs competed for the dual-line pair title. Besides Flying Fish, these were Fracture (Josh and Dan, flying under the name Wey Aye last year), Twisted Bridle and Skytracks (only at Pontefract). Good to see two novice pairs enter!

We didn't deal with the strong blustery wind well, especially when flying our ballet, so Fracture deservedly took the title from us. Twisted Bridle, our sister pair, earned their first sport kite title in the 'battle of the novice pairs'.

Dual-line team

Up to a week before the Dunstable round, it looked as if Fracture (formerly known as Wey Aye) would be the only dual-line team this year. But then we decided to enter with L-katz.

Being a novice team, we had the right to drop either the technical routine or the figures; we chose to drop figures, for the simple reason that we had hardly practiced any of them. Fracture (flying as a 4-man team at Dunstable, and a 3-man at Pontefract) of course took the title, but I feel we can hold our heads up high about L-katz' performance; besides picking up the novice title, we even scored higher than Fracture in the technical routine at Pontefract! We clearly had less content than Fracture, but we flew it cleaner, and that helped us score higher (if only just).

First of all, congratulations to all 2019 champions, and especially to Dan for picking up five national titles!

I mentioned 2019 being a transition season due to our new ballet. It was also a transition season due to us being in the process of switching over to Impulse kites as our main competition kites. Our ballet at Pontefract was flown with full-vent Impulses, and, given that we only had flown them for 5-10 minutes prior, using them in a competition ballet may, in hindsight, not have been the wisest decision.

So where do we go next? What are we going to focus on? For Flying Fish, we really need to get better flying under power, especially with regard to landing and (half-)axeling. Having the autumn, winter and spring to work on that, getting more used to our Impulse kites at the same time, should put us in a better position come the competition season next year. We want to go over our technical routine, adding some difficulty, and removing parts that don't really do anything for our scores. As to our ballet, we really feel we haven't done it justice; there's a lot more in it that we just couldn't put in front of the judges when it counted. As we don't plan to write a new ballet, we have a lot of time to work on our current one, and tweak it a bit here and there. Aim is obviously to take the title back from Fracture!

For L-katz, we need to start practicing figures, of course; next year, we'll be in the Experienced Class after all. Some changes to our technical routine, for sure. And as to our team ballet, we have the beginning of a fully choreographed team ballet, which we started during a team boot camp back in March. Hopefully, we'll be able to complete that in time, but I'm well aware how long writing a ballet can take. Aim is to improve significantly; we're under no illusion regarding any title!

Full results are available here. Even though we lost our dual-line pair title, we're still ranked #1 in the UK. And L-katz now also have a UK ranking: #4.

picture credits: Helen Ribchester

Thursday 5 September 2019

KiteTec Impulse

For well over five years now, Flying Fish has flown a full competition set of Airdynamics T5 kites, from the XUL Cuban to the mega-vented V2. We bought this full set when we decided to start flying competitively back in 2014, and the main reason we settled on the T5s is because they really fit our flowing style of flying. They have really served us well: we won the Experienced Class three times with T5s, were promoted to Master Class with them, and in 2018 became National Champions with T5s.

Whereas 'flowing' is our natural style of flying, for several reasons (feedback from judges at the national championships being one of them) we wanted to expand our style into a more 'straight and snappy' direction. And this meant we were on the look-out for an additional set of team kites, which would help us do that. Not as a replacement of our T5s, but in addition to. Any excuse for some new and shiny, right?

Looking at options, there aren't that many team kites on the market that come in a full set (from XUL to mega-vented). Plus we were limited to Europe, essentially. High shipping and import costs would simply make anything coming from the US or Asia far too expensive for us.

We had the opportunity to try a few candidates, but didn't quite click with them (and, in one case, didn't click at all). Nothing against the kites (and that's why I don't mention them by name); they just weren't suitable for us.

Just as we were running out of options, Josh Mitcheson told us that he was designing a set of team kites. Would we be interested in trying out some prototypes, giving him feedback, and so help him create a new UK team kite? Uh, yeah! Of course, as is the case with the Airdynamics kites, having a set of kites from the UK has the distinct advantage that the designer/builder is relatively close by in case of damage or any other issues.

To make a not very long story even shorter, we received kites from Josh to test, gave him feedback, received updated versions, and the prototypes evolved into the kites that are now on the market. Meet the KiteTec Impulse! As you would expect from a high-end team kite, the main materials used are icarex and Skyshark.

As I write this blog post, four versions of the Impulse are available (two more are in development; a bit more on that later): ultralight, standard, mid-vent and full-vent. We had fun playing with the colouriser, coming up with kites that all sported green or orange flashes (the distinguishing colours on our T5s; Lex = green and Irma = orange) but with white, light grey, dark grey and black panels such that they gradually become darker as you go from ultralight to full-vent:

So here are our four pairs of Impulses on the ground and in the air!

Ultralight, rated for winds between 4-14mph.

Standard, rated for winds between 8-21mph.

Mid-vent, rated for winds between 10-28mph.

Full-vent, rated for winds of 18+mph.

The reason I didn't talk about the flight characteristics of each version separately is because they feel the same. That's a first positive aspect of the Impulses: you don't have to change the way you fly switching from one kite to another when the wind goes up or down. They also have a lot of overlap in terms of wind range, which is another positive in my book. The Impulse is designed to flex, and I mean flex a lot; much more so than the T5This helps evening out flight speed in blustery wind, as some of the energy in the gust is absorbed by the kite flexing; positive number three. They're also noisy, again helping to slow down and even out speed a bit.

Impulses show straight flight and crisp corners, with no oversteer or wobbles coming out of a corner. Axels and half-axels are deep and slow, and also quite forgiving. Landings are snappy, and refuels easy. Bunch more positives; to be honest, we haven't come across anything negative in terms of how they fly and handle. They do handle differently than our T5s, but not that differently. Relatively small adaptations to input are all that's needed.

When we tested out prototypes, we did so with our sister pair, Twisted Bridle. They also have the four Impulse pairs currently available, which means that, with our L-katz team, we have a full set of identical team kites (which hasn't been the case up to now).

I mentioned two more version being in development. First of these is an XUL; we have flown several prototypes, which didn't quite do what we need them to do. Josh is working on ironing out these issues, and hopefully we can add a pair of XULs to our Impulse quiver soon (yes, colour scheme is already decided upon; lighter than the ultralights).

The other version under development is the Hydra. I've been asked not to spill the beans yet on this one, but if it does what it's meant to do, it will be an interesting and exciting kite to add to our (then) 2 x 5 Impulses; watch this space!

Bottom line: as you probably gathered by now, we're very happy with the KiteTec Impulse. We really click with the kites and they allow us to expand our flying style into a new (for us) direction. Having them alongside our trusted Airdynamics T5 kites gives us more options. For a flowing routine, possibly with tails, we'll definitely put a T5 on the lines; for a more straight and snappy routine, an Impulse will likely be first choice.

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Bognor Regis Kite Festival

Our final kite festival of the 2019 season was a new one for us: Bognor Regis. It also was the first 3-day festival we flew at, providing us with two 'firsts'.

Weather over the August bank holiday weekend was gorgeous: warm and sunny. Over the three days, the wind gradually dropped, starting off at 7-12mph on Saturday morning, and ending up at 0-4mph for most of Monday. Fortunately, whenever we flew, the wind was at least fly-able (though only just on Monday afternoon). Really big open site, which meant that whatever wind there was, it was quite smooth. The large arena was split into a dynamic and a static half, which worked fine.

We were given two one-hour slots each day, to fill as we saw fit. First up in each of the slots was Flying Fish, flying two routines. On Saturday and Sunday, we flew our technical routine to "Ruthless Queen" and our new competition ballet (to "War of the Worlds"); good to have a bit more arena practice for both of these prior to the final round of the Nationals the following weekend. On Monday, due to the almost absent wind, we switched to two make-it-up-as-we-go-along routines, to "Ivo" and "Rise like a Phoenix". As to kites, we flew Airdynamics T5 Taipan ultralights, KiteTec Impulse ultralights, and Airdynamics T5 Cubans.

Twisted Bridle, our 'sister pair', then took to the arena, and flew their established "Fly Away from Here" routine as well as their new routine for this festival season ("Familiar" by Liam Payne). As you're probably aware, we've been coaching them from the start, and I'm immensely proud of what they have achieved since taking up the sport less than two years ago.

Flying Fish then returned to the arena, joining Twisted Bridle to form L-katz. We flew our standard team routines for this season ("Can't Stay Away from You", our competition ballet; and "Targaryen Theme" to which we basically flew our technical team routine). Starting off with flying Tribord R244 kites first, we switched to Airdynamics T5 Cubans when the wind dropped.

On Sunday, Simon Franks joined L-katz for an extra mini-mega-team performance, and he also flew on his own in a later slot, flying two kites.

And I really should mention Jaiden, who, at only 9 years old, is already becoming a festival regular, following arena performances at Basingstoke and Brighton. I really wouldn't be surprised to see him flying at the National Championships in a few years time.

picture credits: Piyush Patel and Alan Pinnock (Flying Fish); Alan Pinnock (L-katz)

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Double Zonda!

Several years ago, a team member brought one of his 'old school' kites to team practice. At that point, he didn't know the name of the kite, or which company produced it, but enquiries on the Fractured Axel forum soon clarified that this was a Zonda Sport, made by Air-Crafts, a UK company no longer active.

Flying the Zonda Sport was a pleasure: the kite didn't need much wind to fly, and tracking was excellent.

Fast forward something like seven years .... the team member actually had a pair of Zondas, and they were more or less gathering dust. To make a not very long story even shorter, we quickly agreed on a price, and Flying Fish had another pair of 'old school' kites to add to their pair quiver.

Flying the Zondas again after so many years confirmed the initial impression we had: flying in little wind, with a solid feel on the lines, no oversteer or understeer, and with excellent tracking.

No need for any bridle tweaking; the years in their bags clearly didn't mean they'd forgotten how to fly together as a pair!

Being quite flat kites, axels and half-axels aren't easy to pull off, but other than that, we have a nice pair of kites to add to our pair/team bags!

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Portsmouth Kite Festival

The wind forecast in the run-up to Portsmouth was dire ..... unfortunately they proved correct: the wind turned out to be so strong that events up and down the country were cancelled. St Anne's Kite Festival was one of the victims, and where Portsmouth was concerned, the Saturday was essentially cancelled (meaning flyers could put up kites if they felt it was safe to do so, but there would be no scheduled programme).

On Saturday morning, most invited flyers attended the pilot's meeting, and some then tried to fly at least something. With winds gusting up to 55mph, we didn't dare risk any dual-liners, but did put up our pair of Gibson Girls.

Being single-liners, they can't be steered, so our pair-flying of 'GGirls' consisted of the kites being in the air, while we 'walked' various patterns on the ground. Surely the most bizarre pair routine we've ever flown at a festival! Flying single-liners does make a 'selfie-while-pair-flying' a lot easier!

On Sunday, the winds had more or less halved (mostly 20-28mph), which meant that an almost full programme could be run (the main victims were the dragons, of which a blaze was originally planned). Coming over the water, although still pretty strong, the wind was pretty consistent, so actually not at all bad to fly in. One issue was that the PA system was downwind from the flyers, and didn't have enough power to overcome the wind ... more on that a bit later.

Which pairs and teams were appearing in the arena? First of all, the Dunstable Downs Old Gents, flying a new routine.

Team Spectrum was of course present, flying their familiar series of routines.

And The Decorators featured, as usual, both with a 6-strong team, and with various guest flyers.

As to Flying Fish, the wind was perfect for our Airdynamics T5 V2 (patches off, but no brakes necessary), but we did struggle with the PA not having enough power. It's difficult to fly to music if you mostly can't hear the music! Still we tried, and flew our 'Ruthless Queen' and 'Rise Like a Phoenix' (following its debut at Basingstoke) routines.

The first of our two 'Ruthless Queen' routines had to be flown entirely without music due to the PA system packing up temporarily. So we simply flew out technical routine as we have it now.

Conditions were definitely challenging, especially on Saturday and, for us, the 55mph gusts on Saturday were definitely the strongest winds we're ever encountered at a kite festival. But thanks to the efforts of Gill and Jon, there was at least an organised festival on Sunday, and all invited flyers simply did the best they could under the circumstances. There is talk of having "I flew at Portsmouth 2019" t-shirts printed ....

More pictures of the festival (most from Sunday, but some from Saturday) are here.

Picture credit of Flying Fish: Marian Linford (the fantastic picture of our V2s in a refuel!) and Franca Perletti

Saturday 27 July 2019

Crazy, mad, bonkers ...

The Stranger Level 7 is one of the weirdest sport kites around. I'm sure anyone who has flown one will agree with me that it's in a category of its own. On top of generally being mad as a bag of ferrets, it has the tendency to, all of a sudden; decide to fly towards you ... yes, you read that right! And with your lines getting slacker and slacker, there's nothing you can do until it decides to behave again ...

Quire early on in our kite-flying journey, I had the opportunity to add a SL7 to my quiver, and I felt I just had to get it, had to get the experience of flying it; or rather attempt to fly it .... Well, I had that experience, ticked the box, and our 'retro' SL7 is not a kite that is out of the bag a lot ...

Fast forward by quite a number of years, and someone on the Fractured Axel forum posted that he had a SL7 and would give it away to the highest bidder in a rather unusual auction: "That's right, I'm not interested in monetary bids: you bid with the number of times you promise to fly it before it ends up in your attic." Staying in the spirit of things, I put in a crazy bid, saying that we would fly a pair of SL7s in formation at least three times. Maybe I should have expected it: I was the only bidder ... Week or so later, we had a second SL7, in the 'mango' colour scheme.

So here's the pair of SL7s on our flying field, with me thinking "what did I get myself into ...."

But we actually flew them together! And I even managed to take a picture while doing so. Of course, they had their moments when they were bored with flying in formation, and decided to do something utterly different ...

Apologies for the kites not being in focus; I was pleased enough to fly them and at the same time get any picture of them together!

Next time we got the SL7s out, we played a bit more with bridle settings, as the first time we flew them they weren't perfectly matched.

Second time flying them together did work out a bit better (read: a bit less mental), and I managed to get a better picture this time.

I promised three times, didn't I? And I guess I have to up the ante in terms of evidence, so here's a brief video taken while flying (with the aid of a headband mount for my phone); at least they behaved during that video!

It definitely was a crazy, mad, bonkers idea in the first place, but I secretly enjoyed fulfilling our initial promise. Don't expect us to fly a pair of SL7s regularly at festivals, though!