Monday, 24 June 2019

Powerhouse Blades

About six years ago, Neil, one of the members of our L-katz team brought one of his older kites to team practice. It was a Powerhouse Blade, which he had dubbed "The Black Bastard" as it had seriously pulled him of his socks in a stiff breeze once.

Of course we flew the kite: strong pull, and excellent tracking were the key characteristics.

Three years later, I saw a Powerhouse Blade on eBay. Remembering how "The Black Bastard" flew, I put a bid in and won! This Blade came with long whiskers, going from stand-off to upper spreader connector. For some reason, these long whiskers weren't present on the 'Black Blade'; possibly lost over time?

Anyway, we now had our own Blade to fly, which showed the same flight characteristics: excellent tracking and strong pull.

Few weeks after we got our Blade, Neil brought another Blade he still had, which was missing some spars and other bits and bobs (as well as the long whiskers), to our flying field. Between us, we had the right spares to get that Blade at least flying again (even without the whiskers; still not sure what they really do).

So now we had the opportunity to fly a trio of Blades! Wind was quite strong that day; the kites flew fast and pulled considerably, but we had a hoot flying them together.

Since that day about three years ago, I had been keeping my eyes open for a second Blade for Flying Fish, given that they are fun kites to fly together in a good breeze. No luck, until a fellow kite flyer recently offered one for sale on Facebook, in a colour that would match our earlier Blade pretty well. Needless to say I pounced!

So here is our Blue Blade on the ground (with long whiskers) ...

... and in the air (following a small tweak in bridle setting). 

As the whole point of this was to have a pair of Blades to fly together, 'Blue Blade' was duly partnered with 'Teal Blade'.

The colours really do match nicely, and they flew together as I remembered: good tracking, and developing strong pull when the wind picked up. Not kites that we will ever use for competition, but kites that are simply fun to fly and put a smile to your face!

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Basingstoke Kite Festival

A few months after we bought our first kite we attended Basingstoke Kite Festival. That was ten years ago; we've been back every year, and since 2013 as invited flyers.

On Saturday, the weather was gorgeous, but the winds were very light (and occasionally almost absent). Sunday saw a bit more clouds and stronger, but also more erratic, winds.

We flew as Flying Fish and as part of L-katz (together with our friends from Twisted Bridle) in two slots on both days. On Saturday we flew our Airdynamics T5 Cubans, whereas on Sunday we flew our new KiteTec Impulses. The Impulses dealt very well with the highly variable wind on the day; more on these new team kites in a future blog post.

For our routines on Sunday, we tried out new music for our 'make it up as we go along' routine: 'Rise like a Phoenix', by Conchita Wurst. This includes a new move we have called, quite appropriately, 'Phoenix'. I think it worked quite well, so we're definitely going to keep that music as an option for future festivals this year.

With L-katz, we flew our standard Gloria Estefan routine.

I already mentioned Twisted Bridle, our sister pair. They flew their Aerosmith routine on both days.

Of course, Team Spectrum was present again, flying their usual set of three routines.

The final pair, though not flying under an official pair name, consisted of Josh Mitcheson and Jeremy Wharton, flying quad-line routines.

L-katz also joined in an 8-strong mega-team (together with Keith, Vee, Josh and Cam).

More pictures of the festival are here (for Saturday) and here (for Sunday). I do want to highlight one flyer, though: Jaiden, aged 8, flying in the Mystery Ballet on Sunday. His very first public performance; well done, Jai!

Picture credit of Flying Fish and L-katz: Carl Wright; of the mega-team: Patrice Peigné

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Streatham Common Kite Day

It looks like 2019 will be a bit of a lean year for us when it comes to kite festivals. No Minchinhampton, no Dunstable, no Exmouth ... Fortunately, Streatham Common Kite Day had invited us back again, for our fifth appearance. Following last year's flooding and postponement, it was back to its mid-May slot, making it our first festival for 2019.

Weather was gloriously sunny.and the wind was .... well, what you can expect from Streatham: very light, sometimes dropping away to nothing, and changing direction a lot. But the show must go on, and we simply did what we could.

As Flying Fish, we decided to fly our technical routine to "Ruthless Queen", and incorporated a number of short-listed compulsory figures for this year into our make-it-up-as-we-go-along "Adiemus" routine. Good opportunity to get some extra practice for both of those elements, in difficult conditions, under our belt, given that we have mainly focused on our new ballet in training. I think we did all right; far from perfect, but we kept it flowing and didn't drop out of the sky (more on that in a moment).

Besides Flying Fish, two more pairs were part of the show: Team Spectrum and Twisted Bridle. As you may be aware, we're more or less acting as coaches for Twisted Bridle, and I was proud to see them keeping everything going, despite the tricky conditions, and also flying their second routine at a festival for the first time.

Team Spectrum was decidedly unlucky this time. They seemed to get all the slots where the wind just switched off, and despite being given a third slot (third time lucky?) by the organisers, they struggled to complete their routines, and fell out of the sky repeatedly.

Even though they're not an official pair, I should definitely mention Carl Robertshaw and Josh Mitcheson, who flew impromptu quad-line routines with their Fulcrums.

Flying Fish + Twisted Bridle = L-katz! As a team, we flew our choreographed "Gloria Estefan" routine, and, for the first time at a festival, our make-it-up-as-we-go-along new team routine to the "Targaryen theme" from Game of Thrones.

Due to the difficult wind, we kept it simple, and one comment on twitter from a member of the public said our flying was 'particularly magical'. I'll take that any time!

Take L-katz, add Andy Taylor and Josh Mitcheson, and you have a 6-(wo)man mega-team! Been a while since Streatham saw a mega-team flying in the arena.

We struggled with the wind switching off at times, but I think we did give the audience a bit of an idea what mega-team flying is all about.

Kite Day at Streatham Common gave us a bit more than we bargained for, and we went home with more kites than we came with ....

More on those two kites in a future blog post; stay peeled!

Picture credits: Clare David (Flying Fish), Andy Taylor (Twisted Bridle, Team Spectrum), Bryan Wright and Marie Coombs (L-katz), Roy Reed (mega-team)

Monday, 15 April 2019

Wanjia/Albatross Firefox

About two years ago, I blogged about us getting an Elliott Mystic. With a wing span of 4.20m, it's most definitely the largest kite in our quiver, and I did then express the bonkers idea of trying to find a second Mystic, and fly them as a pair ....

Well, I never managed to find a second one (but am still keeping my eyes and ears peeled should one pop up), but the idea of having a pair of kites with a significantly larger wing span than the 2.40-2.45m that we normally fly with remained in the back of my mind.

And then I bumped into a mention of a Wanjia/Albatross Firefox .... wing span of 3.38m, which isn't the 4+m of a Mystic, but definitely much more than our usual ~2.45m. Chinese made, comes in several colour schemes, and, also important, is affordable for us. So I ordered two Firefoxes, one green/yellow, one red/orange (they also come in purple/pink and dark blue/light blue).

So how do these Firefoxes fly? First of all, they don't need much wind to take off and fly; 5-6mph is already enough. Obviously, as the wind increases, so does their pull; they're big kites after all.

They track pretty well; very little over- or understeer. Corners are reasonable crisp, but being a big kite, they need big input; that took some getting used to. Axels and half-axels are possible, but, again, they need a quite big differential between your arms to make them turn round. General flight is slow and serene.

Clearly, we didn't get them for competition flying, but purely as something 'different' to fly at the occasional festival. I do like the sail pattern, and their bright colours definitely look good in the sky.

I did say their flight was 'serene', didn't I? Well, in one aspect, they're anything but serene ... the noise they make puts a North Shore Radical to shame. Imagine four or five of these flying together in team formation!

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Orao 3D Plane foils

Some time ago, I blogged about us looking for a pair of foil kites in the shape of airplanes, to allow us to fly something 'different' at festivals and, hopefully, please the crowd. Well, the search didn't result in anything, either because airplane foil kites aren't made anymore, or because it just become way too expensive for us to get a pair.

Until I stumbled across two airplane foils on the Decathlon website. Yes, they're much smaller than what we had in mind originally, but at £25/30 per kite, also an awful lot cheaper! And certainly cheap enough to just take the gamble and order a pair.

First flight of them was on a blustery day, with the winds mostly 13-20mph, but occasionally dropping away to almost nothing. One of the two kites came with a control bar, but it quickly became clear that that wouldn't give you enough differential to steer them properly, so we hooked them up to two sets of 25m lines with normal wrist straps.

The kites flew ok, but it was clear that they really don't like the wind dropping away. They need constant sail pressure in order to keep their shape and fly. Although they are officially stated for winds between 8-31mph, they need at least a steady 15mph, preferably a bit more, to fly halfway decently. With that 15+mph, they can fly straight-ish lines and loops and circles; just don't make these too tight.

Of course we had to fly them together ...

And this showed even more how important it is to have constant sail pressure. But when you have that, you can fly them together, as long as you stick to simple follows, infinities, loops and circles, etc. No (half-)axels with these kites!

Given the price of the kites, they're certainly value for money, and they will offer us an opportunity to do something a bit different at a kite festival, when the wind is really picking up.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Double Greens Diamond!

I've gotten a bit of a reputation for being interested in 'old' dual-line kites. Completely independent of each other, and on separate occasions, I was given two Greens Diamond kites. Now if you know us, you will know that Flying Fish will always try and fly (nearly) identical kites together. No reason to change that now!

Greens Kites Diamonds aren't the easiest diamond kites to fly. They're quite twitchy to start with, and really need decent and constant sail pressure to prevent them becoming almost unsteerable. And if the wind drops, they have a tendency to lie flat and then fly towards you (so it's not just a Stranger Level 7 doing that!).

So flying a pair of them, in rather variable wind, wasn't the easiest thing to pull off. Both came without a tail, and adding that will no doubt stabilise them a bit more.

Unless there is a specific reason, we're unlikely to bring them to kite festivals and fly a routine with them ...

Sunday, 27 January 2019

New competition ballet

When we started flying competitively, in 2014, our competition ballet was with music: flying various moves and patterns with music in the background, but not with every move specifically linked to something in the music. The feedback we got then, quite rightly, was that we should try flying more to music, reflecting the music with the movement of the kites.

We decided to implement this in two stages. First stage would be to take an existing ballet to music. This would help us flying to music, adapting the speed of the kite to make sure the kites were where they needed to be all the time, and doing what they needed to do when they needed to do it. Ron Reich's 'Chariots of Fire' was the ballet we used, and this became our competition ballet in 2016. Second stage would then be, having experience in flying to music, to write a ballet to music from scratch. The plan was to have this new competition ballet (to 'War of the Worlds') ready for the 2018 competition, but we had severely underestimated the time it took to write a kite choreography completely from scratch. The process of writing a wee bit, trying it out in the field, tweaking it until it's ok, then writing the next little bit, etc, took so much more time that in the spring of 2018, we came to a decision point: continue with the new ballet and still try to get it ready for the 2018 season, or abandon it for now, and tweak the 'Chariots' ballet for one more year. Given how much work was still needed on the 'War of the Worlds' ballet, given we'd never written a complete kite ballet from scratch, and given the limited time we had to complete it, we decided to keep 'Chariots' for 2018. As some of you know, that wasn't too bad a decision in the end, as we became Narional Champions with it!

As soon as the 2018 Nationals were behind us, we picked up the 'War of the Worlds' ballet again, and I'm pleased to say we have now completed the basic choreography!

As I'm writing this, we've flown the first two thirds in the field, and sticked the entire routine about a dozen times now. We still haven't flown the final ~45 seconds in the field yet, so it may still need a bit of tweaking here and there. But we have plenty of time to do this, so unless something disastrous happens, this will be our new competition ballet.

The main feedback we got on our 'Chariots' ballet was four-fold:

* not enough sharp corners - the new ballet has more of that

* music is too samey - the new ballet has more variation musically, so more opportunity for change of tempo

* kites are behaving too much the same, either parallel or mirrored - new ballet has more 'asynchronous' flying, with one kite doing something different from the other

* not enough excitement/risk - I would say the new ballet has more of that

Of course, it's up to the judges in the end to say whether we have upped our game with this new ballet, but we're quite pleased with it. Whether it will be enough to retain our title, only time will tell!

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Double LiteFlite!

One of the first, if not the first, dual-line kite specifically marketed in the UK as an 'ultralight' was the Kite Store LiteFlite. Few years ago, I got my hands on a LiteFlite for very little (£15 if you want to know), as I was curious about this very early ultralight, officially stated to have a wind range of 4-15mph.

Let's just say I was underwhelmed by the kite ... I felt it was unresponsive, didn't turn well, and I really didn't click with it. To make a short story even shorter, the kite quickly disappeared in a kite bag, never to come out again ...

Fast forward, and I was more or less given another LiteFlite (I bought a Spin-Off from a fellow kite-flyer, and he basically threw in the LiteFlite). Just prior to that, I became aware that some early UK teams (The Blitz, Blast) actually flew LiteFlites for a while. Well, if teams like that considered the kite good enough to use, I ought to give them another chance, right?

Second LiteFlite was first flown on its own, in a mostly 6-9mph wind.

It certainly didn't fly as bad as I remembered. Quite slow flight with reasonable tracking; little oversteer or understeer. But it really struggled with lack of constant wind pressure on the sail. If that occurred, say, at the edge of the window, the kite would become totally unresponsive and likely to flutter out of the sky. My guess is that this at least partly caused by the kite being pretty flat. It does have long stand-offs, but these are not at a 90 degree angle with the sail, thereby creating a clear 3-dimensional shape; rather, the angle is more like 30 degrees, resulting in said flat sail.

Keeping their weakness in mind, time to fly them as a pair!

There was no need to tweak the bridle of any of the two: they were matched in speed from the off.

It's clear that I wrongly dismissed the kite as unflyable a few years ago. We could fly basic pair shapes without too much problems, though we had to take care to always keep wind pressure in the sail. Something vaguely resembling axels and half-axels could be squeezed out of them, but they clearly weren't happy doing those (the flat sail again ...).

It definitely was interesting to fly a pair of these very early ultralights. If someone would like to see them in a festival arena (TC? Andy King? Paul Reynolds?), they only need to ask and we'll bring them.