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.