St. Mary’s College

St. Mary’s College is a small school scenically situated on St. Mary’s River a few miles from where it empties into the Potomac. I had made a couple attempts to fly here in prior weeks without much success. The first time out, the wind seemed plenty strong all day but then died right when I went to fly. The second time was similar, although that time the wind was not quite as strong but steadier most of the day. During at least one of those attempts, the weather report still said there was a 9 mph wind while I was trying to fly, even though I could barely feel anything from the ground.

I think part of the problem with the wind here is the terrain, especially if the wind is primarily from the east. There is a hill at that end of the field where I was trying to fly, on top of which are tall trees, so if the wind is coming from that direction, it will be turbulent and weak near the ground. The other directions are also obstructed, but not quite as badly.

This time out, the wind started out fairly strong, with gusts definitely over 15 mph. I hadn’t flown the Mini Dopero in winds like that before, so it was a bit of a new experience. I came equipped with a drogue chute that I had recently made out of a plastic painter’s drop cloth, which would hopefully help stabilize the kite in these conditions. I got the kite flying without too much trouble, but it was definitely tough dealing with the gusts. The bridle wasn’t quite adjusted right, so it was pulling pretty hard and tending to head to the right. Nonetheless, the Mini Dopero can manage winds up to about 20 mph when properly adjusted and with a decent-sized drogue (mine is 2 feet long, with a front diameter of 9 inches and a back diameter of 3.5 inches).

I pointed the KAP rig towards the school and attached it to the line. Since I was uneasy with the wind, this would be a short flight, and I didn’t get too many good pictures due to the unsteadiness. Another factor might have been that I inadvertently set the camera to Auto mode instead of the usual Program mode, and that seems to give the KAP UAV CHDK script fits setting the proper exposure. I did manage to get one nice picture of the college with the lake as a backdrop, which you can see above. It’s certainly better than my previous attempts, which resulted in no pictures! Obviously, the closest part of the school is under construction, so this might make an interesting target to come back to again once it is finished.

The wind had been fairly strong and gusty all day, but then the wind suddenly dropped off, as it had in my previous outings here, and the kite and rig came down to earth again. The wind didn’t completely die, though, so it was worth trying to get the kite back into the air again. The drogue would no longer be necessary, so I took it off to reduce weight. I also reduced the bow in the spars a bit and made the bridle adjustments identified during the previous flight.

A few long-line launches ensued. I came close to getting the kite up and flying a couple times, but without fail it would start to descend about the time I tried to attach the rig to the line. I was about to call it a day but decided to give it one more try. This time, I decided to just try to fly the kite, not worrying too much about the rig. Finally, on close to 200 feet of line, the kite found enough breeze to remain aloft on its own, and I was able to attach the rig. Lesson learned: it’s better to attach the rig far below the kite than not at all, if the goal is to take aerial photos. Or, in other words, get the kite flying first, and worry about the camera second!

Another change for this flight was to angle the rig more to the west rather than northwest, in order to see more of St. Mary’s River as it opens up into the Potomac. A nice relaxing flight ensued, in which I was able to unwind all the line and capture several more good shots, a couple of which I’ve put in the gallery above. Some students walking by seemed confused about what I was doing at first until they noticed the kite far above in the sky! Overall, it was a good day, and I was glad to finally conquer this location.

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