Fishing Pier at Point Lookout

It’s been a while since my last KAP session. The wind has been pretty calm during these last couple months of summer, and between that and my schedule, I haven’t had any chances for KAP. Finally, this weekend, there was some decent wind, and it was blowing from the southwest, just the right direction for a subject I’ve been waiting to photograph with my kite: the fishing pier at Point Lookout.

If you’ve ever been to Point Lookout, the fishing pier would be hard to miss. It is 700 ft long and, on nice days like this one, full of people fishing. The pier turns at the end, forming an L-shape. I figured this pier would look most interesting from directly above, so I did something unusual (for me) and pointed the camera straight down. The autoKAP rig was still set up to rotate, so I would get pictures with the pier in all different orientations.

I set up along the shore to the southwest of the pier, with the intention of flying the kite out over the water past the pier and hanging the camera directly above it. The plan was to get it high enough to capture most of the length of the pier, including the L-shape at the end. It can be hard to judge distances from the ground, but I did the best I could and was pleased to find out after getting the pictures back that the plan worked out. The map below shows the approximate locations of me and the camera with nearly all of my 700 ft of line released.

KAPing the Point Lookout fishing pier

Even though there was enough wind, launching the kite was surprisingly challenging. Below 100 ft, the wind was really turbulent, and on several launch attempts the kite zoomed all around before eventually losing lift while I did my best to work the line. The turbulence must have been because of the trees behind me, but it was still a little surprising just how turbulent it was. It didn’t help that there wasn’t that much room to move around or do a long-line launch. I encountered the same turbulence while bringing the kite down; as soon as the kite reached about 100 ft above the ground, it became very difficult to fly, and it actually took a dive and a loop at one point after I had already detached the rig. Thankfully, the Rokker kite eventually found smooth air and was its normal stable self again. I attached the rig about 150 ft of line below the kite.

Once the rig was attached, I let out the line quickly to get the camera over the pier, also moving back and forth along the rocks in an attempt to always keep it in the right place. I spent about half of the 33-minute shooting session at high altitude trying to get as much of the pier in view as possible and the other half bringing it back in to try to get some closer shots. Winding the line in was hard work with the moderate breeze at altitude, especially since I had a time limit and had to go fast. As I wound it in, I also moved closer to the pier along the rocks. My distance estimating skills turned out to be pretty good, because most of the shots had the pier in view, and plenty were directly over it. My three favorite shots, from high, medium, and low altitude, are shown below.

The most striking thing about these images is the green hue of the water, which I was not expecting. It was not nearly as noticeable from the ground, but it looks really nice from the air. Also unexpected were the quite visible turbulent wakes of the bridge supports extending down into the water, which are more brownish in color due to the dirt and sand that they entrain. Each of the images shows the popularity of this fishing spot on a nice Labor Day weekend, and the umbrella in the last two makes for a nice accent to the photos. This KAP mission was as much of a success as I hoped!

After the session, I drove down to the end of the peninsula to check it out. The last time I came to Point Lookout, the very end was closed due to lighthouse renovations, so I wanted to see if it was open again. It turns out that it was. I’ve been wanting to do some KAP of this place, so I’ll put it on my mental KAP to-do list. I think it will look good from a couple hundred feet high with the camera offshore past the end of the peninsula. Here’s a picture of the lighthouse that I took from the ground, and also, just for fun, a picture of the big fly that landed on my window (these things are all over the place at Point Lookout, and they seem to love cars).

Thanks for reading about my KAP adventures! Don’t forget to subscribe if you are interested in keeping up with the.

A Beach on the Chesapeake

Today I returned to Elm’s Beach Park, a beach on the Chesapeake Bay in Southern Maryland. The objective was to get some pictures of this location in the summer, since the last time I went was in the winter, and also get some different angles. The wind was from the southeast, which put the kite directly above the shore a lot of the time, and out over the water at other times.

The reported wind was 9 mph, but sometimes it dropped down lower near the ground, so the conditions definitely called for my Rokker kite. There were also thermals around, and in general the wind was a bit turbulent. The launch was not what would be called a challenge, but I did have to work the line a bit at times to keep the kite flying through the thermals and lulls. After a few minutes, the kite was one or two hundred feet in the air with the rig attached, and it captured this nice picture of the beach.

Elm’s Beach Park

Once the kite was flying higher, I started walking down the beach to take shots from different perspectives. I ended up crossing a small stream where a pond empties into the bay (visible in the photo at the top of this page) and walking further down. A few hundred feet offshore, dozens of wooden posts stick up out of the water, which are very popular roosting spots for birds, as you might imagine. Ospreys, seagulls, pelicans, and even eagles enjoy resting on these posts. In an effort to get some pictures of these posts with my kite, I waded as far as I could out onto a small, mostly submerged sandbar.

The wind wasn’t ideal for the task, as the kite was flying parallel to the shore rather than out to sea, which would have brought it closer to the posts. Nonetheless, I came back with a pretty nice picture of them, which you can see on the right. I still want to come back again when the wind is in the right direction and with a portrait-orientation camera rig so I don’t have to crop next time. Looks like I’ve got some homework to do!

The pond next to the beach, which you can see in the cover photo at the top of the page, also looks really cool from the air. I like how the dark-colored stuff in the water can be seen washing towards the outlet, which I had crossed earlier.

Once the camera finished taking pictures, I walked the kite back down the beach to where I started from, brought it down low enough to remove the rig, and then landed the kite. It was another successful KAP session, and I also have a good reason to come back again. Here are a couple more pictures. (They both show the submerged sandbar that I stood on for much of the flight.) Thanks for reading!

KAP and Kayaking in Buffalo, NY

I’m on vacation visiting family this week in Buffalo, NY. Of course I brought my KAP stuff, as I don’t get too many chances to travel and do KAP in places other than Southern Maryland. I brought along my trusty Rokker kite, which has become my KAP workhorse since I built it earlier this year. One nice benefit for travel is that all the spars are made up of three pieces with a max length of 32.5 inches, which lets the kite pack into a small size.

I was fortunate to have a several days with good weather for KAP during the trip. The only question was, where to KAP? One idea that had been running through my mind was to try it at Niagara Falls. It’s been done before; however, having grown up in the area, I know there are lots of helicopter tours of the Falls, which made me nervous about flying a kite there. Plus, for the spot I had in mind on the US side, it would be best with an east wind, which is not very common around here. So I decided to give up on that idea and try a couple others, and maybe I’ll try for Niagara Falls at some point in the future.

The first place was the park at the town hall in the town where I grew up, in Pendleton, NY. This location is home to a very large and striking green water tower, which is probably the only thing that could be considered a landmark in the whole town. Anyway, it would make for good practice shooting a specific subject and probably result in nice pictures that a lot of my childhood friends would be interested to see.

The flight was smooth and easy, which I’ve come to expect with the exceptionally stable Rokker kite. I got the camera up in the air with the KAP rig and walked around to different sides of the tower while bringing the camera to different heights. I did have to avoid the flying on one side of the tower due to the presence of the road and power lines. As it turned out, I overestimated the height of the tower or maybe underestimated the altitude of the camera, because most of the pictures didn’t have the tower in them at all! Nevertheless, I still got plenty of good ones, as you can see below. Believe it or not, the hazy skies in these pictures were due to wildfires on the west coast, clear across the country. Still, light was good enough to get some clear images of the water tower.

Rokker with KAP rig over Pendleton, NY

After the flight, I posted some of these pictures on Facebook. Soon I had a message from an old high school friend who is now working with a company on securing a grant to improve the park, including the gravel parking lot, historical society building, and playground. His company ended up using some of my aerial photos as part of the proposal. It was cool to have some of my work put to good use.

Next, I wanted to photograph something that would be a little more iconic of the Buffalo, NY area. Niagara Falls were out, but there is a nice and fairly new waterfront area in downtown Buffalo that seemed to have plenty of room for kite flying, at least according to the satellite imagery on Google maps. The next day happened to have good winds for flying a kite, so I headed over. I had never been to the waterfront area, so I was also interested to see it. Sure enough, there was a nice large open field on the Outer Harbor where I could fly my kite. Unfortunately, the haze was even worse that day, so must of the shots came out with very little contrast or color, and, of course, very little limited visibility. The best one is below, along with a cool shot of the rig and kite that I took. Despite the haze, it confirmed that this was a good location for KAP with a nice view of downtown Buffalo.

We had plenty of things scheduled with family for the week, so I didn’t know if I would get another chance to KAP there again without the haze. My dad was taking off work a couple days later, and a cold front had passed through and cleared out the haze, so I suggested going down to the Outer Harbor to kayak together, and I could also try KAPing there again. (He hadn’t been to the new waterfront area either, and we both like to kayak, but KAP was definitely a strong ulterior motive.) 🙂 The kayak ride was nice albeit a little choppy and busy with plenty of motorboats around. We even saw some exciting birds: an immature Bald Eagle and a Peregrine Falcon. Here are a few photos from the kayak ride, which I took with my Sony RX0 camera, the same one I use for KAP. (Its small size, excellent image quality, and the fact that it’s waterproof make it great for KAP and kayak trips alike.)

Next, it was time for another KAP attempt. The wind was very smooth, albeit moderate and tending towards the upper end of the Rokker’s wind range. I adjusted the tow point on the kite’s bridle about two inches forward of the default location, and this setting worked great. The kite pulled plenty hard enough to lift the camera, but it was still not hard to reel in, and it remained extremely stable throughout the flight. I had learned a couple things from my flight in the haze a couple days earlier: I wanted to get the camera at least a few hundred feet in the air and walk it close to the water to get just the river and waterfront in the foreground, avoiding the ugly grain silos that were visible in the pictures from the other day (in the lower right hand corner of the KAP photo above). The result was as good as I could have hoped for, which you can see as the first image below and also the cover image at the top of this post. The other angles were nice too, showing the Buffalo Skyway, Outer Harbor, and Niagara River. If you view the second image at 100%, you can even make out the mist and buildings from Niagara Falls to the north, so in a way I did KAP the Falls after all! 🙂

I hope you enjoyed the story and photos. I definitely had fun doing KAP in and around Buffalo, NY. Feel free to leave a like, comment, or subscribe if you enjoy reading about kite aerial photography.

St. Mary’s Lake with the Mini Dopero Kite

Today marked the first kite aerial photography flight of the Mini Dopero kite since it turned one year old. (Its maiden flight was 6/21/2020, but the new Rokker has been getting all the action lately.) The Mini Dopero is the first “real” kite I built with ripstop fabric and a sewing machine, and since then it has had the most KAP flights of any of my kites: 13 sessions total since my first attempt last August. Indeed, this kite has been the workhorse of this first year, though that is changing now since the Rokker has a more useful wind range. Still, this is cause for celebration!

The Mini Dopero continuing to fly after the KAP session was done

St. Mary’s River State Park has been on my list to revisit, since I’ve only done KAP there in the winter without any green on the ground and trees, and I’ve upgraded my camera since then too. The wind was perfectly aligned with the long direction of the flying field I use at the park. When I got there, I was expecting another Rokker session, but after seeing how much the tops of the trees were moving, there seemed to be plenty of wind for the Mini Dopero. The Rokker probably could have handled it too, but I was eager for a change of pace anyway.

I quickly set up the kite and let it fly, initially without the drogue, still not convinced about the strength of the wind. However, after a few minutes, the wind wasn’t dying down at all, so I decided to add the drogue. The Mini Dopero likes to fly at a high angle and also wanders around the sky quite a bit when there are gusts, so a nice big drogue is a good idea if the wind is strong enough to support the extra weight and drag. Soon after attaching the drogue, the kite was back up in the air and flying again. I love it when launching is easy!

As usual, I let the kite fly for about five minutes with the line wrapped around a dog stake to make sure it was trimmed and flying well on its own. Then I attached my KAP rig, which consists of the excellent and small Sony RX0 camera, set up to take a picture and rotate automatically every five seconds until it takes 400 pictures total. If you’re new to this site or kite aerial photography in general, check out my KAP How-To video, which shows how it’s done.

Since I was standing right next to a hiking trail, I got some nice comments from passersby as I flew. One thing I love above KAP is that pretty much everyone enjoys seeing the big colorful kites flying and is interested in the camera rig hanging from the line. It’s a great conversation starter for an introvert like me!

The rig came down during a big lull in the wind and captured this unintentional KAP selfie

The kite was flying on a few hundred feet of line with the rig already taking pictures when a huge lull in the wind arrived. It started gradually, and I thought I’d just have to reel in some line to wait it out, but pretty soon it became clear that it was coming down! The lift of the kite and light weight of the rig means that it’s not even close to a free-fall even if the wind dies completely, but nonetheless reeling in the line with the winder was too slow, so I had to drop it and pull it in by hand. Thankfully, I remembered to wear gloves this time. When the rig got close, it captured the really nice but unintentional KAP selfie above. 🙂 Just about the time the rig touched down, I was thinking I’d have to start again, possibly with the other kite, when suddenly the wind picked back up again. We were back in business!

The rest of the flight was actually a bit nerve-wracking at times. There were no more big lulls, but there were big thermals. Something about the combination of this kite and how it was trimmed at the time, plus the weight of the KAP rig dangling from the line, made it want to just glide coming out of thermals. Perhaps a lower tow point would have helped avoid that. Combined with its tendency to fly around to the left or right when the wind changes (at least in comparison to the Rokker, which likes to just park itself in one place), a couple of these thermal exits resulted in the kite gliding and then starting to dive towards the trees on the sides of the field. Thankfully, pulling just a little bit of tension into the line caused the kite to recover with plenty of space, but it did get my heart rate up a bit. Things could have been worse without the drogue, which is why I pretty much always use it with this kite now.

My favorite pictures from the session are in the gallery above (also here and here). The clouds gave a really dramatic look to these pictures, and the lake is quite scenic, especially from the air. Normally I prefer the higher altitude shots, but this time I think I actually like the first and last ones best, which are lower. The last one in particular stood out to me, since the waves, clouds, and shade together with the boat seem to tell the story of a ride on the lake with a storm looming. (Never mind that no storm was actually coming. It’s art, so it doesn’t have to be true.) 🙂 As usual, the little Sony RX0 camera delivered great image quality for all of these shots. The only downside was that the wind direction caused the string to be in some of them. In some ways I don’t mind that, since it’s a great way to immediately tell that a picture was taken with a kite rather than a drone, but when it’s close to the center of the frame, it can be a little distracting.

It was another great KAP session. I had a lot of fun flying the Mini Dopero again, and I didn’t lose or break anything! Thanks for reading my blog, and I hope you enjoyed the photos. If you like what you see, feel free to subscribe, share, comment, or email me. Or, even better, try out KAP yourself!

Calvert Cliffs

Calvert Cliffs State Park: a place I’ve been meaning to go since I first came to Southern Maryland for an interview more than six years ago. I finally went there for the first time last Friday, June 18, when I came along with my daughter for a school trip. The site has a small beach surrounded by cliffs, and there is a two-mile hike to get there from the parking area (two miles is the minimum; you can also take longer hikes on other trails). I had considered trying to do kite aerial photography at Calvert Cliffs before, but having never been there, I didn’t know if the small beach would be suitable for launching a big kite. But while I was there on Friday, it seemed like it should be possible if the wind came from just the right direction.

Wetlands near Calvert Cliffs. The black tarps are to control an invasive species of grass in the wetlands.

The picture above shows an area of wetlands just behind the beach, which is surrounded by forest and cliffs on either side. A west wind will flow over the wetlands area between the cliffs and provide a nice steady breeze. As luck would have it, that is just what the forecast called for on the next day (Saturday), so I decided to plan on that as a hopefully relaxing Father’s Day activity for myself.

When I got there on Saturday, the weather conditions seemed perfect, except that it was very overcast and dark. That would prove challenging for taking and editing the pictures, but I’ll discuss that more later on. The beach is very narrow, and even more so since I arrived right at high tide. I could tell that there was a steady wind by looking at the trees, but the rows of tall reeds lining the beach made it quite calm at ground level. After setting up my versatile Rokker kite and attempting a couple of vain launches into the wind, I decided to take advantage of the length of the beach and launch by running a dozen steps or so along it. This caused the kite to move crosswind, but it allowed it to get high enough above the reeds to contact the smooth breeze and fly under the wind’s power from then on.

The breeze turned out to be remarkably steady. There were few gusts, and there were no thermals at all due to the overcast conditions. Even though the water was just a few feet away, I felt confident enough to record some footage of my KAP process and turn it into a how-to video, which you can see below. (I also made a dedicated page for it here.) In the video, you can see the reeds and how narrow the beach is, as described above.

One problem was that I forgot gloves, which protect the hands from burns when handling the line. Thankfully, the steady breeze meant I didn’t need to work the line by hand much to get the kite in the air, but since the Rokker was pulling quite hard the entire time, I had to be very careful with the winder and work slowly to let out and bring in the line.

My two favorite photos from the session are in the gallery above. (The first one is also the cover photo at the top of this blog post.) The cliffs are really beautiful from the air, and actually larger than can be seen from the ground. I actually didn’t even notice that there were any cliffs at all to the south of the beach, which can be seen in the second picture. As noted above, the dark conditions made the actual photographing and editing tricky. I did reduce the shutter speed from my usual 1/1600 sec to 1/1250 sec due to the lack of light. I think I could have actually reduced it a step lower to 1/800 sec given how steady the wind was, which would have reduced the ISO of these shots a bit more. Due to the lack of natural contrast in the scene, the images turned out pretty dull by default, and I spent a good amount of time tweaking these two to add contrast, color, and to try to liven up the sky as much as possible. I always shoot in RAW, which greatly increases the amount of editing latitude for doing things like that. After all that work, I am pretty happy with how they turned out.

There are a few more images below, provided mainly just for other views of the area, not because they are particularly beautiful or great. The first one shows the south end of the beach from a low altitude, and the second one shows a ship that was docked in the Chesapeake Bay offshore. Presumably, the water remains shallow for a long distance away from the beach. At the end of the land to the south in this picture and the second one above, the lighthouse at Cove Point is just barely visible. The lighthouse is much easier to see in the third picture below, a zoomed-in one from the ground below that I took with my other camera. This is another site that I would love to photograph with my kite, but it seems to not be open to the public very often. I definitely need to check into it, though.

One nice effect of the small beach was that I got a lot of positive comments from people about the kite and the camera. Usually the exchange started off with something like, “That’s a big kite. What’s the thing dangling underneath it?” I got to show some of these people how it worked and a preview of the aerial photos on the camera screen. They seemed genuinely interested, which has been typical of my interactions with people while doing kite aerial photography. It’s definitely not just another drone!

Well, that’s all for this post. If you got this far, thanks for reading. It was a really fun and rewarding KAP session — actually, one of my favorites so far.

High Above Chancellors Run Park

It was a hot afternoon with a steady breeze, and I had a couple hours available, so I decided to head to Chancellors Run Park. It is a site I have flown at many times before, but I haven’t taken good aerial photos there recently. The last time was with my old PowerShot SD1400IS, which is a decent camera, but far below the image quality of my new Sony RX0. So it seemed like a good time to go back to this park and try to get some photos of the Lexington Park and California, MD area from nice and high.

Since the wind was on the lighter side, it was definitely time for another session with the venerable (albeit new) Rokker kite. Rather than flying from my normal spot at this park — one of the four baseball fields right in the middle — I decided to fly from a soccer field in the corner. The goal was partly just to get a new vantage point, and partly because the I intended to photograph the areas north of the park rather than the park itself. However, the wind in this corner was swirling all around, which made the launch more challenging than expected. After a couple attempts, the kite was flying high enough that I could attach the winder to a stake, attach the KAP rig to the line, turn everything on, and…watch as the kite came back down again. And just to make it more frustrating, the kite line got tangled up with the picavet suspension for the rig, forcing me to take more time to untangle it. The next attempt met a similar fate, except that the lines didn’t get tangled this time. Finally, the third time was the charm, and the kite and camera were finally up and away.

The rest of the flight went pretty smoothly. There were moments with lulls and stronger gusts, but the Rokker handled them with ease. This kite is supremely stable and inspires confidence, even when flying over trees like I was doing on this day. About halfway through the flight, with almost all 700 ft of line already out, it got into a strong thermal, taking it very high and almost directly overhead. The picture below was a result of that thermal. This was the view that I had in mind for the session, with parts of Lexington Park and California, as well as the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge and Calvert County, visible several miles away. Actually, if you zoom in on the full size image, you can even make out land 15 miles away on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay. Thermals are always a little bit nerve-wracking since there is the possibility of the kite over-flying and/or the line going slack at the end of it, but this time it just gently floated downwind and continued flying normally after several minutes. (If the picture looks blurry in the preview, click to view it full size instead.)

It’s kind of a toss-up for me which picture I like best, either this one or the one at the top of the page showing the park. Both are interesting to me since the show my local area, but of course they’re not as picturesque as some other areas in Southern Maryland. Here are a couple more images below that I found interesting. The first one is one that I normally wouldn’t have kept, since it is focused on the line rather than the landscape, but this time the line was so close to the camera that the background was quite blurred, which made for what I think is a kind of cool effect and an aerial photo that is unique to kites. The next one just shows another view of the park and an adjacent neighborhood. You can see all my pictures taken from this location at the Chancellors Run Park Aerial Photo Gallery.

Bringing the kite back down was no problem, since the wind was not that strong and actually decreasing in strength. As is often the case, winding the kite in quickly pulled it up to a high line angle. I think it happened to get into another small thermal around the time I removed the camera from the line, because it ended up just floating straight down from 100 ft to end the flight. Another successful KAP session in the books! Next time I’ll try to find another more scenic location, maybe a new one or one that I’ve only photographed in the winter.

KAP with the Rokker at Myrtle Point Park

Myrtle Point Park is a public area with walking trails and a small beach on the Patuxent River in St. Mary’s County. It is just about a mile away from the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge, which connects St. Mary’s County and Calvert County. At the entrance, I was a little surprised to find out that daily park fee was $7 for county residents. Nothing like putting some pressure on me to get some good pictures! In the end it worked out fine, but maybe next time I’ll bring a bathing suit too just in case the kite doesn’t work out.

After about a half mile walk from my car, I reached the beach. It wasn’t completely crowded, but there were people lining the whole edge of the beach, which made me a little nervous about lifting the camera over them with a kite. Of course, safety is always the most important goal, and I didn’t want to risk hitting someone with it. The other issue was that, even though trees along the drive seemed to indicate there should be enough wind (as did the weather report), there didn’t seem to be as much near the ground on the beach. I brought both the Mini Dopero and the Rokker, but the wind conditions definitely seemed to signal that the Rokker would be the right one for the job. After a few minutes it was set up, and I was pleased to find that it wanted to fly out of my hand as I held the bridle to attach the kite line. After the line was attached, that steady breeze disappeared for a little while, but the kite was up in the air again after a few launch attempts.

View of the beach from my flying location

The next challenge was finding a good “home base” location for the KAP session. I had originally found a place near the edge of the water that seemed acceptable, but some families with young children moved in close to me, and I didn’t feel comfortable lifting the camera with the kite so close to them. Eventually, I spied a corner of the beach without many people where the sand narrowed and the grass and shrubs started encroaching — not a great place to relax on the beach, but fine for flying a kite. So, with the kite already flying 100 feet in the air or so, I gathered up all my gear and towed it over to that corner. Then I screwed my dog stake into the ground, which would be used to secure the kite line while I attached the KAP rig, testing to make sure it was screwed into a solid base of soil beneath the top layer of sand.

After a few more minutes of flying, I was feeling confident in the kite, conditions, and location, so I wrapped the winder around the dog stake, attached the KAP rig, turned it on, and started letting out line again. The conditions were somewhat challenging, with the wind varying from about 8 to 20 mph and plenty of strong thermals, but the Rokker handled it all with ease. I was really glad to have this kite, because the session may not have been possible without it. The Mini Dopero could have handled the gusts fine, but launching would have been a challenge with the lighter wind near the ground and lack of space on the beach. At least half the time, the wind was definitely too strong for the larger Barn Door kite. So the Rokker really proved its worth today. I even managed to capture a short video of the kite flying with the camera attached (best viewed in HD 1080p).

Rokker lifting the KAP rig at Myrtle Point Park

I ended up with lots of good pictures in all directions, but my favorites were the ones looking south towards the bridge, with Solomons Island and the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in clear view off in the distance (like the one at the top of the page). Plenty of boats and jet skis also served as nice elements in many of the pictures. Check them out below, and also in my Myrtle Point Park KAP gallery.

Solomons Island – Take Two

I was hoping to do the first test flight of a new kite I’ve been building (more on that later), but the wind was too strong. Actually, it seemed like it might be too strong for any of my kites, but I had a couple hours available, so I took the Mini Dopero over to Solomons Island again to give it a try. This would be my second attempt to KAP at this location, since the previous attempt was met by marginal winds and didn’t allow the kite to fly as high as I wanted.

This time, the wind was firmly above 15 mph and gusting up to 24 mph. If successful, this would be the strongest wind I’d KAPed in. I certainly wouldn’t have the problem of too little wind this time! In any case, I figured there was no harm in flying the kite on a short length of string just to see how it would respond. When setting up the kite, I put more bow in both spreaders than normal, attached a large drogue, and adjusted the tow point on the bridle as far up as it could go while maintaining stability. After a couple adjustments, the kite was flying smoothly, and, while it was pulling pretty hard most of the time, it was not more than I’ve experienced with it at other times. Looks like I’ve found the maximum wind speed for this kite! A nice large safety box at this location and a relatively smooth wind coming off the water helped inspire confidence too.

After several minutes of flying, it was time to attach the KAP rig. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost my handy dog stake, so to anchor the line I had to resort to my old method of wrapping the winder a few times around the strap of a backpack full of rocks (it’s unwieldy, but it works well!). The Sony RX0 autoKAP rig was soon attached to the kite line and powered on. Since there was plenty of wind and the kite was flying well, it was possible to attach the rig only 50 ft below the kite. I didn’t have my good camera to take pictures from the ground, but I did snap a couple pictures of the kite and rig in flight with my phone, which you can see in the gallery above.

The next 45 minutes were an exercise in letting out the line quickly, letting it fly for a couple minutes at the highest altitude, and then bringing it back down again. When the wind is pulling strong like this, I don’t like to let it fly for too long, since that just gives more opportunity for something to go wrong. Nonetheless, there was no point where the kite took a dive or otherwise seemed in danger of crashing. The rig is programmed to wait 5 minutes, and then start rotating and taking pictures for 33 minutes more, giving a total of 400 pictures during that time. (Only the best of these are kept in the end.) My timing worked out just right so that the sequence finished just a couple minutes before I was ready to anchor the line and take the rig off the line again.

The results were just what I was hoping for: high-altitude images showing Solomons Island and Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge in great colors and clarity. I also kept a couple of the lower altitude shots. This is a new camera for me, and it is definitely living up to my expectations. Enjoy the pictures below! You can also find the rest of my pictures from this location at the Solomons Island Aerial Photo Gallery. A couple of these also made it into my list of favorites.

Back in the Air!

It feels good to get back in the air after a mishap. I just finished building and testing a new rotating AutoKAP rig to carry the Sony RX0 camera. The wind forecast seemed promising for today, and I was excited to go take some aerial photos of the new spring foliage at Solomons Island.

I returned to a site that I had flown at during the winter, which is a big empty field right next to the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge. Arriving at the field, the wind still seemed plenty strong for my Mini Dopero kite. However, at the other end of the field where I was going to fly, the wind was much less noticeable. Strange, I thought, but it must still be strong enough up high, so I set it up and proceeded to attempt to launch it. Several attempts, a few bridle adjustments, and about 30 minutes later, the best I could manage was to get the rig attached to the line one time before the kite fell back down to the ground yet again. Frustrating! The wind was apparently not as strong or steady as it had seemed before.

It was time to unleash the big guns, the 8 ft by 7 ft Barn Door kite! To be honest, I didn’t intend to fly this one again, as it was responsible for a crash in the water my last time out, but since its replacement isn’t ready yet and the Mini Dopero wasn’t doing the trick today, there wasn’t much other choice. The site I was flying at also has a nice large safety box in almost all directions, so there wasn’t much risk. And, as I had already found out, the wind was not that strong today, so I wasn’t too worried about it getting pulled down. It still took me a few tries and bridle adjustments, but eventually this kite was flying steadily enough on 200 feet of line to attach the rig. Finally!

Even once it was in the air, it was challenging to gain altitude. Strong pulls were few and far between, and I found myself constantly having to work the line to gain altitude little by little. The flight ended up being short, and, while I probably managed to get about 400 feet of line out, the rig was 200 feet below it on the line and therefore never got as high as I would have liked. After about 20 minutes of flying and 150 images instead of the 400 I had planned, the kite came back down again, and that would be the end of the flight.

Oh well, dealing with unfavorable winds is part of life when you’re doing KAP. I still managed to take some good pictures, the best of which are in the gallery above. I am very pleased with the new camera, and based on these results, I’m sure it will produce some really stunning photos in future flights. The AutoKAP rig worked flawlessly, too. Here is a timelapse of all 150 images from the flight, speed up 30x. Be careful if spinning videos make you dizzy!

Kite Fishing (And Not in the Good Way)

Well, this KAP session didn’t go as planned. Here is how it ended, with me fishing the kite and KAP rig out of the water:

How that happened is a little longer story…

The Mishap

The pictures above show Breton Bay, one of the many small bays and inlets in Southern Maryland. Leonardtown, Maryland sits next to the bay, and there is a small park there where I was flying my kite. This was actually my second attempt at flying here; the previous weekend had nice weather, but the wind died right around the time I was trying to get the kite in the air. This weekend marked the second attempt, and everything seemed good. It was a sunny day, with a north wind blowing out towards the bay. A north wind is needed to fly safely here, since there are apartments and power lines on the inland side.

The wind seemed just about perfect. It seemed to be about 8-10 mph most of the time, with gusts sometimes a few mph higher. Since there wasn’t room for a running launch, I decided on the Barn Door kite, which would have no problem getting in the air in this breeze. Soon after getting the kite set up, it was in the air. I flew it for a few minutes before bringing it down to adjust the bridle by a few centimeters. Then I let it up again, let out 150 feet of line, secured it to a stake in the ground, and observed flying by itself for a few minutes.

Being a nice, albeit somewhat chilly day, there were a few other people at the park. A few older teens were training, doing sprints and jogs. As a side note, one of the things I overheard them say was this, which was presumably supposed to be motivating, but I just found it kind of silly:

The Devil said to the warrior, Are you ready for the storm? The warrior replied, I am the storm!

I’m not sure who this warrior is supposed to be, or why he was talking to the Devil, but in any case, that little saying seemed to get them quite amped up. Other than those kids, there were several other people walking around, a couple of which were interested in the kite. They asked me why I had a remote control, so I gave a short explanation. They seemed quite impressed, and proceeded to snap some pictures of the kite and watch for a while.

The wind featured some small lulls and big thermals, but it didn’t seem like anything that the kite couldn’t handle, so I attached my radio-controlled KAP rig. This is where things started to go wrong. First, I forgot to turn on the PowerShot S100, which I didn’t realize until later. Next, once the rig was up a couple hundred feet in the air, I turned on the transmitter and monitor with the intention of taking a look at the video feed. The video transmitter (VTx) on the rig was off, but I could already see a picture in the monitor as soon as I turned it on. The only problem was, this wasn’t the video feed from the rig. It was kind of dark and distorted, but it seemed to be a picture or maybe a video feed showing a playground. I tried switching the VTx on, but there was no change in the picture. I then turned the monitor off and back on, and it showed something different, but still not the video from the kite. The VTx operates at 5.8 GHz, so there must have been something else nearby also broadcasting on the same frequency and causing interference. My VTx is only set to 25 mW, so it’s not too surprising if the signal was getting washed out by the other user of the frequency.

At this point, I figured all was not lost, since I could still control the rig itself, even though I couldn’t see which direction it was pointing. The rig was low enough that I could still verify that it rotated when I pushed the stick on the transmitter, so it looked like I would just be shooting blind today. I rotated the rig in the direction I thought was towards the town center and flipped the switch to take some pictures (still not realizing that the camera was off). However, right then the kite got caught in a powerful thermal, and I had to focus on flying it, as it was going straight overhead. It eventually overflew and then entered a shallow dive. Letting out some line leveled it out again, so that was no problem. With the variable wind conditions, though, this was clearly going to be a bit of an adventure.

Then the real trouble started. The wind strength picked up, which, as I’ve already noticed on several occasions, tends to pull this kite down. In the past, the kite has always recovered once the wind let up again. Typically, the wind is not as strong down low, so the kite may stay low for awhile in such conditions but eventually go back up. This time, I would have no such luck. I watched as it went down, down, down, not slowing much and eventually running out of space. Letting out line can help in this situation, but only if you can let it out very fast, and only if the wind eases up eventually. The kite and rig both went down hundreds of feet offshore. It was a major bummer, and also pretty embarrassing since people were watching.

Recovering the Kite and Rig

The worst part about it was that I didn’t know if I would get the kite back. My other KAP kite, the Mini Dopero, has also crashed in the water once. That occurred when I had it tied off on a short line without a rig attached, attempting to take pictures of it flying. In that instance, it was tough to wind it back, because the water was shallow and it got stuck. This time, there was an immediate positive sign, in that the kite was clearly floating, as can be seen in the first picture at the top. The second positive sign was that I was able to wind in the line without encountering any significant resistance, so apparently nothing was stuck.

After winding for five minutes or so, the rig emerged from the water. I pulled it out and realized my original mistake: the S100 was off. That could turn out to be serendipitous, since the chances of electronics surviving a water submergence are significantly higher if they are powered off. Several minutes of winding later, the kite emerged. I pulled it out of the water, packed it up, and decided I’d had enough punishment for one day.

Crash Analysis

So why did this happen? As I mentioned, I’ve previously noticed the problem that stronger gusts tend to pull this kite down. Now, it’s probably true that any kite will get pulled down to the ground at some wind speed, but this one seems particularly susceptible to it. I also have a smaller version of this kite made with wooden dowels and plastic painter’s cloth, and it does the same thing. Here’s what I think is happening.

  • When the wind speed picks up, the spars and sail deform. Since the spars are so long (97.5 inches each), they bend quite a lot under enough force.
  • The worst of the bending and billowing happens on the bottom half of the kite, since there is no horizontal spar there to help maintain the shape. When the wind is strong enough to pull the kite down, the sail appears very narrow on the lower part of the kite as a result, reducing the effective area of that half of the sail. The picture on the right gives an idea of this effect, although the wind was not strong enough for the kite to be pulled down when that picture was taken. It looks more extreme when the problem starts to occur, which I estimate is when the wind speed reaches Bft 4.
  • The reduced effective area on the lower part of the sail moves the center of pressure upwards towards the top of the kite, causing it to pitch up and increase the angle of attack. The increased angle of attack in turn further increases the aerodynamic force, exacerbating the problem. In the end, there is not much you can do once it reaches this state except hold on and hope the wind lets up. Again, letting out line can help somewhat, but only if you can do it fast enough and long enough for the wind strength to lessen.

So What’s Next?

First things first, I have to see if any components on the rig are salvageable. My greatest hope is for the S100, which was powered off for the entire flight. As I write this, it is sitting under a pile of rice along with the electronics from the rig. I will let it sit for several days before attempting to turn it on. If it works, I will still be able to use it with my fixed-angle AutoKAP rig. I don’t have much hope for the electronics from the rig, which were powered on when it hit the water.

Regarding the kite, though I’m glad to have gotten it back, I’ve decided not to use it for KAP anymore. To be honest, I have noticed the problem in enough of my flights that I was starting to get uneasy using it for KAP anyway. Its usable wind range ends up being quite narrow if you want to avoid the situation altogether. And unless there is a steady sea breeze, it is hard to fly in such a narrow wind range, because during the course of a flight there will either be lulls during which the lift is not enough to keep the rig in the air, or there will be stronger gusts that threaten to pull it down to the ground.

Having heard a lot of positive stories about Rokkakus, I think I will replace the Barn Door with one of those, or a derivative. Sandro Macchi, who goes by the handle smac on the KAP forum, has been testing vented Rokkakus and reports that the usable wind range is excellent. Rokkakus are legendary for their stability and high line angle, which are also great features for KAP. My current plan is to build one 7 feet tall, which would be in between the size of the Mini Dopero and Barn Door. I may also “splurge” on some very lightweight ripstop polyester sailcloth this time instead of the 0.75 oz ripstop nylon I used for the others, which should bring down the minimum usable wind speed close to the Barn Door’s. The shorter spar length should reduce bending, which, combined with the vents and just due to being a Rokkaku, should give a significantly higher upper wind range than the Barn Door. It will also be much easier to set up at the field, since I’ll be able to transport it with the horizontal spreaders in place. (The Barn Door needs to be fully set up each time, which takes me 10-20 minutes.) Here is a picture comparing the three kites.

Left: Barn Door; Center: 7-ft Rokkaku; Right: Mini Dopero

I am disappointed that the KAP session didn’t go as planned, and I’m definitely not looking forward to spending more money to replace whichever components got killed by being submerged in water. On the other hand, I’m excited to build and fly a new kite! And yes, I do plan to return and finally conquer this location! Mishaps happen; the important thing is to learn from them. Stay tuned for more information about the new kite as I start building it!