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!

First KAP Session with an R/C Rig

The first weekend after finishing the build of my R/C KAP rig, the wind was good enough to test it out. I decided to go to St. Mary’s College, which I’d KAPed one time before, but I hadn’t gotten pictures from quite the best angles. The new rig would allow me to see what the camera is pointing at, so I could be sure to get the desired composition. Plus, the wind was out of the west, which is ideal for this site.

The wind was gusty and near the upper limit of what my kites can handle: 15 mph with gusts to about 20. I had flown the Mini Dopero in wind like this several times before, though, so I knew it would be up to the task. The good thing about flying in a stronger wind is that it takes no effort to get the kite in the air, and this time was no exception. Apparently, I last flew this kite in similar winds, because it required no trimming once in the air, and the pull seemed reasonable for the wind speed (i.e., plenty but not too much).

Besides the rig, I was also experimenting with another new piece of equipment: a dog stake to hold the line while I set up and take down the rig. This stake replaced my big-ol’-bag-o’-rocks. It turns out it is much easier and more convenient than the bag. I think I will use it from now on any time there is suitable ground to put it in. Thanks to Kidafi Byer on the KAP Facebook page for the suggestion!

The winder wrapped around a dog stake a few times, with the KAP rig almost ready to be attached

I let the kite fly by itself with the winder attached to the stake for a few minutes to make sure it was stable. Then I attached the rig by wrapping the line about four times around each of the Brooxes Hangups at the ends of the picavet suspension, separated from each other by a few feet on the line. I plugged in the battery for the rig, turned on the PowerShot S100, grabbed the winder, and away it went! Here are a couple pictures of the rig attached to the line.

Another good thing about flying in a stronger wind is that the kite has no problem lifting the rig. This rig does weigh about 4 oz / 115 g more than my fixed one, which I imagine will make a difference on those days with barely enough wind to fly, but today the kite could have certainly lifted a lot more if it had to.

Since this was my first time flying an R/C rig, the process was a bit new to me too. When I wanted to take some pictures, here is what I had to do:

  • Turn on the transmitter. I leave it off when not taking pictures because that seems to put the receiver in a sort of standby mode, with the servos completely still and, I assume, consuming minimum power.
  • Turn on the FPV monitor.
  • Switch on the video downlink, which is controlled by the flaps switch. (The VTx is also left off when not in use to save the battery.)
  • Pan and tilt until the rig is facing approximately the desired direction, and then flip the switch to take a bunch of pictures. Hopefully some of them turn out well!
  • Turn off the VTx and the transmitter again and fly the kite some more!

The way the sticks and switches are arranged on my transmitter, and because it is attached around my neck with a strap, I can operate the rig completely with my left hand while holding onto the kite reel with my right hand. If the kite suddenly needs attention, the transmitter can be pushed aside so that I can focus on just flying the kite again.

Video downlink from the KAP rig

Above is a video showing what the video downlink looks like. It was a gusty day, and that definitely shows up in the video! (Remember, this video is not high quality nor stabilized, as the stills from the main camera are the “end product.” Its purpose is just to show me where the rig is pointed and what the general composition of the photo will be.) With all the bouncing around, taking pictures is definitely a somewhat approximate endeavor. For that reason, I leave the camera in continuous shooting mode and leave the switch down to take a bunch of pictures once the rig is pointing in the right direction. On less gusty days, I imagine things will be a lot smoother!

Despite all the gusts, I did manage to capture pretty much all the pictures I wanted from this session. The money shot is up above, and also at the end of the gallery below. I really like how that one turned out. The composition is just about perfect, with most of the school visible in the foreground, St. Mary’s River prominent in the background (with some sailboat racing going on), and a beautiful big blue sky. Also of note is the baseball field — which I didn’t even know existed until I saw it from the air — with a game in progress. There were several other good pictures too, taken from a variety of angles and heights. The straight-down image of the soccer field is something I never could do before!

The first time out with the R/C rig was definitely a smashing success. I’m sure I will still use the fixed rig sometimes, maybe on days with very light wind, but being able to see and control the camera is really fun and rewarding. Even though the video feed may be shaky, it still gave the results I was hoping for.

The one big mistake I made was accidentally stepping on my transmitter after I was done taking pictures and had put it on the ground. Woops! 😕 That happened due to a sudden lull in the wind, to which I responded by backing up quickly to keep the rig from falling to the ground. Then I heard that gut-wrenching CRACK! Thankfully, the only damage was a broken monitor mount, which can be fixed with some sanding and glue.

Here are some things I learned from this first session with the new rig:

  • The low power setting (25 mW) on the VTx seems to be plenty. I didn’t experience any problems with reception.
  • The 500 mah battery for the rig ended up about halfway expended after what I consider a pretty typical flight, so the capacity is fine. That would not have been the case if I didn’t have a way to turn on and off the VTx from the ground, so that is a very valuable feature. (The alternative is a much bigger and heavier battery.)
  • I will take more pictures next time. I came back with only 31, which resulted in plenty of “keepers,” but it wouldn’t have hurt to have more to choose from. Part of the reason for the small number is that the S100 is pretty slow in continuous shooting mode, especially when saving RAW images. Next time I’ll just hold down the shutter for longer each time. Still, it was nice only having to sift through 31 images instead of the 400 that I normally get with the fixed rig!
  • When putting down the transmitter, make sure it is far away from where you might step. I was lucky to get away with no damage to the electronics.

Well, this has been fun. I’m sure I will have many more adventures with this R/C rig in the future!

Flying in a Cloud

We had just gotten our second significant snowfall of the year. I was eager to do some KAP, since we don’t get that much snow here in Southern Maryland, and I’d never flown a kite or taken aerial photos in snow before. I missed the ideal time, which would have been during the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 12, but the forecast looked good for wind on Sunday morning.

I packed up my gear and headed over to Chancellor’s Run Park, which is nearby my house and is known to have nice views of Lexington Park and California, MD when looking to the north. The cover photo on the home page of this website is one such example. I thought it would be nice to see what that landscape looks like when covered in snow. Since I’ve done KAP from this park several times before, I decided to switch it up a little bit and fly from a soccer field on the northwest side of the park, rather than the central baseball fields that I normally choose.

By this time, the temperature was well above freezing, and the ice and snow were melting. The ground was quite wet and soggy, and water was dripping from the stadium lights overhead. There was snow remaining on the ground, though, so there was still hope of capturing some nice frozen landscapes. The wind at ground level was light, so I set up the big Barn Door kite and did a running launch. It took a couple attempts and bridle adjustments, but eventually I got it flying and trimmed out well.

Here are a couple low-altitude shots near the launch site. It is pretty obvious from the second photo just 100 or 200 feet up that the visibility was going to be poor. From the ground, I could tell that there were low clouds, but I didn’t know how low. I would soon find out. 🙂

To add some more variety, I took a walk with the kite along the parking lot towards the building with a flag in front of it that can be seen in the second photo above. I let out more line as I went and carefully maneuvered the kite line over the stadium lights and trees. Once the kite reached approximately 400 feet above the ground, it started disappearing in the clouds! This was a new experience for me, and kind of fun! It is weird to have a kite line in my hand going up into the sky with nothing visible attached to the end of it, as if I were doing some sort of sky fishing.

Normally, flying a kite in the clouds is probably not a great idea, but considering how low they were and the really poor visibility, there was no chance of an aircraft flying by and hitting it. There was also no one else in the entire park — not surprisingly, given the weather — so if something happened to the kite while in the cloud and it ended up crashing, there wouldn’t be any injuries or property damage. Here are a couple images of the kite disappearing and reappearing in the clouds. I would have liked to get one just showing the line and KAP rig below the clouds, but it was pretty much impossible to get the camera to pick that up and focus on it.

Obviously, with the lack of visibility, I wasn’t able to capture the snowy landscape how I wanted, but this was still fun and a bit different. The best pictures from the session were probably the lower altitude ones, like the one showing the baseball field below. The cover photo for this post is also reproduced as the second picture in the gallery below. I like this one because it is relatively clear but still gives an idea of how cloudy the conditions were that day. The third one shows the camera’s perspective when it was almost fully engulfed in the cloud. The kite, attached 200 feet beyond the camera, was certainly invisible at this point!

As I write this post, it is now March, and things are starting to warm up again, so it’s unlikely I’ll get a chance to capture the snowy landscape I was hoping for. Maybe next year!

Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge

The Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Southern Maryland. It crosses the Patuxent River, joining St. Mary’s County and Calvert County, the two southernmost counties in Southern Maryland. It also is fairly long and tall, making it visible from fairly long distances; as such, it has already appeared in a few of my aerial photo shoots from other locations. You can find it on the main cover page for this site, for example.

Some Google sleuthing revealed that there is a large empty field next to the bridge, which, as far as I can tell, is not private property. There is even a kite fly-in that normally occurs there every year, so it has to be a good place to fly kites. Here is what the flying site looked like from the road when I arrived:

Large empty field adjacent to the bridge

It was a bit of a walk from the road to the edge of the water where I wanted to fly, but it wasn’t too bad. The wind was kind of in-between the range of my two kites. It seemed like it might be somewhat of a struggle to get the Mini Dopero off the ground, but at treetop level it was blowing pretty steadily. I decided to fly the bigger Barn Door kite despite the fact that it might pull pretty hard at times, because I knew it would be easy to get in the air in this wind.

That estimation was correct. Soon after setting up the kite, it was flying steadily on 100 feet of line. The wind was blowing from the north, so flying on the south side of the bridge meant that there was no danger of the kite going over the bridge. I wouldn’t have minded an east wind to get the kite over the water and closer to the bridge, but this should do fine anyway. The kite was tending to pull to the right when the wind got stronger, so I brought it down and made a quick adjustment to the bridle. It turns out that I overdid it, because after that the kite wanted to pull to the left. That would be okay, though, because it meant that if the kite did get pulled down by a stronger wind, it would be safely over the spacious empty field. After launching the kite again, I attached my PowerShot S100 fixed autoKAP rig, started the CHDK script to take a picture every five seconds for a little over 30 minutes total, and sent it up.

I had a bit of a conundrum about how to aim the rig this time. The rig can be rotated in increments of 45 degrees. My desired framing is basically what you see at the top of the page: I wanted to get most of the bridge in the frame, including the end on the other side of the river. The wind was coming from the north, perpendicular to the bridge, so I ended up aiming the rig 45 degrees to my right (west) to hopefully get the bridge in most or all of the shots, and at least some with the desired composition. That ended up working out pretty well, though most of the images didn’t get the end of the bridge in the frame like I wanted. This is one of those cases where it would have been nice to have a radio controlled rig, but the fixed autoKAP rig still gets the job done in the end. Here are the pictures I like from the session, from a variety of different heights and angles (the second one is the cover photo above).

Flying was a bit of a challenge given the wind and how the kite was set up. Well, not really a challenge, but not as smooth as I would have liked. The kite was pulling pretty hard for much of the flight, and when that happens, this kite tends to go down to a low angle. It was also pulling to the left a lot due to my misadjustment of the bridle. That wasn’t all bad, though, because it resulted in some nice low altitude shots with the field and trees in the foreground, like the third one in the gallery above, which I probably wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. At times when the wind let up a bit, it managed to reach much higher angles and heights, like in the cover photo.

After awhile, I brought the camera and kite back down. While doing that, some other visitors joined my airspace, including a bald eagle and a drone, and, right as I was leaving, a whole flock of geese. This was a good outing, as it always is when the kite and camera return in one piece and you get some good pictures! I will definitely return here again, probably when there is an east wind and some green on the ground and trees. I’d also like to take some pictures of the rest of Solomon’s Island, which is to the south of where I flew this time. I’m not sure if there is another suitable flying field, but getting the kite nice and high from this site and taking pictures in that direction should work.

You can find my gallery of all images from this location here. For now, it only contains the pictures you’ve seen here, but I’m sure there will be more eventually.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed it and would like to read more KAP stories, feel free to subscribe to SOMD KAP by entering your email in the box on the main page.