Notes on Kite Aerial Photography: Equipment

Framed Kites for Lifting

Quick Links:

My Delta Conynes
My Rokkaku made by Kevin Shannon
My Dopero made by Brooks Leffler
My Parasleds made by David Wagner
the soft kite page.

I've been procrastinating a bit in the writing of my kites pages, largely because I'm something of an innocent when it comes to kites. As this page goes together I've been flying kites for about six months and opinions are forming regarding what works and what doesn't. These opinions I'm happy to share but you are cautioned that they are based on limited experience in settings with relatively clean air (low turbulence). If any of you out there would like to add your opinions on the selection of a workhorse lifter for kite aerial photography, I'd be delighted to post them.

The kite page started to get a bit too large so I've split it into two pages - this one addressing kites with rigid frames and another discussing soft kites.

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The Delta Conyne

My first kite, at the recommendation of Tom McAlister of Highline Kites in Berkeley, was a 6.5' International Connections Delta Conyne. This kite lifted my camera rig for my first 12 rolls of film. The delta conyne is a delta-shaped kite with a center section shaped like a triangular box kite. It is easy to assemble (just insert the cross spar), easy to launch, and (when matched to the wind) flies in a stable fashion. Though I've yet to try it, delta conynes can be flown in trains to provide additional lift. I realize in retrospect that the flight envelope for my original delta conyne-camera rig combination was fairly limited. If the wind was under about 10 mph the kite couldn't lift the rig, over about 18 mph and the kite became less stable. In higher winds the kite has a pronounced tendency to bear off to the right - at times completing a loop. When this happens with the camera rig attached it gets your attention. I've tried a number of things to cure it of this trait - new spars, bridle adjustments, and tails - but the behavior still exists. I finally decided that this kite didn't want to fly in higher winds and additional options were in order.

My first kite, an International Connections 6.5' Delta Conyne (42K jpg)

This image captures my first kite in a steady 20+ mph breeze at Chimney Rock, Pt. Reyes. The wind was too much for the kite (which looked like a mad cat with its ears folded back). I was unable to take aerial photographs that day and longed for a high wind kite. In the image I've attached a spinsock to stabilize the kite.

A Devotion to Motion 8' Delta Conyne (47K jpg)

I later purchased an 8' Devotion to Motion delta conyne and it seems a well-made kite. It has lifted my camera rig on a couple of occasions but I do not know it intimately. I decided to test its higher wind behavior on its maiden flight, in about 20 mph winds, and all three longerons failed at mid-span. A dramatic collapse with no camera aloft. New sticks and all was well.

A Devotion to Motion 10' Double Delta Conyne (47K jpg)

My most recent framed kite acquisition is a double cell version of the delta conyne, also from Devotion to Motion. This kite seems to fly quite well and I figure I'll use it for light wind conditions.

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The Rokkaku

The rokkaku is a six-sided kite with a pair of bowed cross spars and a single centerline longeron. It flies from a four-leg bridle and well at that for a such a conceptually simple kite. I do not use a tail with this kite.

My first kite building project was a five foot rokkaku and it flies quite well in very light winds. I still need to do some tuning for more brisk conditions.

My strongest-pulling kite, a 7.5' Kevin Shannon rokkaku, September 1995 (55K jpg)

This rokkaku, made by Kevin Shannon of Carlisle Kite Works, is one sweet kite. I use it to loft my camera when the winds are low and it seems to want to fly when wind is hardly perceptible at ground level. If I can get it up in the air it will generally provide enough lift to hoist my 20 oz. camera rig. There have been a couple of times when the sea breeze has come in while the rokkaku was in the air. When this happens the kite pulls like a horse and on more than one occasion I've had to tie it off and walk it down. My only negative comment is that twice, when the wind was very low, the kite has turned itself upside down, stabilized, and flown immediately into the ground - yikes! The camera was not attached either time and no harm was done. Still it has me a bit nervous. I've adjusted the bridle in hope of preventing a recurrence.

The paragraph above was probably written in 1996 so it seems appropriate that I provide an update now that it is 2001. The Kevin Shannon Rokkaku has served with great distinction over the last five years and I have used it so much that it has finally worn out. During this time I have probably taken around 75 rolls of film using this kite including the majority of my photos in Europe.. Fairly early in the game I reframed the kite using carbon fiber sticks and the weight saved was an advantage while the kite's fine flying characteristics were unaffected. Over time I came to recognize the kite's pattern of flight and learned to pay attention during thermals when it would fly almost directly overhead. Spooling line out at the right moment would help straighten it out while in-hauling line would produce an advance along the direction of its spine. I have become so comfortable flying that accidents and anxiety are remote memories. Buying a replacement rok from Carlisle Kite Works is on my current to do list.

An image of the Shannon kite taken from the air, September 1995 (52K jpg)

Lately I've been trying to take images of kites in flight from an aerial point of view. This is harder than you might think. The target kite and camera rig are visually floating against a generally featureless sky so depth perception is difficult. I figure the exercise is useful in preparation for those days when I'll try to photograph less forgiving (read solid) foreground objects. This view of the rokkaku nicely shows the deformation of the kite's sail plane during flight.

The Dopero

My Brooks Leffler Dopero (Double Pearson Roller), May 2001 

Well, fast forward to the year 2000 and the first thing I note is that my 1995 scans were pretty bad.  In March 2000 Claudia arranged for Brooks Leffler to make a Dopero as 29th anniversary gift. This large, lightweight kite is framed with carbon fiber spars and particularly suited for use in low winds. 

The Double Parasled

One of two Double Parasleds made of red fabric by David Wagner. This is the larger of the two at approximately 30 ft2. It is complemented by its junior sibling at approximately 15 ft2, May 2001 

Joining the quiver in 2001 are two bright red Double Parasleds. These hard-pulling kites fly well in steady breezes and allow me to fly adjacent to David's Red Line Project without looking out of place. I gave then their first workout at the May 2001 opening of San Francisco's Crissy Field as a National Park and hung the camera from them after only a few minutes of flight -- they are that stable. 

Views of David Wagner's Red Line Project as installed at Crissy Field and on the Ivanpah Dry Lake bed. I can now fly among the red kites without looking unfashionable.

On to the soft kite page.

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All rights reserved. Revised: Saturday, June 26, 2010