Notes on Kite Aerial Photography: Equipment

Soft Kites for Lifting

Quick Links:

the Sutton Flowform
a Tail
the framed kite page.

I've grown very fond of my soft kites and if the wind allows they are my first choice. They establish and hold their shape with air pressure and lacking rigid spars they are easy to set up and take down. They do like a steady breeze.

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Flowforms are self-inflated, airfoil-shaped kites that have no rigid components. They pack to a very small size and can be stabilized with a drogue or tail.

I bought my first Sutton Flowform, a small 8 square foot model, in search of a kite suitable for use in high winds. It was disappointing for this application in that it too had a tendency to pull to the side in high winds even when fitted with a substantial tail. This only happens in 20+ mph winds but then again I purchased it for precisely these conditions.

Later I decided to buy a 16 square foot model after reading Brooks Leffler's praise for this version in the Aerial Eye. The Sutton 16 has become my workhorse and I use it regularly. It is not a low wind kite and I must have about 7 mph or above for it to provide useful lift. When winds are stronger than this, and the air is clean, the Sutton 16 is a marvelous lifter. On one occasion I found myself flying (no camera) in turbulent air downwind of a grove of trees. The Sutton collapsed in a lull and fell to the earth. This, I suspect, is its greatest liability. I would avoid lifting cameras with it in particularly turbulent air.

In late 1995, Claudia gave me a Sutton 30 as a birthday gift. It seems to have the well-behaved characteristics of its Sutton 16 sibling and provides useful lift in lower wind speeds. I like this kite. More recently I've acquired a Sutton 60 and this is now my largest kite. Sometimes I need the extra lift to get the SLR Rig in the air. Suttons come in sizes all the way up to 250 square feet.

My Sutton Flowform 16 beginning its maiden flight (September 1995, 40K jpg)

This is the initial launch of my Sutton 16. It flew so solidly I was hanging a camera from it only fifteen minutes later. I've found it very easy to launch and it packs to almost pocket size - altogether an easy kite to live with.

An aerial image of the Sutton 16 in flight (September 1995, 43K jpg)

The image provides an interesting comparison of the photographic characteristics of white kite line verses black kite line. The white kite line leading to the camera-bearing rokkaku is clearly visible all the way to the ground. The black line anchoring the Sutton 16 is noticeably less visible.

An in-flight profile view of the Sutton 16 (September 1995, 26K jpg)

This shot, like the one before it, was taken with the camera rig adjacent to the Sutton 16 (using the 7.5' rokkaku as a lifter). It shows the Sutton 16 flying above our kite testing grounds - the Berkeley Waterfront.

An ground level view of the Sutton 30 (November 1995, 26K jpg)

Like the Sutton 16, I've found the Sutton 30 to be a well behaved kite. Its larger surface area comes in handy for lifting in slightly lower wind velocities. After I developed the Canon Rebel-X carrying KAP Rig I started to use the Sutton 30 more often. It lifts this rig quite well and has remained a very pleasant kite to fly. The photo was taken at Limatour Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore.

Charlie Benton holding on to the Sutton 60 (November 1996, 35K jpg)

This is the newest kite in my quiver, purchased to provide SLR-lifting capacity in lower wind conditions. So far it has flown well - more to come as I gain experience with this model.

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My conyne deltas and Flowforms seem to benefit from the addition of a stabilizing tail. For the first few months I used a spinning windsock for this purpose and it seemed to work reasonably well. Wolfgang Bieck, during his July 1995 visit, suggested that a frilly tail would be much more effective. I made a couple of these (7 meters and 9 meters long) and they do work well. I've not used the windsock since. My page on Wolfgang Bieck describes his large multiflare kite, an effective camera lifter.

A frilly tail (after Wolfgang Bieck)
(September 1995,44K jpg)

This tail is made from a 30 cm by 7 meter length of ripstop. A small strip of ripstop was sewn down the middle and strips were hot cut on both sides of this reinforcement for its entire length.

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