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Mud, Swamp, Skulls, Steers, Blackness of Night, Drone Search, Farmer and Police! Kite Rescue Attempt
Where my kite go?
The day started as most above Wind Watcher proving grounds (field behind my home) with an assessment of the wind speed and direction to decide on the “kite for the day”.
The weather was forecast favorable with 10 to 15 mph winds out of the South – my favorite direction. The week had started out great with a string of steady south winds bringing with it near record heat with temperatures in upper 90s degrees Fahrenheit.
I have been flying my “Octopus” kite for the first half of the week with great success.
On this day I decided to change it up a bit and fly my large 8-foot vented Rokkaku (ROK) kite from SMAC. This is a fun flyer with a steady to strong pull and is well suited to lifting KAP cameras quickly into the sky
As with just about all kite flights above WW proving grounds, the big vented ROK quickly climbed into the clear sky. As per standard procedure above WW proving grounds, I attached about 8 streamers to the kite line to increase visibility to the kite both from the air (low flying helicopters and airplanes) and from the ground (to help me notice changes in wind speeds (lulls and gust) and in wind direction.
The big vented ROK few great for over 8 hours above WW proving grounds. The wind remained steady blowing about 15 mph out of the South. The line pull was strong lifting the Stratospool off the ground for just about the full 8 hours of flight time.
As the sun was setting, I went for a walk with my dog while the kite continued to fly high above.
Upon returning from my dog walk the sky was nearly dark but I could still make out the big ROK kite in the skies above. I entered my house to drop off the dog leash and came back outside to begin cranking in the ROK out of the darkening night sky.
But…. the big ROK kite was nowhere to be seen in the skies above. In the two minutes I was inside my house…the kite disappeared into thin (dark) air!
I looked hard in disbelief – kite and all 8 streamers simply gone….
I began to search the skies down wind, close to the horizon and I began to run down the hill behind my home in search of the missing kite…. I initially thought (hoped) that the wind had suddenly stopped the kite simply dropped into the field behind my home…. but I could not see any evidence of the streamers in the field….
I continued to scrutinize the downwind sky for any evidence of the kite…. physics told me the kite could not have reached the ground yet… I was flying high on this day!
As I continued to run down the hill, and I caught a glimpse of the big red ROK kite just slipping below the now nearly dark horizon …. Way down the hill and across a road and power lines…. into a forest….
It took me several minutes to reach the park at the bottom of the hill. The kite, line and streamers were nowhere in sight. A police car was sitting in the parking lot at the park. I quickly ran up the police car and asked the police officer if he had seen a kite come down. He said he just saw a kite float across the road and power lines in the forest on the other side. He gave me a detailed bearing on the direction the kite came down in. This matched my own observation. See photo of police car sitting in park at the bottom of the hill.
The dark night skies were rapidly approaching.
I decided to push down wind and press into the forest and fields on the other side of the road and power lines in hope of getting lucky and spotting the kite or streamers on the ground.
Wishful thinking on my part….
The real adventure was about to begin!
Turns out the field and forest on the other side of the road…. was a swamp with sections marked off with barbwire fence….
As I stumbled around in the dark looking for the kite, kite line or streamers I would randomly sink into swamp water up to my knees only to clamber back to dryer grounds and bump into random barbwire fences. Snakes and other critters were going through my mind….
Full darkness of night was now upon me. I had been tramping around in a dark swamp with barbwire fences for over 30 minutes…. discouraged…. wet…hot…. tired…. but I pushed on …. to higher ground.
As I was about to give up…. I said a brief prayer….to find my way out of the dark forest / swampy area and maybe find a trace of the kite …. that I knew …. had to be in the area.
As I reached higher ground, I looked up in the sky above me and caught a glimpse of a white streamer fluttering in the stary sky stretched between two tall trees…. I could not believe what I had found.
The kite line and streamer were in line with bearing provided by the policeman and my direct observations. This was a big help but not the full story. The kite line with the streamer attached was way out of reach…. maybe 30 to 40 feet above the ground.
I followed the general direction of the line to the closest tall tree. There I found wrapped tightly around high branches of a tree a second streamer and a third and a fourth that was closer to the ground. I was able to reach the lowest streamer by climbing on top of a barbwire fence post….and grabbed the streamer which let me get a hand on part of the kite line.
Some rapid pulling on the kite line yielded three streamers and about 60 feet of kite line. The white streamer that I had first spotted remained stretched between the two tall trees. No amount of pulling on the kite line could free the line.
I decided to find a stick or object that I could tie the 60 feet of kite line to and try to toss a line over the kite line that was stretched between the two trees. Darkness had set in …. I used my hands and feet to feel for any sticks that I could use as a weight to throw over the kite line stretched between the two trees.
Suddenly I felt or sensed an exceptionally large dark object passing me by …. Only a couple of feet away…. A huge black bull quietly passed me by …. Livestock …. barbwire…. suddenly made sense.
I resumed my search for an object on the ground to wrap the kite line around and after a few minutes I found an object that seemed to fit the bill for what I was looking for. I quickly tied the kite line around the stick and was successful on my third attempt in throwing the object over the kite line stretched between the two trees. After a few minutes of pulling, I was able to retrieve the white streamer from the kite line and stary skies above.
While removing the streamer from the kite line (held with a brooks hang-up) I pulled out my cell phone and turned on the flashlight app to inspect the line and discovered the “stick” I had attached the kite line to was actually a skull of a deer!
Exhausted, wet, bleeding and bruised from stumbling around in a swamp in the dark for over an hour I decided to call it quits for the night.
Partial success …. I had located one end of the kite line…. still no idea where the kite was located….and I had a fair bit of kite line out that day…. I knew full well … the kite was hundreds of feet downwind in a forest…swamp…. barbwire…. field occupied by a bunch of black angus steers….
It took me over 30 minutes to get out of the swamp and back into the park area followed by another 15-minute walk …. all in the dark… to reach my home.
My mind was tired…and spinning…. where was the kite….and why did the line suddenly part with no warning?
Sleep was restless that night.
The next morning after finishing a few business meetings that I had scheduled I set out again for the swampy forest that was over 1 Km from my home…. but this time in daylight. What a difference!
I was able to locate a 5th streamer and get a general direction of where the kite maybe. The kite line was high in the trees above my head and extremely hard to see (very thin Dyneema kite line). After about 1 hour of searching, I was unable to locate the kite…. Discouraged but not giving in!
Day two I decided to take a different approach to try and locate the missing kite…. by drone!
I fired up my DJI Mini 2 drone and began an aerial search following the general direction of the kite line and streamers. A thirty-minute flight yielded no signs of the kite. A second flight came back with the same results… no visual observation on the missing kite.
I decided to review the drone footage on my computer with a larger monitor (in place of the small cell phone screen) …. and after a detailed search I spotted the spider web thin kite line reflecting in the sun light stretched between two tall trees that were further down wind……I was closing in on my subject the kite. But still no direct observation of the kite location…. Physics told me the kite had to be buried in the tall trees somewhere down wind.
A third drone flight was undertaken – flying at lower altitudes and in a concentrated area of the forest. No sign of the kite was detected during the flight. Post flight analysis of the videos and still images when viewed on a large computer screen uncovered a ridiculously small patch of red that stood out in a vast sea of green leaves when viewed at a certain narrow angle…. perhaps…. just perhaps…. a fleeting glimpse of the big red ROK kite.
A detailed inspection of both the 4K videos and still images captured by the drone confirmed the kite had been located – pretty much in line with the known kite line observations that were upwind.
The kite was just about 1 Km from my home where it was tied off!
Armed with the GPS location on my phone and some help from Google Maps I started out on a ground expedition across the swamp, forest, livestock field, stream and more barbwire fences to reach the GPS location and try to locate the big red ROK kite…. I was hoping the kite reached the ground…. but the physics of the taught kite line told me otherwise.
After a 20-minute hike I reached the GPS location …. And there high in a tree … a large red maple tree… was my big 8-foot ROK kite stuck in the top of the tree…. 50-75 feet off the ground above a waist deep stream…. with a group of Black Angus steers cooling themselves off nearby in the stream.
Reaching kites in tall trees is not easy. In anticipation of trying to rescue the kite I had brought along a throw line. The kite was just above 50-75 feet off the ground…. just out of reach of my throw line attempts…. I gave up after about 15 attempts….and made my way back home. Hot, sweaty and tired again….
Next up …. A call to my favorite arborist and a request for some professional kite in tree rescue help!
Joseph (my arborist friend) and I have an interesting relationship…. he has excellent climbing skills and can reach kites that I stuck in trees over 100 feet up. Joseph has rescued about 7 to 10 kites from trees above the WW proving grounds…. Over the last 10 years or so. I am not proud of my failures…. Joseph helps bring a rewarding feeling of recovering a kite …. For a reasonable cost. I think Joseph also enjoys these not too frequent kite rescue adventures.
Joseph agreed to meet in a couple of days to attempt the kite recovery. The weather was extremely hot with temperatures over 95 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity to match. Too hot to mount an immediate kite rescue.
The next two days we had multiple severe thunderstorms with heavy rain and winds in excess of 40 mph racking the area. I was hoping the kite did not move out of the tree and just fly off or get ripped to shreds due to the high winds.
Joseph and I met up after couple of days with much better weather and we drove to a spot near where the kite was located…. skipping the swamps and barbwire fences…. but after a bit of bushwhacking, we ran into the deep stream now running high due to the recent heavy rain…making the rapidly flowing stream difficult to cross. We decided to back out and drive back to the park area and retrace my path through the swampy barbwire fields and, past the livestock to reach the tree that was holding my kite prisoner … and hoping …. the kite was still in the tree after the big storms the last two nights.
Knowledge gain from the recent transits across the swamps and barbwire fences help speed our path across the fields to the location of the suspect tree…. We were met with good news…. The kite remained firmly entrenched in the top of the tree and seemed to be intact with no obvious signs of damage from the high winds.
Joseph and I worked as a team getting ready to climb the high tree and recover the kite. First step was to toss a throwline in the top of the tree to secure a climbing rope. Joseph nailed the throw line on his second attempt. See photos and videos of the recovery below (images 3 and 4 below are videos from flickr you may need to click on them to view).
While Joseph was preparing his climbing rope and harness a small herd of Black Angus steers (cows) showed up to watch the excitement in their field. A few newborn steers pushed in to see the fun action in the tree above.
The scamper up the tree by Joseph was straight forward with the climbing line quickly following the throw line up the tree and back to the ground. A few minutes passed and Joseph was nearing the kite. A quick release of the lark’s head knot and the kite was free of the kite line. Joseph selected a free fall drop of the big red SUMAC vented Rokkaku kite from the top of the tree. The big red kite floated down like a leaf just missing landing in the stream and settled softly on the ground. A brief visual inspection confirmed that the kite was undamaged from its adventure above WW proving grounds.
Next up - kite line recovery. I still had a fair bit of Dyneema kite line stretched between the top of the tree where the kite was rescued back to a 50-foot-long streamer high up in a tree closer to where the original streamers were recovered. I estimated about 300 feet of line.
Joseph and I packed up the climbing gear, squeezed through a barbwire fence and skirted around a curious herd of steers back to where the streamer and kite line were stretched across the sky above us…. about 50 feet off the ground.
I volunteered to reenter the swampy area and attempt to throw a line over the kite line. After about 5 attempts with the throw line (all just missing the target) I gave up and passed the throw line back to Joseph. A few throw attempts later we finally had the throw line over the kite line high above. Turns out the kite line was a higher than we realized.
With the errant kite line firmly in hand was able to pull in enough kite line to just reach the end of the 50-foot streamer and release it from the kite line (attached with brooks hang up). The end of the kite line beyond the streamer (not the kite end of the line) remained firmly stuck in a high tree about 100 feet away. One remaining streamer was firmly stuck and would not budge from the high branches in a tree beyond my visual site.
Joseph was anxious to move on home (he had stopped for this fun kite recovery attempt on his way home from work in New Jersey). A quick payment for services rendered and Joseph headed on out with smiles on both of our parts…. ending with our now standard goodbye….” hope not to see you soon”. 😉
I decided to stay in the swamp and attempt to retrieve as much kite line as I could. I decided to cut the line with the one remaining streamer and focus on retrieving the bulk of the kite line that was originally attached to the kite.
I had packed in my Stratospool (which is the main suspect in this kite line parting mystery) just in case I was able to recover the kite line. A quick knot attached the rescued kite line to the line that remained in the Stratospool and after a few minutes of winding the force on the line increased significantly …. And suddenly released after a few forceful pulls. A few additional minutes of winding passed before the end of the kite line appeared…. minus the protective sleeve that I put on the end of the kite line attachment point…. must have been caught in the tree branches during winding in the kite line…
Now tired and wet but with a smile on my face, a rescued kite in one hand and my Stratospool refilled with kite line in the other hand I began my careful hike out of the swamp and past the still curious herd of steers back to my car…. for a drive back to my home about 1 Km away.
During all this excitement in the swamp, trees and herd of steers…. The local farmer became alarmed and …. called the police….as arrived back at my car on the edge of the farm the police and farmer showed up and we had a little pow wow…. Turns out the farmer has been fighting random dumping on his property and the police have been on the lookout for the perpetrators.
The farmer and I are old friends and he enjoys seeing my kites in the skies near his farm several times a week. His face changed from a frown to a broad smile as I approached his truck. The police quickly followed, and we had a quick conversation where I shared the short version of this story. Smiles all around as I completed the story. We all parted our ways and the world seemed to be back on its somewhat bumpy axis for now.
The SMAC big red vented Rokkaku kite appears to be in good condition. Flight testing is planned to confirm flight worthiness prior to any future KAP sessions.
Root cause of the kite line parting:
A detailed inspection of the Stratospool revealed the square bolt guide at the end of the Stratospool nose that guides the kite line had become rusty over time. The iron oxide deposits had become rough on the surface of the square bolt that the kite line presses against. The combination of the rough surface, over 8 hours of kite flying with a moderate to high pull on the kite line from the big ROK kite and intermittent changing wind direction which caused the kite line to travel back and forth across the rough surface weaken the Dyneema kite line to a point of failure. Contributing factors – strong wind gusts above 20 mph, older Dyneema kite line. Note – Dyneema kite line is normally resistant to abrasion …. but every line has its limits.
I have lost several kites in remarkably similar conditions. I have now concluded with the mounting evidence that my current Stratospool has a weakness in this area.
I have decided to alter the nose design of my current Stratospool. A working prototype has been constructed and I have completed three-day long flights above WW proving grounds with no issues. Additional testing is planned to confirm the new design resolves this weak area. The new design is the simple addition of a small cleat to the top of the Stratospool nose (see photos). The cleat will only be used when tying off the kite line for extended periods of time.
- If you fly kites a lot…things will happen
- Best to hand hold your kite line so you can respond immediately to any issues (note: when I am actively KAPing…. I just about always hand hold the kite line (on my Stratospool)).
- I got incredibly lucky to be near the kite tie off point during the failure and by chance was able to catch a glimpse of the kite as it disappeared over the horizon about 1 Km away.
- Drones can be useful in spotting wayward kites
- It is good to have friendly farmers (and police) near by
- Big black angus steers make no noise as they walk by you in the dark
- Failure is a good teacher
- Stumbling around in swamps with barbwire in the dark is not good mix
See this flickr album for high resolution images and videos of the kite recovery.