January 14
Larger Pilot Kites
New Safety Information

We're off to sunny Clearwater Florida for the annual KTAI Trade Show. The flight leaves at 6 am Monday morning and we need to be there hours early. Ugh! But we're excited to be presenting a bunch of new designs and searching out new treasures for you. Watch for a full report next week.

Meanwhile, check out another solid inflatable now being produced by GKPI. It is the new, larger size Pilot Parafoil.

We've also been formatting a complete safety report from Peter Lynn. It is a long read but well worth the effort if you fly larger kites. We'll be adding this to the main page later but are previewing it here for regular readers. Take time to at least skim this excellent information from the kite flying Master of Disaster himself and drop me a note to let me know what you think.

Larger Pilot Kites! They are so new we don't even have photos yet! But we have augmented the design of our impressive Pilot Parafoils to produce a larger size measuring 75 square feet. These no-nonsense lifters feature six cells and four sets of keels. They are perfect for laundry, anchoring larger Spinsocks or inflatables, or hefting cameras and instruments into the sky.

And now Pilots will be available in a three-color design. Choose what you want on the top-sail, keels and cells, and bottom sail.

Place your orders now for $325 each!

50 Square Foot Pilot Parafoils

Safe Flying Of Large Kites At Kite Festivals
Some Comments By Peter Lynn

Kite flying can be dangerous and the dangers are often worse than they need to be precisely because most people think of kite flying as a pleasant, gentle, stress free "safe" pastime. Kite flying, especially large kite flying is not gentle, it's not stress free, it is not always pleasant and it has the potential to cause injury and death.

My experiences have included far too many minor accidents and near accidents. On one hand I think how lucky I was not to have had, or caused, a serious injury. On the other hand I could consider myself unlucky even to have come so close to having serious accidents..

Is there any solution except for me to stop flying large kites? And that begs the question of why fly big kites at all if it's risky? Why not just fly smaller kites? Of course big kites are not "better" than smaller kites. They're much more expensive to make and to maintain, a real nuisance to carry around from Country to Country, are difficult to fly, are seriously hazardous (mostly to the operators because of their higher level of exposure), and arouse illogical resentment and envy (and sometimes justified anger) from our peer group of other kitefliers. Big kites are bullying sky hogs but the innate fascination of the general public (and not a few kite fliers) with size, cost and drama make them an essential feature of all Kite Festivals that aren't kite flier only events.

Personally I don't enjoy flying big kites at crowded Festivals unless the wind is perfect (which is approximately never), but perceive that if we cease to provide spectacle, kite flying will stagnate or decline. The 20 plus years during which I have been flying at Kite Festivals has seen huge growth in kite flying and it seems to me that these "shop windows" have had a large part to play in this growth, small though my contribution has been. Together with that other thankless task, organizing Kite Festivals, flying big kites is a dirty job but someone has to do it! Are there then ways of doing it better?

Not all problems have solutions and the problem of large kite safety is a fairly intractable one because any gains made are soon swallowed up by the always rising expectations of the festival public. At least collating and analyzing past experiences did provide some pointers.

During 25 years of professional kite flying I had this same feeling of being a major accident about to happen, during one previous period. In the late 1980's the number of major kite festivals world wide increased rapidly and the intensity and pressures to perform also accelerated. My response then after similar soul searching was to move completely away from using framed kites (which, in larger size pose an obvious and special set of dangers) and to stop flying kites attached together in train, and to cease using line devices (although we have since found a way of rigging line devices safely as explained later).

The main safety concern about trains and line devices are discussed later but are basically kite trains or kites towing line devices breaking free and laying waste to the surrounding area. The change to using only soft kites flown individually was an adequate response at that time but later, even more crowding and the pressures to perform applied to kite fliers by festival organizer have lifted the game again. The move to totally soft kites did mitigate most problems but it created an unanticipated new one.

Because soft kite design is still in its infancy and the inherent design constraints don't allow nearly as many opportunities for fiddling with stabilizing factors such as center of gravity versus center of pressure relationships or the relative size and disposition of lateral area, soft kites tend to be less stable than framed kites. A very substantial answer to many safety problems would be to fly kites that are more stable, more manageable more docile.

To some extent time will fix this as knowledge grows but there is an arms race between this growing knowledge and the pressure to produce new and original kite designs, especially kites that mimic recognizable things. (Which often prevents the use of known stabilizing systems).

Granted that major stability improvements are not going to happen over night, a further response was required.

Firstly, many manufacturing business's include "safe use" instruction with their products. Unfortunately most times this material is not really about safety but is about establishing defenses against potential legal action. Many so called "safety" instructions set out usage procedures that are inefficient and impracticable to an extent that destroys the credibility of even the parts of them that are important for safe use. It is also true, especially, but not only, in the USA that much so called "safety" at Kite Festivals is primarily about avoiding liability. Unfortunately torts and legislated safety rules are but a poor guide for how to do things safely and are more to do with finding, (or avoiding being), a "deep pocket" to blame after an incident, no matter how tenuous the chain of responsibility was. This is a situation that I get rather worked up about, not that I am particularly in it's firing line, being far too poor (contrary to some kitefliers belief ) to be worthwhile taking action against in the case that an opportunity ever arose.

The following is a set of suggestions as to how to fly large kites more safely. It is not about how to avoid liability except in so far as this is a consequence of flying more safely.

Even by the standards of our increasingly risk averse world I believe large kite flying can be undertaken with reasonable expectation of survival, indeed even of avoiding injury most of the time- which is more than can be said for many activities which are currently sanctioned by society. Stronger winds are the dangerous end of the game, and it takes a very creative kiteflier to contrive a serious accident in light winds although this can be done by for example by running backwards into immovable objects, moving objects or parts of the earth's crust that are inexplicably and temporarily absent. For wind speeds above, say 20 miles-per-hour (although a more correct threshold takes into account the wind speed at which the kite that is being flown can just lift the lightest person present), I estimate the risk level as less than for hang gliding or car racing but maybe worse than for windsurfing or mountain biking.

This positioning should send an early and clear message as to how dangerous large kite flying can be. If you don't feel able to accept responsibility for this degree of risk the answer is simple. Don't fly at all in wind conditions or at sites when your experience or ability cannot ensure the safety level you desire.

From here on, "Large Kite" is defined as something powerful enough to lift or drag uncontrollably anyone who is in its vicinity in the wind conditions currently or likely to pertain.

Analysing the 50 or 60 accidents and near accidents I have been involved in or witnessed I find that some overriding principles emerge and that there are connecting features fitting dangerous situations into major grouping. Considering safety from the perspective of these groups reveals some signposts to a safer kite flying future.

As already touched on, an overriding principle is that when the wind is light (say less than 9 m.p.h.) it is very difficult to contrive an unsafe situation because forces are much less and (more important) events unfold much more slowly - giving plenty of time for people to avoid danger. Wind forces are near enough proportional to the wind velocity squared - double wind speed means four times the pull. In light winds large kites effectively become small kites and this almost by definition, eliminates the need for safety precautions. At major Kite Festival during light wind periods, the essential problem is always to keep enough entertaining things happening. Strong heavy lines, massive anchor points, perfect crowd control, highly experienced fit/strong kite handlers, disciplined procedures, adequate side and downwind recovery areas - all these essentials for safe large kite flying become irrelevant and in fact can effectively act against getting and keeping a good show going. The important and almost always unrecognized principle is to correctly identify the change points - light to stronger winds and vice versa and to change practices immediately.

Kite flying and downwind recovery areas carefully delineated by barriers and from which the public are excluded are almost always a safety necessity for well attended festivals when winds are strong. When the winds are light the struggle is rather to provide enough activity to retain the interest of the public. Allowing free access for at least some spectators to kite flying areas during light or no-wind periods, and especially the interaction and personal contacts with the kitefliers that result can make up in large part for lack of spectacle in the sky. Of course many kitefliers don't particularly like to have the general public trampling all over their gear, feeling up their masterpieces and maybe pilfering their lunches!

The answers to these fears are to retain some secure areas, and for us fliers to be a little more laid back and outgoing for the benefit of the future of kite flying rather than continuing the "us and them" segregation still apparent at some festivals even when this is unnecessary from the safety perspective. A valid criticism of the above is the difficulty of excluding the public again once they have been allowed access to controlled areas, but this can be done successfully and the extra effort is certainly worthwhile in its contribution to more successful festivals.

Entanglement And Other Dangers During Launching.

A major fear for all experienced large kite fliers is of getting caught up in the line, bridle lines, or tail when a kite is launching. This is what killed Steve Edeiken. I can remember many times when myself or others have had to quickly twist clear of some flailing part and I have sometimes been tripped over by a sweeping bridle line as the kite launches. There is very real danger but an analogy is the requirement for yacht crews to stay clear of the boom and flailing ropes during gibes and the appropriate safety procedures are similar. Problems are minimized by physical fitness, agility, experience (awareness of the risks ) and no lapses in concentration

Until recently there was no alternative to having often more than one person holding and manipulating the kite during the launching process, especially with the increasingly popular soft kites which require inflating just prior to launching. For many kite designs this remains the case but now we are starting to develop some systems that reduce or even eliminate the need for people to be in the dangerous area around the kite during launches in strong conditions.

    Management of Safe Launches:

    • Nominate one person as the Captain. The Captain's word is law, mutiny is a hanging offense, but the Captain and everyone is subject to the laws of the land after the event.
    • Use only an absolute minimum number of fit experienced kite handlers in the danger zones and keep everyone else clear.
    • Have a system that communicates clearly to everyone when things are to happen - radio, whistle, voice or hand signals. In the absence of formal communications systems, fliers working together have to be very familiar with how they should and how their other team members will react in given circumstances

The driving force for these developments was our very large kites ( The Megabite and now the Mega-Ray ) For the Megabite we often launch by "running the tail". This is a technique by which the kite is not quite fully inflated at the point when everyone moves away from the mouth area. The tail is then run up under the kite either by people pulling it (light wind) or by rope to a light vehicle somewhere else. This pushes a bubble of inflation up to the nose of the kite which causes the kite to self launch. Handlers or vehicles on the sidestay lines can then easily control the ascent. In another similar technique, applying a motor driven blower (via a long tube) to the task of completing the inflation will accomplish the same result.

Fortunately for these systems the last part of a soft kite to inflate will always be the leading edge which is exactly the area that must be inflated for self launching to occur. Another "hands off" launching system is to use a small auxiliary kite to lift the main kite's leading edge, causing inflation firstly, then launching. We are now using these "Pilot Kites" extensively.

The other major danger when launching is that while everyone's attention is focused on the kite someone will have wandered into the tails or onto the main flying line. It is essential to check that the line and tails are clear before the kite launches but if this is going to be impossible ( the irresistible force situation! ), crowd control must ensure that these areas are kept clear during the entire launching process. It is very easy to forget to check the line and tails just before launch as it's often a very busy, anxious time. I confess to having been guilty of this lapse, even during the last 6 months, fortunately with no evil consequences.

    For Safe Kite Launching In Strong Winds:
    • Have the minimum number of people in the vicinity of the kite and ensure that those that are there are fit, agile, experienced (and with that particular kite) and confident.
    • Alternatively, contrive a "hands off" launch system.
    • Have some formal pre-arranged communication system (hand signals, voice, or radios).
    • Use an experienced team that understand each other very well.
    • Check the tails and line before allowing the kite to launch.
    • Know that the line, launch and tail areas are being actively patrolled by others to ensure that nobody wanders in.
    • Check that the edges of the possible "ground sweep" arc are either clear of people or station an experienced person at each extremity if you suspect the kite could fail to launch cleanly.

Sweepers And Loopers.

Kites develop much more pull when they are moving than while in steady state flight - because pull is proportional to their apparent wind speed squared. More often that not, wind speed increases during the course of a day sometimes to a strength that exceeds a kite's upper stability limit. Usually there are warning signs of impending instability. - "hunting" or even just line pull referenced against previous experience with that kite. When a kite becomes unstable, either for this reason, because of asymmetric damage or losing its stabilizing tail or drogue, (often caused by coming against another kite line) dangerous situations can occur. The major increase in line pull that occurs during unstable sweeping or looping can break lines and move anchors but these are discussed in the next section.

When looping or sweeping kites brush the ground, anyone in the kites or kite line path is in danger. It's always heart in the mouth stuff not least because things happen very quickly and these is a sense of helplessness. . The only potentially serious situations we have encountered so far when flying the Megabite have been during wind shifts when the tails have swept over public rather than kite flying areas, on one occasion snatching a young child from his parent's arms, fortunately only briefly! On this occasion the problem was, as usual, not enough space for flying a kite of this size while ensuring that all parts of the kite remain within the controlled area even in the event of large wind shifts. The answer for the Megabite and other very large kites that should always have side stay safety lines and be flying only over controlled areas, is better anticipation of wind changes and more rigorous control of the side stay lines but we have had and seen many other instances with standard size "large" kites when sweeping tails snatch at downwind bystanders.

    To Prepare For Dangerous Sweeps:
    • Have a loud immediately available warning signal AND either get kites down before instability becomes unmanageable, OR
    • Keep EVERYONE clear of the sweep zone and patrol the borders of this zone, OR
    • Release or cut the line allowing the kite to depower and float down (provided there is an adequate and clear downwind recovery zone.), OR
    • Build (at the kite) a short "fuse" line gauged to break before the main line and only if pull rises to an unsafe level - again only provided ditto above.

The general lesson is that sweeping tails are one of the major safety problems for festival flying, that the sweep area under kites is the most dangerous place to be, even for experienced fliers and should be cordoned off and continually patrolled when the wind gets up. Finding the vigilance to do this is not as easy as it sounds because often a kite will stand high in the sky for hours, rock steady, then suddenly (as the wind strength momentarily exceeds it's stability limit or it is snared by an adjacent kite ) will dive for the ground, grab some hapless, hopefully inanimate object then head back for the sky with tremendous acceleration. The very many times I have seen this happen with my own kites or others loom large in my memory as dangerous times and yet I can't recall any major injury caused by this situation. That this is so is just good luck for sure or maybe early onset (and selective ) Alzheimer's. Minor injuries to innocent bystanders or passers by in this type of incident are common - e.g. ear rings ripped out of ears, heavy falls from being unexpectedly tripped from behind etc. answers are clear.

Breaking Lines

Lines can break for a variety of reasons - just not strong enough, previous unnoticed damage, chaffing, damage by other lines, and kites floating free can be dangerous if there is not an adequate clear downwind recovery zone. When a free floating kite snags on something or someone, huge and uncontrollable forces can quickly develop. Our Fugus are very dangerous in this respect because they bowl along the ground wildly flinging out loops of bridle line to ensnare anything in their path and their pull is huge. However, close observation has shown that in the first few seconds at least after a Fugu breaks free all it's bridles and most of the line (if any is still attached) will be INSIDE the Fugu, whipped in there by the backlash from the break. Centripetal reaction during subsequent rolling eventually throws bridles and line out again.

From experience though, by far the most dangerous common kite accident is when kites escape while towing line devices. When dragged line devices or lower kites in a freed train snag, the top kite(s) hook straight back into generating major pull - serious danger for the snagee. Worse still this process can (and often does) repeat, with the result being a swathe of destruction across the countryside. No above ground transmission lines can stand against this onslaught!

Analysing our own dangerous line breaks over the 6 years up to 1995, I noticed an interesting common factor. Prior to 1991 such incidents were very uncommon for us, far too common subsequently. From 1991 I progressively changed to high specific strength cored high modulas (kevlar or spectra) lines (for the purpose of getting carrying weight of lines down to enable traveling with more kites within airline weight allowance.) All our failures during this period occurred in these high tech lines and my investigation (I built a test rig) has shown that their claimed strengths are often wildly optimistic. Not only does the more stretchy braided (usually polyester) sheath contribute nothing to strength at least until the core fails anyway but it hides core damage. Five mm sheathed spectra has a core spectra diameter equivalent of only three mm so is not even good for 1000 pounds. Reasonable quality standard five mm nylon or polyester braided line is good for 900 pounds any time and when damaged shows obvious signs.

The extra stretchiness of nylon and polyester over kevlar or spectra is also a help in mitigating sudden snatch loads. Consequently, from January 1995 we progressively changed to using solid braided spectra/dyneema line 3.2mm (1000 pound) 4.5mm(2000 pound) and 5.5mm (3000 pound) diameters. They weigh less, can be easily spliced if cut and any damage is visible.

Since this changeover was completed I am pleased to say we have not had a single incident of line break. If something has to go it's now always the bridles, specifically the short "fuse" line we place at the main bridle point which is the safe (and convenient) place for a failure if one is necessary. The added difficulty handling smaller diameter and slipperier lines has taken some adjustment of technique. We now keep with us a few short (approximately 1.5m ) lengths of 10mm or 15mm diameter nylon line which we can quickly "larkshead" to the spectra wherever we need to apply serious pull and which we also use as anti-chafe protection at anchor points. An unexpected bonus of changing to solid spectra/dyneema is that it is less expensive, or certainly no more expensive, strength for strength than the line it replaced, especially when its longer life is allowed for. (We are getting 100 or more days of festival flying from each line now!)

    Conclusions On Line Breakage:
    • Use stronger lines when logistically possible.
    • Contrive (by inserting "fuse" lines) for breaks to occur at the kite not at the anchor and definitely not between the anchor and any line devices.
    • A superior rigging arrangement for line devices is to have individual and individually anchored lines for kite and line device so that they cannot get away together.
    • Avoid cored high modulas line.
    • For Fugus and other ground devices in stronger winds rig the main line to a rear bridle and use a short "fuse" line to the normal front bridle - front breaks first causing the Fugu etc. to reverse and deflate.
    • Watch for possible intersections with other kite lines.
    • Ignore all the above and just keep everyone upwind of the anchor points if the downwind recovery zone is clear and endless.

Immovable Objects That Aren't

Insecure kite tethering points are a major source of accidents at Kite Festivals. Even good strong anchors can cause problems if they are not placed so as to allow suitable separation between kites - and even the cleverest placement is made nonsense of by a minor wind shift which is why moveable vehicles are becoming more and more popular as anchor points.

There are two major danger with anchors. The first is when they are dragged relentlessly across the countryside laying waste to everything in their path. There have been some spectacular cases of this, most famously when a log tethering a large parafoil during rising wind on the US Pacific Coast floated out on a rising tide and went for a fairly straight line tour through the town. I scored an embarrassingly similar experience in the mid-eighties by pulling a small tree out by its roots with a large delta and then having to follow it helplessly until it encountered a section of the N.Z. national power grid sufficiently robust to halt its progress.

The other major danger from dragged anchors is to anyone caught between the anchor and the kite as the movement first starts. In personally my worst ever experience, at Napier in 1995 our van was dragged off by two Dolphin kites, running over but not seriously injuring young Lena Zander from Hamburg.

Twice I have nearly been killed by anchors - once at our home field when a ground screw pull out unexpectedly, broke my thumb disconnected my left arm's motor and sensor nerves at the shoulder (I recovered most feeling with hours) and just missed my ear as it whistled skyward. At the Dieppe Festival one year, a 1M long x 25mm steel tent stake just parted my hair (I had some then) as it rocketed past and that time I was only an innocent(?) bystander, oxymoronically merely passing by..

Tearing failure of buried bag anchor at the Gold Coast in 1988 briefly elevated our eldest daughter Kirri and resulted in certainly the most spectacular set of kite crashes I have ever been involved in. I do still like vehicle anchors subject to some lessons learnt.

Most anchoring procedures are clear enough now but making sure that we always do things safely is not so easy as often it's a choice between unsafe practices or not flying at all and the latter is not what Kite Festivals are all about, but one serious accident one time could wipe out the excellent promotional flying at 100's of Festivals.

    Anchoring Rules:
    • Use stakes and screws if you trust them (but I'm prejudiced against them). The nasty steel stakes with sharp burred ends that now seem to spontaneously spring up all over kite fields and beaches cause most of our kite damage and a fair bit of people damage.
    • Robustly constructed bags filled with sand seem to me to be a better option because they can double as kite carrying bags so cost no extra traveling weight (and don't bring out the airport anti-terrorist squad like long metal spikes hidden deep in your kite bags do!). At least when bags drag they do so in a semi controllable fashion unlike metal spikes/screws that instantly become lethal high speed missiles.
    • Keep all people clear of the downwind side of vehicles and other anchors when large kites are tied to them if the wind is at all substantial. Unfortunately this area is a favorite congregating place for kitefliers and the public, perhaps because the anchor often provides some wind shelter and because people like to be able to touch the line but it is a very unsafe place to be.
    • Tie to the FRONT of vehicles and keep in gear. As I had so stupidly failed to think of until someone point it out at Napier '95, vehicles usually have their weight at the front but hand brakes work on rear wheels.
    • Be EXCEPTIONALLY careful to avoid chaffing at tie off points - I think chaffing failure of the substantial ropes tying our Van to another vehicle was the superficial cause of the Lena Zander accident at Napier.
    • Move tie off points whenever necessary to prevent lines crossing - Don't be lazy.

Crowns, Bols and Other Rotating Devices

Mention needs to be made of the special safety requirements associated with "flying" large rotating devices such as Spinning Windsocks and Bols. In addition to considerations such as their use as line devices, their anchoring, line breakage and similar issues covered in other sections there are special risks associated with rotation.

For spinning windsocks, the major danger is of people getting progressively wound up in the spiraling tails when the device is on or near the ground. In Australia and New Zealand there have been two quite serious incidents of this type that I know of, both requiring hospitalization but fortunately no serious long term harm. In one a child was caught in the tails and progressively strangled as they wound up in spite of the best efforts of would be rescuers. In the other, as the device periodically brushed the ground with the natural variation in its lifting kite's altitude, a boy was caught up in the twisting tails, lifted to some altitude and dropped. In both instances, better crowd control was the answer, although in the second incident there was an element of willfulness as the boy had already been warned away and the first incident would not have been serious if rescuers had known to first stop the device's rotation by grabbing the front rim rather than wading into the twisting tails and getting entangled along with the initial victim. Contrary to expectations it is usually quite easy to stop the rotation of spinning windsocks and bols by grabbing their front rim and this should be the first action taken in most emergencies.

Bols pose a different danger in that they tend to bounce around laterally as well as vertically. People inattentively walking past can be unexpectedly "ambushed", and if in the wrong place at the wrong time can become entangled, and maybe carried up with the device as it ascends. Once again the answer is crowd control in the bouncing zone, but this is only really necessary when the wind is stronger of course. To exclude everyone when the wind is light is to detract significantly from their chance to enjoy the festival.

    Rules For Spinning Devices:
    • Keep spectators and even yourself and other kite fliers clear of the bounce and sweep areas under such devices when the winds are at all serious.
    • In the event of an emergency involving someone getting caught up in one of these devices while it is rotating in contact with the ground -- stop the rotation by grabbing a rim.

Hardware and Clothing:

There is a strong case for not using metal rigging components such as caribiners except where unavoidable because during any line breakage, whether inadvertent or deliberate (e.g. when a "fuse" line breaks or when a line under tension is cut to save some worse situation) such components often take off faster than the proverbial speeding bullet and could easily kill. I have seen some near misses and one moderately serious injury. The unavoidable exceptions are swivels for rotating devices which can hardly be entirely soft and caribiners or other types of metal rings when used to link two approximately parallel ropes together when they must be allowed to slide a bit relatively. This last is the necessary situation when rigging line devices so that they have main anchored lines that are independent of their lifting kite as is suggested as the safest practice for other reasons in a later section. In this arrangement any rope to rope rigging quickly abrades.

Otherwise, knots are best, and the criteria for knot selection are simple; minimum reduction in line strength, should not come undone unless you want them to and then they must come undone quickly and easily

When working around flailing lines, some dress modes are not appropriate. The general principle is that tight fitting "seamless" clothing offers much less opportunity for snagging on lines than loose or baggy gear, uncool as it sounds!

Jewelry: Finger rings catch on lines and dislocate fingers. Ear rings/studs get pulled out but are unlikely to result in serious accidents. To have lockets, pendants, in fact *anything* hanging around the neck is unsafe. Wrist watches, bracelets and bangles can be a nuisance but probably not life threatening. My pet annoyance is festival name cards that come with a cord for hanging around the neck; not a few have tried to strangle me, no doubt with the best wishes of some of my peers!

Footwear: Shoes laces and even heavily notched soles have an alarming propensity to catch on lines. The problem is to find non-snagging boots that don't reduce agility but have good traction. We need purposely designed kite fliers footwear! Bare feet are no answer given the likelihood of sharp litter (even used syringes) on some kite fields.

Gloves: Dexterity is an essential component of the quick reactions which are required to clear loops, tangles and knots in those emergencies which often develop with frightening rapidity when flying big kites. Gloves reduce dexterity and significantly increase the chance of a serious, even fatal accident.

With the generally larger line diameters associated with large kites, line burns are often not a significant risk. I don't wear gloves and haven't had a skin breaking line burn for many years. Conclusions: Train yourself to grip firmly or let go completely (and warn everyone else well *before* you let go) Don't slip the line when pull is above about half your weight. There are exceptions (as there are auto accidents in which it is better not to be wearing a seat belt) but unless you are only using line of less than 3mm diameter., think about leaving your gloves at home! An alternative is sailing-style gloves that leave the finger tips open.

Rigid or Sparred Kites

There are also special risks associated with "hard" kites; those that have tube, stick or strut frames. Some things are obvious. For example it would seem to be much more dangerous to be hit by a diving kite that has hard bits in it than by a kite that is composed entirely of fabric and air. This is certainly true if you have the misfortune to be bulls eye for one of the strut ends but it can be as dangerous (and requires a lot less precision targeting) to be hit by a high velocity soft kite because the mass of air inside can carry large amounts of kinetic energy which has to dissipate somewhere and will quite happily choose you as its braking zone.

Although this is an extreme case, the Megabite carries around more than 2 ton of air inside which takes a fair amount of stopping even at relatively low velocities.

Not so obvious is the risk of struts breaking (or just coming loose) while a kite is in the air. A number of times I have seen falling structural members narrowly miss impaling people.

Also not so obvious is that the taut fabric edges that are common on hard kite but don't occur in soft kites, can injure or even cut during impacts, especially if corded.

    Some Hard Kite Principles:

  • Use large diameter caps rather than pointy nocks as strut end terminations as they will injure less if they hit someone. Generally avoid sharp things in kite construction.
  • If any struts are likely to come loose or break while the kite is flying, attach a loose "leash" line to it so that it cannot fall independently of the kite. Delta spreaders are an obvious choice for this treatment.
  • In the case of a dangerous diving hard kite, a safe response can be to cut the line just before impact. If the moment is judged correctly this will dissipate the kinetic energy without releasing the kite at an altitude that will allow it to get into further mischief. In our large framed kite days, we would sometimes station a person ready with a knife at the tether point when conditions looked like getting risky. A bonus from cutting the kite free is that it usually saves it from being damaged as well.

Willful Actions

The majority of serious or potentially serious incidents I have seen or been part of have had the common cause of someone willfully doing something dangerous and these actions are almost impossible to prevent. Some examples:

  • About 1987 one of our children (Pete, a dangerous 13 years old at the time) was a smart ass and hung on to the line as a kite went up. Fortunately the kite didn't crash, the line didn't break, he didn't let go and we eventually pulled him down. This wasn't a case of height disorientation which is common enough when your feet are off the ground and is usually the reason why people take inadvertent rides up on kite lines.

  • In Malaysia in early 1995 a father caused his 4 year old son to hang on to the line as an Octopus kite went up - He also didn't let go and came down safely within a few seconds.

  • At Showa Machi, in 1990 after an Octopus shucked its anchor and took off I had to physically prevent a helpful local from attaching himself to the fast departing rope end.

  • At Wigram's "Wings and Wheels" Kite Fly a 12 year old boy after being chased away from the kites by us repeatedly during the day, snuck in from the blind side while a large Eel Kite was being launched and hung on to its tail. By luck, he was seen and persuaded to let go as he passed through the 2m altitude level on the rapid way upwards.

    Depressingly, kitefliers themselves are not immune from willfully dangerous behavior usually deriving from macho impulsiveness. There seem to be very few things we can do to prevent willfully dangerous behavior, only two come to mind:

    • Ongoing safety education for kitefliers.
    • Police state type crowd control for everyone else.

    Perhaps the most compelling argument I can put forward for effective crowd control occurred at the Pasir Gudang International Festival in 1996. A Michael Gressier type Bol and one of our own Octopus kites were tethered to a tractor when some children playing on the tractor took it out of gear and released the brake. As the tractor bumped off across the field, a child was caught under the lip of the attached mower suffering, miraculously, only a cut hand. That I had just then returned from doing my B*****S to the organizer about the poor crowd control gives me no satisfaction.

    There are plenty of opportunities for kite accidents that fall outside these groupings but many of these are covered by common sense or standard practice such as not wrapping lines around parts of your body, and ensuring that kites left on the ground cannot suddenly self launch. Another is the minor but straightforward one of preventing people blundering into kite lines. Very small diameter kite lines are the problem because they are hard to see and can cause significant injury. I had my first remembered kite accident at the age of 11 or 12 when I bicycled into a line; carried the scar on my neck for more than a decade! Larger diameter lines are easier to see and not so damaging to run into anyway so this is not so much a large kite problem.

    Some kite accidents, as for all activities, arise from events so unexpected or unlikely that they can never reasonable be prevented unless we stop all kite flying.

    Inherent in the structure of most early 1990's Kite Festivals was that what we now regard as large kites no longer commanded sufficient status to ensure that they receive the space, anchors, recovery zone and crowd control necessary to ensure that they can be flown safely. Such big kites became so common that they were usually expected to mix in with every other kite in a designated general flying area. The apparent rise in kite accidents in the mid 90's may simply have been caused by this overcrowding plus the relative inexperience of many new fliers.

    From my perspective the situation has much improved in the last two years. It is becoming almost standard now to have a dedicated big kite area at festivals and the people flying larger kites (including ourselves) are definitely getting better at it..

    It is also fair to say that the kites themselves are improving by controllability and stability.

    In 1995 I thought a way to make kite flying safer (for me at least) was to fly much BIGGER kites than I used to do but less of them and only for short times at scheduled intervals during which crowd control and other safety requirement are strictly enforced. This was a driving force behind the first of these, the Megabite which first flew in September 1995. To back up my theory there was the example of the Dutch Big Kite Team who had once again been showing us the way by flying their C.S.550sq.m.parafoil safely for 14 years. Well the theory was fine as far as it went. Megabite flying has so far proved to be safer than standard Large Kite flying. The oversight was that flying the Megabite has not exempted me from flying the other kites, once more, like the development of buggying, I have made a rod to beat my own back!

    An underlying factor in many kite accidents is that often no one person is responsible for a particular kite. Kite fliers can be a helpful lot and quite often a flier(s) will launch, relaunch, shift or change someone else's kite then wander off assuming the owner will then look after it. Conversely the owner may notice all this happening and assume that the other flier(s) is keeping a watch on the kite now. Then when something untoward happens everyone wanders around saying "No I wasn't looking after it I thought so & so was."

    This type of situation is not so easy to fix because cures are likely to cut into the very desirable cooperative performances now common at many major Kite Festivals. Uncomfortable as it may be we will have to make rules about this and be strict about them. Whenever the wind gets serious the rule has to be: One person responsible for each kite with clear and formal procedures for passing or accepting changes of control (rather like airplane pilots use).

    Every rule for safe flying is subject also to the overriding principle that experience is King. Until you have had extensive experience with a particular kite in a wide range of wind conditions at a variety of sites you should not attempt to fly it at all when its pull is likely to be more than, say 100 pounds unless the launching area, recovery area, crowd control, anchors and line all offer 100% safety confidence.

    Remember also that safe flying and field etiquette are not the same things and can sometimes be mutually exclusive. There are many times when safe flying of large kites will require what other kite fliers and the general public might well regard as unacceptably rude behavior If the situation (and Festival Sponsors) allows not flying at all as an option then this can be the correct response when space is tight, anchors unsafe, or crowd control is uncertain.

    If a large kite is already in the air when a dangerous situation develops be prepared to be as rude as necessary! It's better to really piss someone off than kill them! Additionally, damage to your or other people's kites is always preferable to the risk of injury to people. Don't even hesitate! Cut your line or theirs if you must.

    This brings us to the final point. Just like the scout's motto says we have to "be prepared", some kitefliers carry with them at all time all manner of useful tools and equipment. The minimum is a knife, and for this parachutists "hook" knives are better than knives that have to be opened and, in an emergency, can just as likely cut something other than the intended object, such as you. If you have nothing else close to hand then I can assure when the panic level is high enough, teeth start to work just fine! .

    Copyright Peter Lynn (Ashburton New Zealand) Updated To May 1997

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