September 20
Sunday in Sacramento

Tuesday the eleventh, Susie and I were scheduled to fly to Marseilles, and then on to Barcelona, for two festivals. We were up late packing and then set the alarm for five. The airport is two hours away and we were half way there when we heard the news. At that point we simply turned around and went home. Home is a good place to be during such tragedies.

On Wednesday morning, the phone rang. It was Tom McAlister in California. "We have the Mega Ray here for the weekend festival, but we don't think we can get Peter Lynn in from New Zealand to fly it. Can you come down and handle everything?"

Everything??

Now understand that I have seen the Mega Ray fly. I have casually watched others put it together. I've even helped our dig it out from under tons of sand. But I have never actually *flown* the largest kite in the world.

"Tom, if you need help, I will be there", I said. From across the room, Susie shot me one of those glances that only husbands understand.

DG and a really BIG kite!

Bagged, Tagged, and ready to open

The Mega Ray weighs over 450 pounds and comes in five sections. It is 50 meters wide, 70 long, and contains over 2000 square feet of lifting surface. It is scary big. For this first appearance in the USA, Ripley's Believe It or Not was sending a crew to film a kite they thought no one would believe.

I hitched a ride with Rod and Cindy Thrall for the ten hour drive to Sacramento.

Saturday afternoon, a select crew gathered on the field. We began by opening the five compression bags and trying to decide which section was which. I knew that the nose contained the main bridles, that each side had lateral control lines, and the back end held an opening to attach the eight-foot diameter tail. We dragged huge sections of fabric round in circles until the concept began to take shape. Then we zippered each piece together and larksheaded the reinforcement lines together.

Inflating the Ray

The main weight of the Ray is held on spectra lines roughly the diameter of your thumb. That's what we tied to the anchor trucks.

Latteral Control

Side-to-side movements are controlled by lateral lines held by half a dozen big people. In this case, "control" is a relative term. The largest kite in the world flies wherever it wants to fly, and all of us were aware that we were locked in pretty tightly between a row of trees, a chain-link fence, and the concession tents. With twice as much space, we still would have been uncomfortable.

Two water trucks were moved to the edge of the field as anchors and we tied off the main lines. Then I turned to Tom and told him we were ready for a test inflation. Tom answered in half-sentences that betrayed both his excitement and uncertainty.

Inside the kite Inside the kite

We held the mouth of the kite open and began to breath life into it. As it swelled, you could sense the excitement of the crew. One by one, they ventured inside to "inspect" the zippers and support lines. But of course, it was really just an excuse to experience the belly of the beast.

With nearly full inflation, we decided that the smooth light breezes were ideal for a test fly. No sense testing it in front of an audience tomorrow. We needed to know what we had and whether we could handle it. I assigned the control crews, lifted the nose off the ground, and stood back as 2000 feet of fabric gracefully eased off the ground and into the clear late-afternoon sky.

First Flight

I can't speak for everyone on the lines that day, but for me, watching the kite slowly lift off was a remarkably satisfying feeling. I've flown big kites before. I was on site and helped organize the first flight of the original MegaBite at Disney six years ago. But this was different. The Mega Ray drifted easily 100 feet off the ground and hovered between the two control teams. I think everyone was giddy. Then, after ten minutes, we walked the flying line down, opened the release valve in the base of the kite, and went of to find dinner, a few cool beers and to congratulate ourselves.

Peter Lynn was waiting for us at the restaurant.

Only Peter Lynn could have navigated the complexities of international travel that impossible weekend to get into Sacramento. We were relieved to see him too. After all, we had flown the kite for ourselves. Now he could handle flying it for the media and the public.

Pre-Flight Pre-Flight Pre-Flight

The following morning, Peter briefed the crew on launch and control. He also explained the safety line which we had been unable to figure out the night before.

Winds were stronger and the kite went up under much more tension.

Without a "collapse-line", we could have climbed up the main bridle rather than walking it down as we had the night before.

Second Flight

We competed several launches and left the it grounded in between so that groups could tour inside. Air billowed beneath the fabric so that wandering inside the Ray was like walking on the clouds. We brought in children in strollers and seniors in wheelchairs. All of them shared that uncontrolled smile we call the "kiter's grin".

Guided Tours

Click here for a short video of the inside of the Ray.

Then finally, as the sun began to wane, we pulled the kite apart and stuffed it back into the oversized compression bags. We were tired, achy, and still pumped full of adrenaline. There is nothing like a big kite. And there is nothing better than a one-day festival that leaves you worn out and filled with stories, memories, and wonder.

Sunday in Sacramento was one of hundreds of "Freedom Flys" encouraged by the AKA. At the end of a week that will surely change all our lives, kitefliers went out onto fields across the country to share their grief, their spirit, their compassion and their resolve. From across the country and around the world, we are receiving letters from fliers who joined in a special and emotional kind of sharing.

Terrorists only win when they force us to change the way we live. Kite flying is what we do, and on this weekend, kitefliers everywhere did it well.

On Monday, I drove back to Oregon and Tuesday morning, Susie and I flew on for the second half of our scheduled European trip. I'm writing this at 3 am in Barcelona.

I can't sleep. Damn jet lag! Anyway, Susie is curled up in bed and I brought the computer into the bathroom so I wouldn't wake her. And it is so convenient in here! They even provide a bidet to set the computer on!

The events of the past ten days have been mind-numbing. But I remain convinced that the world is a small place full of good people.

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