Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Old School vs. New Pilots & New Kites

So, I have been having a little trouble getting my wonderful Wife out on the flying field with me to enjoy this awesome sport of kite flying (ok, I am obsessed). It’s not really her fault though, most of the difficulty comes from our young ones that not only demand constant attention but love to get into everything they shouldn’t and/or disappear the second you turn your head. But chasing the kids all over the park isn’t the whole problem, I honestly feel that some of the problem is today’s kites.

Today’s kites are not bad, in fact they are pretty darn awesome compared to the kites of yester-year. Not only are they now designed using ultra high tech computers with 3D cad programs but they are built with space age carbon fiber & graphite, and lightweight high tech poly molecular sail materials such as Icarex and ripstop nylon....all for prices that are a fraction of what you use to have to spend to buy a professional competition quality stunt kite from the “Old School” days. But I feel the problem that we (the kite flyers) and the industry have created is that today’s kites are designed to compete against each other on which one can roll up the easiest or which kite can do the latest comete or multi lazy susan’s or jacob’s ladders. If a kite of today isn’t capable of doing all of the latest high end tricks (that most pilots have trouble doing anyways) then it is “black flagged” or said to be not a good purchase. This type of new school trick flying usually means the kite needs to be able to pitch (flip) onto its back in a moments notice and/or that the kite spins (rotates) quick with the simplest of tugs. All flight characteristics that a new pilot just learning to fly can get very frustrated with as it usually ends up with the kite flipping out of control, line snags or tangles from excessive spins and/or lawn darting into the ground unexpectedly.

I feel that the kites of today become rather intimidating to any new pilot, especially if they see someone doing those awesome tricks with perfection and then get handed the lines. Today’s kites can be hard to control for a new pilot, especially the high aspect ratio kites that are designed to trick very easily. Even I feel a little intimidated taking back one of my own kites after someone with much higher skills has just performed at the level the kite actually was designed for (yes, the kites I am currently flying are much more trick capable than the pilot is - hopefully that will change more over time). It is inspiring to watch what today’s kites are capable of doing and makes me work harder at mastering a trick...but I feel we may be heading off topic. This blog is about my Wife’s flying and progression, not my own. LOL

So, I had the chance to fly a friends Top Of The Line, North Shore Radical (NSR) a while back while it was on loan to another friend to take some pictures of it. This is a custom colored NSR that had been re-framed in specially wrapped Revolution Carbon Rods (extra strong). Surprisingly, this kite had very little if any air time on it at all and was in fantastic condition....for being nearly 15 some-odd years old. The NSR was a monster of a kite when it was first introduced. It was designed for competition and had a very aggressive sail design that produced quite an impressive amount of pull when the sail got loaded up. Another fun characteristic of this kite was that it produces a very low, Harley type thunder sound as it flies through the window. Old school kites all have one thing in common - they are FUN TO FLY!!! With some aggressive flying you could snap off perfectly sharp 90 degree turns and loud thundering figure 8's - this kite loved to be flown aggressivly. The flight characteristics are a somewhat slow, smooth and very solid feel through the lines, super stable, not “pitchy” at all, in fact this particular kite is rather difficult to trick with and is about impossible to do any of today’s new school tricks on. It can axle (with some work) and side slide, snap stalls are solid and perfectly square....but that’s about it folks! LOL.

There was a bunch of us at the flying field all taking (very long) turns putting the NSR through its paces. Everyone who had a turn on it had a huge smile on their face and didn’t want to put the kite down. Another thing I noticed was that as the NSR flew, a large crowd of “non” kite flyers gathered or stopped and stared as the kite thundered through the air. Now we fly at this park every Friday night and tonight was no different but we have never had a crowd of people watching any of the kites fly like they were during the NSR flight time. The noise was attracting them, as was the leaning back on the lines as the pilot controlled the power of the kite while it flew...it was FUN to fly...and not only was it fun to fly but it LOOKED like a lot of fun as well! No work, no complicated routines, no resetting the kite after a failed trick...just solid power, thundering noise and kite flying fun!

I was somewhat perplexed. Here there were over $2,000.00 dollars worth of high end stunt kites laying on the ground including a Quantum Pro, Widow Maker Custom, Deep Space, Mojo, Zephyr and one or two other high end stunt kites as well as some larger foil power kites....and everyone (including myself) was waiting to take a trip down the old school lane and fly this really cool NSR. It was an awesome night. Now to bring this blog back on track, I ended up making a deal with my fellow flying buddy and purchased this NSR from him because I felt that it would be the perfect kite to help get my beautiful Wife out flying more with me....and I was right.

After some work of luck, we ended up on a school playground with a grassy field next to the play area for the kids. The wind was perfect for the most part but a little light at times. I set the kite up, ran out the lines and with some hesitation by my wife, I ended up taking the maiden flight (not that I minded at all, in fact I was wanting to fly the kite the minute I got it out of the truck). The kite went up without a hitch and what made it even more awesome is that the school buildings off to the far right were shaped in such a way that the thundering sound of the NSR echoed through the empty playground which really enhanced the experience. My Wife had a huge grin on her face from the nose and with a chuckle said “That’s a pretty cool kite!”. After a couple passes, I landed the kite and (reluctantly) handed the handles over to my Wife who was apprehensive to say the least. “I don’t want to break it.....Maybe you should just fly...etc...etc... With some reassurance (persistence?) she finally took the handles and put the kite in the air. At first the wind was at a low and we got a tangle. I quickly straightened out the kite and got it reset as the wind picked back up. Another good launch and the kite shot to the air and she started to pass the kite back and forth high in the sky. The kite thundered softly as it moved back and forth and it wasn’t long before my Wife was rocking it through the center of the window, enjoying the pull, control and the echoing thunder of the kite. The grin on her face was enough to tell me that this was a good choice.

We spent a good hour or so flying and had a wonderful time together - with her using up the majority of the flying time (which was perfect and right in line with my evil plans - LOL). When asked, she said that she would love to fly again soon, which made me very happy to hear.

So I began to ponder over the last couple weeks and this super fun NSR. Has the kite industry been obsessed with a self destructing desire to only produce the best kite ever that practically tricks by itself - and has this desire to do the latest and greatest tricks somewhat shoved the “fun” factor off to the side? For the experienced pilot maybe not so much, but for a new pilot looking to just have some simple no-stress fun flying a kite....I think so. I wonder if the manufactures of today could (or would be daring enough) to make a basic “fun” kite similar to the flight characteristics of the NSR and be successful (profitable) with it. With the cost of building product overseas and today’s designing techniques, I can’t see how it would be over expensive or much of a risk. I strongly feel that we need a kite like this to help get more people involved in this awesome activity. We have some very awesome high end trick kites that can do pretty much any trick you can think of....but we don’t really have any kites available today that are just simple to control, easy to learn and down right fun to fly. New Tech tried to tackle this hurdle with the BLK - which stood for “Big Loud Kite” - it was a disappointment to say the least....but (I feel) not because of the public but because they chose to build the kite out of such poor materials (IMHO). The frame was a very thin flexible fiberglass frame which flexed and bowed under marginal winds. To compensate they added in a fourth leg of the bridle...which was at the wrong length and totally worthless out of the bag and the shop (or customer) had to manually re-tie and cut the bridle leg to length so it would work. The bridle itself was heavy and out of adjustment. Even after fixing all those things (on a brand new kite out of the bag) the kite still flew rather poorly and only started to make any noise at all when the winds were over 12 mph. Very disappointing to the customer and sales were rather disappointing to the shops. The kite was eventually discontinued. I was depressed with the poor design and flaws of the BLK and still feel strongly that if a kite was produced today that centered around “fun” instead of tricks that it would be a huge success. Just make sure that it is built with today’s quality and materials, fly’s correctly out of the bag, can fly in lighter winds (4-5 mph and up), and retains that “Old School” style, noise and arm-tugging feel.

Now I seriously doubt that I would ever give up my high end kites and only settle with the NSR to fly but neither would I toss the NSR to the side and never fly it again. There are some days when the old school kites such as the spin off, Hawaiian, Trick Tails, the NSR (and many others) are exactly what I want to fly, to forget about the stress of the work week, traffic, and other daily problems, or to take a needed break from mastering or learning a new trick ---- just have an exciting time flying that is nothing but pure enjoyable FUN!


  1. Kent, met you last year when I bought a beetle in hopes of learning to fly a stunt so that I might some day find a Hawaiian again - like the one I gave my darn ex. All I remember is the pull and the noise it made and that is all I want again!! Forget the tricks and whatever give me the power and the sound of it! Just bought a remake of the Hawaiian from Chicago hope I'm not diappointed with it but it will be awhile before I know as I am still practicing with your beetle-see you soon on a Friday evening and yep I'm a female ; )Kimmer 3-31-10

  2. i ran across your blog because i was searching "female stunt kite pilots". i am a female pilot and i wish more of us would get into the sport!. kudos to you for introducing your wife to it.