Peter Lynn

November 2005

Don’t fly kites in thunder storms!

Every kite book and kite sold comes with a great list of ‘don’ts’, including this one- because manufacturers and retailers wish to avoid liability for any and every possible stupid act by kite buyers that they could be held accountable for in the ‘blame someone else’ atmosphere of this increasingly risk averse world.

Why can’t we just have a ‘kite flying is subject to Darwinism’ catch all and be done with it!

Come to that, it’s not just the kite flying corner of our world that’s gone stupid, all corners of our lives are beset by intrusive nannying that supposedly will make us all safe.

Well it won’t.

Arguably, the more petty hazards that are eliminated from our daily environment, the less prepared we are for those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that either haven’t heard of the relevant legislation or perversely refuse to recognise the authority of the nannies.

Those of us who were raised during less politically correct times are programmed to take some responsibility for our own safety- or at least to not blame others when the wheels fall off. Up until 20 or so years ago, getting trampled by bigger kids in lolly scrambles was a useful lesson- rather than a national emergency requiring prosecution of all those remotely connected to the event (that have enough money or position to make it worthwhile of course), plus a worldwide ban on lolly scrambles (NZ has just started this particular ball rolling).

The young adults of tomorrow will walk straight into the first pitfall they cross paths with and won’t make it past; ‘but there was no warning sign….’ as they auger into the depths.

A young NZ woman, out on the loose for probably the first time, nearly died recently from a party pill overdose- she’d downed 18 or so rather than the usual one or two, no doubt by some theory of the more the better. Since her recovery (courtesy of the taxpayer) she’s been loudly and longley yelling blame in every direction except towards herself- and has been eagerly supported in this by the media and ‘authorities’ who’s remedy is more regulation, of course.

It’s a self defeating spiral which will eventually self correct I guess- we’ll just have to endure it for now,- but rather this silliness than the Spanish inquisition or medieval witch hunts I suppose.

Back to our little corner of the world though, I’m not advocating unsafe kiteflying- quite the opposite- but what I’m seeing increasingly is overt focus on a bureaucratic ‘risk assessment schedule’ approach to kite event safety, at the expense, it seems to me, of actual safety.

But what about lightning strikes?

That it’s a risk is without question- after all Ben Franklin first demonstrated the electrical nature of lightning by flying a kite in a thunderstorm- didn’t he?

I have seen lightning strike a Cody train- at Lunen in about 1997. It was spectacular, a giant flash and bang followed by the train separating into individual kites and drifting off across the Ruhr. Fortunately the anchor truck was unattended at that moment, so nobody was electrocuted.

If anyone ever has been electrocuted while kite flying, Lindenburg Observatorium in Germany would have to be a prime risk site. Kites were flown there on 4000 days between 1905 and 1938, on 1mm steel wire, to altitudes that regularly exceeded 3000m’s and occasionally to above 7000m’s.

Lindenburg winchThey were certainly cognisant of the risk- their winch was isolated by substantial porcelain insulators- see attached photo.

And of course, they kept meticulous daily records.

However, from what I’ve heard of Lindenburg history, there were no reported deaths or injuries from lightning strike there. And a closer look at the winch photo shows that the insulators had been by-passed by steel straps (for added rigidity I presume) at some time early in the game. So, after they’d had some experience they ceased being concerned about this risk- and about the only possible conclusion from this is that in practice, lightning strikes weren’t actually a problem.

And, DID Benjamin Franklin ever actually catch lightning with a kite?

A recent book; “Bolt of Fate” by Tom Tucker claims he didn’t- and a close reading of Ben’s actual words show that he never actually claimed to have,- while carefully leading any gullible reader (all of us ‘till now) to the assumption that he had. Ben was a devious man ( but only in his country’s interests of course), a politician, and a master of subtle wording, so Tucker’s case is at least plausible, even if not yet widely accepted by Ben’s many fans.

So what is it with lightning then- you would think kites would be a prime target, or are us kitefliers so beloved of heaven that we’re somehow exempted- maybe here at last is evidence for intelligent design?

Well no, I don’t think so, I have another theory:

Lightning is so intent on taking out another target that it has no energy left for kites and their personnel.

Lightning really has it in for deep well pumps; 100kw+ electric motor driven units that hide a 100m’s or more underground.

Yeh right.

But it’s true, lightning strikes are a major cause of failure for deep well pumps.

There is a technical explanation for this; they’re right down there in the conductive water table and connected through the dry insulating layers of soil to the surface by thumping great bundles of copper wire.

Or maybe genus pump has somehow managed to get right up Thor’s nose.

Whatever, African deep well pump operators have found a solution- they bury old radiators adjacent to their wells as a diversion.

Fordson tractor radiators apparently work the best- do they array them as a pentagram I wonder?

So there you are- the world’s just been turned upside down again; Greater safety is making the world a more dangerous place, Ben was a fraud, kitefliers are the proof of divine intervention that creationists have long sought, and the mystery of where all the Fordson radiators have disappeared to is finally solved.

But wait, there’s more:

The world of traction kiting has just been turned on it’s head as well.

Last week we flew the first “AP” kite that has been developed to a commercial level.

It’s a 5m C Quad style kite and is the finest traction kite I have ever flown bar none. Of course it has the 75% or so de-power that enables dumping the pull with IMMEDIATE effect even at full speed under full power in the middle of the window that is the essence of the AP development, but it’s also exceptionally powerful for it’s size and has precise handling right across the range- just a beautiful kite to fly.

There’s a de-power principle that I should have understood before now but didn’t:

When changing a kite’s angle of attack is used as a way to reduce it’s pull, until the total static de-power that is available exceeds at least 50%, the effect of reducing angle of attack (other than when a kite is static at the edge or apex) is to speed the kite up, which momentarily increases it’s pull. Up to about 30% or so, perversely, the more de-power available, the more pull has to be endured for a period until de-power actually kicks in. At about 50% this effect plateaus, from about 75% you get the lot, immediately.
When will these kites get to the market?- sorry, the news isn’t so good. We can’t release them until the patent’s are in place- and because AP is such a broad principle, writing up is no quick or easy job- more difficult than designing the first kite using the principles I expect. Also, once the patenting process starts, money flows out like a river for years and years. Naturally therefore, we won’t be starting this river flowing until the latest possible moment. Currently I’m thinking to wait until at least a second AP style kite gets to commercial standard. This is a race between a bridled ‘foil, a single skin Arc and a NASA. They each still have particular problems to overcome. By Feb ’06 at the latest I’ll take the plunge no matter what- kitesailing, kitesledding and buggying only in private away from public view is no fun.

 Peter Lynn
Nov 1 2005




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