"Dan, with the thirty foot delta that we discussed a year ago we flew to 14,558 feet above sea level from a field that was 860 feet above sea level setting a new world altitude record by more than 1000 feet. Will send exact data later." - Richard Synergy, 16 August, 2000
"On Saturday, August 12, 2000, at 17:44 EDT, a high tech delta, having 270 square feet of nylon kite skin, measuring 30 feet from wing tip to wing tip, and 18 feet tall, sporting hollow fiberglass spars 1.5 inches in diameter, flying on 270 pound woven Kevlar line 3/32 inch in diameter, flew from a flying field in Kincardine, Ontario, 860 feet above sea level, N44 degrees, 13 minutes and 08 seconds/ W81 degrees, 31 minutes, 41.2 seconds, to a height not less than 13,600 feet above the flying field, (altitude exact to several feet still being calculated) thereby establishing a new world record for altitude of a single kite on a single string (previous record 12,471 feet set in 1896).
|Ground||360 degrees, 6 to 10 kts|
|3,000 feet||070 degrees, 11 kts|
|6,000 feet||070 degrees, 16 kts|
|9,000 feet||060 degrees, 12 kts|
|12,000 feet||050 degrees, 26 kts|
|18,000 feet||040 degrees, 35 kts|
It was also reported that these winds would drop as the day progressed, and that is what we experienced.
The ground crew of the day was made up of seasoned engineers, recreational pilots, and ham radio operators. Their ability to solve unanticipated problems with the tools and materials at hand, contributed greatly to the success of this record attempt. My sincere thanks to all of you. This list includes: David Little and Carol Little: (Carol runs the Kincardine Airport. She made sure that any aircraft straying into our part of the sky were contacted and moved out.) Gary Janssen, a high altitude kite flier from Pennsylvania: Michael Cannell, freelance journalist from 'Outside' magazine: Michael Hartwick: Gordon Moogk: Hans Dornbusch: Donald Matheson: Michael Dunn: William Spehr. David Hudak our meteorologist remained trapped in Toronto with meetings but did phone us the weather and weather updates throughout the day.
The day was full of mishaps. Trouble started days before when I could not make the time to finish the angle of attack adjustment device. All I could do was transport the parts to Kincardine and hope that I could find the time, once there, to hang the thing together. As it turned out, Hans, Dornbusch and Don Matheson, two radio hams from the area, helped me with the schematic and Gary Janssen worked with me until 11:30 Friday night, wiring , rigging and testing the device. By using this 'Rube Goldburg' special, we could confidently set the angle of attack of the kite to maximum, knowing that if the wind caused a pull of greater than 100 pounds the device would gradually lower the nose of the kite limiting the lift to 100 pounds. The 10 pound gizmo, though crude looking, worked satisfactorily.
The hardships of the trail included a TV down link that decided to pack it in about 3 days before I left for Kincardine. Unfortunately there was no one with the time and the correct electronic tools in Kincardine to repair the down link before flight time. Because of this we were unable to watch the altimeters spin round and round as the kite ascended. It would have been a thrill to actually see the old record fall. However, some concessions have to be made to 'Murphy' and better he enjoy messing up the down link than utterly ruining the attempt.
The second trauma of the day was arriving at our standard kite flying field, to find the field still 3 feet high in wheat. It took us an hour of driving to adjacent farms to find a farmer with a harvested field who would let us use it for such a crazy thing as kite flying. Ken Craig just happened to have a field that was oriented North and South and in which the wheat had been cut. Thanks to Ken we had the perfect field, 2000 feet long in which to fly.
After taking almost 4 hours to get everything ready to go, the ground crew hauled the kite down-field, (almost out of sight) and called on the radio that they were ready. The winch took up line the ground crew ran until they were exhausted, but the kite would not take off. Bad luck. We were in a serious lull. There was nothing to do but haul the kite back to the end of the field and try again. This time the ground crew waited until they could feel wind on their faces before radioing to start the winch. This time the kite lifted out of their hands after about 60 feet of hard running. All in all, trying to get the kite airborne took 40 minutes.
As soon as the kite became airborne we checked the line payout meter only to discover that it was not working. Why it failed we do not know. It worked well in the past. This device is basically a bicycle speedometer calibrated to twice the diameter of the line payout capstan (it could not be set to 12 inches in diameter, the capstan's actual diameter). The loss of this meter very much limited the amount and quality of the data we might otherwise have gathered from the flight.
From take off until about 15:30 we battled to keep the kite aloft. The wind under 4000 feet came and went and never amounted to much. Thank goodness for abundant thermals. About every 30 minutes a thermal would lift the kite high before passing down wind. Then for the next 30 minutes we would reel in line only fast enough to keep the kite aloft. It took 4 thermals to get the kite up to cloud base. There were very few clouds and the clouds were just small puffs. Yet we enjoyed the sight of watching the kite pass into one of these small puffs and then emerge from the other side 30 seconds later. About that time the kite caught a steady wind of less than 10 mph. I say this because the pull on the line was less than 20 pounds. It takes 30 pounds to pull line off the winch. I had to push line into the sky by running the winch in reverse. We pushed line for more than an hour.
The meteorology of the day was instructive. No sooner was the kite aloft in the southern sky, than it began to move off toward the western sky. My guess is that it was trapped in the wind that flows back out to Lake Huron. (Lake Huron was only one mile away). It remained in the western and south western sky until about 6000 feet when bit by bit it moved toward the southern sky. Guessing again I would say that until the kite was above 10,000 feet, it had some component of south west to its orientation.
Somewhere between 14:00 and 16:00 we had some excitement. Sixty feet directly ahead of the winch we had strung 4 strands of 1/2 inch thick bungee cord at right angles to the kite line and fastened it to steel stakes driven deep into the ground. Mountain climbing 'O' links were snapped on the bungee cord and a pulley was snapped to the 'O' links. The kite line was passed through the pulley. The point of this was to provide a shock absorber for any gusts that might suddenly hammer the kite line. The bungee cords remained horizontal most of the time, for there was no tension to speak of on the line. However, in one instance the bungee did pull up to a position of about 6 feet off the ground and this must have undone the knots that we used to tie it to the stakes. As the bungee cord came undone, two or three of the ground crew dashed to grab it before it was carried into the sky. We retied it to the stakes with an abundance of knots just to make sure it stay tied. We had no more problems with knots coming undone. As the flight progressed the shock absorber soaked up any changes of tension in the line. It also told us that the wind all the way to a record altitude was a smooth as wind tunnel wind. Only very rarely did it bounce up and down, and then only with grace and gradualness. The first pulley we used on the bungee stopped rotating after a while forcing us to replace it. The replacement pulley worked flawlessly.
As with all previous flights we sent a 2 meter radio beacon aloft on the kite, and we hung a strobe light from the kite's nose. The radio beacon could be picked up from 50 miles away. In the event we had broken a line this beacon would have enabled us to track the kite as it descended and very probably locate the kite and altimeters.
At about 17:20 we discovered that the Kevlar line coming from the capstan had cut deeply into one of the nylon pulleys that fed line to and from the capstan. This pulley bears the full pull of the kite which by this time was nearly 100 pounds. This was the one time 'Murphy' nearly stopped us cold. We walked out well ahead of the winch with two long fiberglass poles and somehow tweaked the line around the poles. Then we twisted the poles at right angle to the line and took up the strain. Five members of the ground crew (Gord Moogk, David Little, Gary Janssen, Michael Hartwick and Michael Cannell) nearly exhausted themselves bucking the 100 pounds of pull for 34 minutes while we drilled, pried and cut the offending pulley off the winch and replaced it with a stronger pulley. To the humor of it, these five men are able to claim that in all recorded history they are the only men who have ever flown a kite by hand for 34 minutes at well over 13,000 feet. The kite reached the record altitude during their struggle.
At about 18:00 we discovered that we could see air through the line storage spool. My guess is that of the 24,000 feet of line on that reel all but a few thousand feet was paid out by this time. As it was late in the day, and as we had agreed with Navigation Canada to be down by 22:00 when we filed our NOTAM, we began to haul in line. All went well for the first couple thousand of feet. Then the line started to chatter on the take up reel. The chattering was so bad it grooved the surface of the hard plastic capstan. In due course we solved the problem by increasing the tension of the line storage spool. The line storage spool tails the capstan. The grooving was such that we needed to install an extra pulley to guide the line on to an unspoiled section of the capstan. For me this was the scariest part of the experience. I had fears of having to fly the kite through the night until the wind dropped enough to bring it in. Not so much bad design, but not using the full capabilities of the winch for lack of experience using the winch. I know better now.
We hauled in line at about 2 feet a second which amounts to about 7000 feet an hour. It took forever for the kite to get larger. Those who had been tracking the kite could see it clearly. There were many times when I would go for 30 minutes without being able to visually locate it in the sky.
When we finally got below 3000 feet there was no wind and only the winch kept the kite flying. Occasionally the kite would take off like a hang glider heading for parts unknown. Then I would speed up the winch and get he line pulling again. At about 300 feet I lost total control of the kite. It was gliding down faster than I could pull in line. Gary and other members of the ground crew spread out across the field to try and catch the kite as it glided it. The kite landed within 300 feet of where it took of. I immediately checked the angle of attack adjustment device and discovered that it had only tipped the nose of the kite down slightly. This indicated the pull on the line at the kite had exceeded 100 pounds for only a second or three.
It took about an hour and a half working in bad light, and then no light, to stow all the gear and get ready to head over to the Kincardine airport for coffee and look at the altimeters. When Dave and Gary who had set up the altimeters set them to read out, they discovered that they had been thwarted by the Japanese instructions and had never succeeded in locking the altimeters in the recording mode. Therefore the only data recorded and displayed was the maximum altitude. Altimeter 'A' read 14,580 feet. Altimeter 'B' read 14,720.
The height of the flying field as taken from the topo map was 860 feet. Then there were the calibration curves for the altimeters. Altimeter 'A' reads 120 feet high at 10,000 feet and 200 feet high at 15,000 feet. Altimeter 'B' reads 40 feet high at 10,000 feet and 80 feet high at 15,000 feet. In addition to this there are compensations for temperature and humidity but these adjustments will not change the final figures very much. The altimeters are in the process of being re-certified so we know that the error in their reading is the same after the flight as before.
In retrospect the conditions were as ideal as possible. Very little wind down low meant very little line drag down low. Good wind aloft meant good kite lift. Bright blue sky, very few clouds. The line coming off the bungee pulley rarely dropped below 35 degrees...... and often was 45 degrees or higher. We surmounted all problems and only lost systems that were not critical to the success of the attempt. We did not break the line and the kite was as good as new upon landing. The teamwork bonded us together and our success provides stories for years to come.
At this point I surely hope that I can attract interest from Meteorologists and Environmentalists for the purpose of doing genuine and much needed scientific research using kites as mid sky, high sky or low sky platforms."Visit Richard's web site at: www.total.net/~kite