All, I have had numerous request to post the KAP Safety article that I authored (with input from many on this forum) in the AKA Kiting magazine this past summer. Below is the article and supporting pictures (including pictures submitted by members of this forum). I encourage all to read and add to this subject over time. I also recommend new KAPers be directed to this resource as they start their journey.
Note: This is a long article and due to size limitations this is part 1 of 2. Part two contains the summary, supporting tables and pictures.
***************** Text from KAP Safety article ********************** PART 1 OF 2 ******************
So You Want to Take Pictures from a Kite - AKA Kitting Kite Aerial Photography (KAP) Safety Guidance
By Jim Powers (Wind Watcher)
As you feel the kite line tugging at your fingers and that smile of wonder spreads across your face…think safety too…as your kite soars into the blue sky above pulling a camera dangling on the line above higher into the sky. You need to complete this enjoyable moment by bringing the camera and kite safely back on tera firma. The focus of this KAPtions column is on Kite Aerial Photography safety.
Kite flying and KAPing has risks. You need to know how to mitigate the risks. You need to know when the conditions are not optimum and walk away to fly on another day if the conditions so dictate. Participating safely in the fun endeavor of Kite Aerial Photography brings with it special challenges and considerations that you need to understand prior to putting your camera up in the air.
The sources for the following guidance and safety tips range from the US FAA regulations on kites, kite manufacturers safety tips, kite merchants safety tips and fellow Kite Aerial Photographers (KAPers) and pilots who contributed their thoughts on this important subject.
Laws governing kite flying vary by country and kite fliers should take care to understand their environment prior to putting a kite into the sky. While the regulations and laws vary by country, the principles remain the same and for the most part are based on common sense.
The concept of a shared airspace to keep things in the air safely separated from each other is the main principle. Aircraft have rules to follow, minimum altitudes (generally 1000 feet) and defined altitudes based on compass headings and special restrictions near airports where planes are taking off and landing. Helicopters are granted special waivers from the minimum height restrictions “if the operation is conducted without hazard to person or property on the surface.”
The shared airspace concept also applies to kites. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Regulations Part 101, Subpart B – Moored Balloons and Kites has a list of specific restrictions.
Section 101.1 (2) in the applicability section defines when the regulations apply to kites. This section states: “(2) Except as provided for in ₴ 101.7, any kite that weights more than 5 pounds and is intended to be flown at the end of a rope or cable.” Is covered by the FAA kite regulations. Many kite fliers incorrectly stop reading here and assume if their kite is less than 5 pounds (and many kites used for KAP are well under 5 pounds) and that the specific regulations in section 101 do not apply to them. For the most part this is true with the important requirement of section § 101.7 Hazardous operations. Which states:
(a) No person may operate any moored balloon, kite, amateur rocket, or unmanned free balloon in a manner that creates a hazard to other persons, or their property.
(b) No person operating any moored balloon, kite, amateur rocket, or unmanned free balloon may allow an object to be dropped therefrom, if such action creates a hazard to other persons or their property.
These general clauses apply to all kite flying including KAPing.
FAA regulations change over time. With the introduction of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drones (both smaller hobby quads and advanced aircraft) into the shared national airspace additional regulations are expected. Impacts on existing kite regulations is unclear at this time.
Common sense kite flying safety tips:
Carefully consider risks to others and property prior to putting your kite into the sky. Your kite and camera while important should be a lower priority.
- Use a safety box. A safety box is an area where your kite or KAP rig could come down in an emergency. The primary purpose of safety box is to protect people and property (not just your kite, camera or KAP rig). A good example of a safety box in a congested area could be a park, a forest canopy or even a river or body of water. The safety box should include good visibility of the kite and KAP rig throughout the flight envelope, from launch to maximum height and recovery. You need clean sight lines at all times. You may have to “sacrifice” your kite and camera (for example an emergency landing or crash into a lake or river) to avoid harm to others.
- Practice, what practice…Yes, just like basketball (no offence AI) practice is important with kite flying. Kite fliers should practice flying each of their kites in different conditions prior to putting a camera into the air. The weight of the KAP rig can influence flight characteristics, especially in lulls or heavy wind.
- Basic kite safety rules include: a) pick the correct kite for the wind conditions to avoid uncontrolled overpowering of the kite and subsequent crashes or line failures b) avoid flying over power lines (kite lines can conduct electricity with hazardous results). c) Avoid flying in electrical storms (Ben Franklin was lucky). I did a bit of research on this subject. I was amazed of the experiments in the early 1700 and 1800s and the number of injuries or even death from lightning strikes. d) Avoid flying your kites where it could distract a motor vehicle operator or spook animals (example horses). e) Avoid contact with other kites or kite lines (crossed lines can easily melt and separate). f) large kites (> 4 meters in longest dimension or > 32 SqF), sport kites, power kites all can develop significant line loads that need special equipment to anchor and control the kites. g) Avoid flying kites close to airports (specific restrictions apply, varies by country) and special permission is generally required. h) Use quality kite line and inspect prior to flight for safe and fun kite flying. Woven Dacron is my favorite for several reasons including low, stretch, easy to handle and inspect for weak points. Appropriate line strength for the kite and conditions is also important. i) A good pair of leather gloves is recommended. Saves your hands big time and helps a lot with safe kite flying when line load increases. j) A strong reel for the kite line is very important for control of the kite. I use the WW modified Stratospool reel. The reel design helps reduce the risk of kite flying by providing a simple way to quickly let line out with a brake, a simple way to lock or tie off the line, a way to wind in the kite line in under all but extreme load conditions and a simple way to rapidly wind in the kite line when the wind suddenly stops (equivalent to running backwards to keep the kite up (but without having to change location which is a big risk reducer)). This is just a partial list for kite safety.
Kite Aerial Photography (KAP) Safety Considerations:
Flying a kite with a camera on the line adds challenges that the KAPer needs to be aware of and take active steps to manage a safe experience.
- The human element (the KAPer): Two general factors impact the human KAPing experience:
o Multitasking: keeping track of the kite, the kite line, the KAP rig, camera, safety box, changing weather, R/C controller (if used), other objects in the air, people nearby. This is especially true for KAPing during the Kite launch, KAP rig attachment and camera activation and recovery at the end of the flight.
o Getting the shot. KAPers by their very nature are interested in photography and in obtaining the special shot from the air above an interesting subject. In striving for the perfect shot risks are taken that sometimes exceed common sense.
Ten Practical steps to a fun and safe KAP session:
- Step one: Advance Planning: Wind / Weather / Launch site selection and check out (done a few days or hours prior to launch). Use Google Earth or similar tool to research the launch site, identify a safety box and any special conditions (like a nearby airport). Use on-line weather data (wind speed / radar) for last minute information.
- Step two: Go / No Go fly decision. Walk the selected site to define a safety box and any special conditions prior to launching your kite. This is step that is skipped by many. Sometimes you just need to find a new location or walk a way to fly another day. Check the weather in the immediate launch location for any specific risks (building thunderstorms, weather fronts, wind speed / direction changes).
- Step three: Kite selection. Based on prior data collected and direct observations in the launch area select the appropriate kite and line for the flight. Need to select a kite that easily lifts your rig and camera but without over powering the kite or line. Bring multiple kites that cover a range of wind speeds (forecasts are often incorrect!).
- Step four: Preflight Kite inspection. Including kite frame, spar pockets, attachment points, line, bridle settings, reel for kite line and tie off points. Look for any damaged spars or kite fabric damage (especially in the high stress areas around the spar pockets and bridle attachment points). The use of a stratospool or similar kite reel also provides additional safety through improved line control.
- Step five: Launch the kite. Raise the kite up quickly into clear air. This is one of the high risk steps (launch) due to the presence of ground turbulence. The best strategy I have found is to quickly raise (or lower) the height of the kite to limit the time the kite is flying in the ground turbulence zone. Fly the kite for several minutes to assess wind speed, shifts in direction, position of kite in the safety box, confirm you selected the correct kite (wind speeds and direction change with altitude). Switch kites or positions in the safety box if required to maintain safety. Wind turbulence near the ground is one of the most common causes of “kite crashes”. Too much wind and too little wind are the second and third most common causes of “kite crashes”. You need to know this. Wind tumbles and turns as it passes by and over ground objects. A good rule of thumb in estimating how high you have to fly to get free of ground turbulence is to take the highest objects upwind of your launch area and multiply by a minimum of 2 to 3 times the height. Bottom line, you need to fly higher than the ground turbulence zone to obtain a stable kite and platform for safe KAPing. Sometimes this means flying several hundred feet off the ground to get clean air.
- Step six: Attached high visibility streamers. I use Mylar streamers of ~ 6 foot in length) to your kite line (at approximately 75-100 ‘intervals). The use of streamers is not required for kites under 5 lbs. by the FAA but I have found this helpful in providing visibility for line location, wind direction and most importantly to others who may be sharing the same airspace (think helicopters). I normally place the streamers above and below the KAP rig and at additional locations if flying higher.
- Step seven: KAP Rig Attachment, Camera Settings and Activation. Now the fun begins! While keeping a constant eye on the flying kite, tie off the kite line to an anchor or other suitable object (this is so you can have both hands free to attach the rig to the line). I use the WW modified stratospool reel to tie off the kite. The KAP rig needs to have a final inspection (best to do a preflight check before launch of the kite) for any broken parts, missing or loose nuts, Picavet Cross, lines and attachment points. The camera attachments to the rig along with a safety line need to be confirmed. Attachment of the rig to the kite line needs to be confirmed (I use the Brooxs Hang Ups (they are wonderfully simple devices)). Non safety related items include the camera basics of batteries, memory cards, (CHDK/SDM KAP scripts in my case), proper estimate of photographic exposure settings, level the rig, start the CHDK scripts (or shutter trigger) and / or rig servos (AuRiCo controller in my case), R/C controls and syncs are confirmed (for those who fly R/C rigs) … all while watching the kite. Think multitasking…think risks….that must be managed. A few additional thoughts on step 7 are listed below.
o Rushing or skipping the steps outlined here have resulted in many inflight failures (refer to pictures in this article for examples). Variations on the above steps include multiple cameras, multiple KAP rigs, multiple kites (trains). These variations add complexity and need to be accounted for.
o The size (weight) of the camera(s) and KAP rig is important. A simple rule here. Larger, heavier cameras carry more risks than lighter cameras. The DSLR camera bodies and lens can weigh well over 600-900+ grams and thus drive the need for larger kites and higher strength kite line and thus higher risks compared to lighter point and shoot cameras that weigh ~200-400 grams and can use lighter kites and line.
o Radio Controlled (RC)-Video KAP Rigs have higher risks than Auto KAP Rigs - why - RC/Video down link takes your eyes off flying the kite to look at the picture on the video display which distracts you from flying the kite. The ground controllers also use up a free hand adding more risks. Picture holding a reel with a kite pulling hard in one hand, a RC transmitter in the other hand, trying to frame a shot by aiming the camera / rig with a third hand….oh and also watching the kite…..let’s just say there is a bit of risk here. Can you do KAP safely with a RC Rig and transmitter? Absolutely yes! Is there more risk compared to Auto KAP….yep….and you need to understand the extra risks and mitigate the risks with a bit more focus on flying the kite.
- Step Eight : Confirm kite flight stability. Confirm the kite stability with the rig and camera attached while raising the kite to the desired height. Attach additional visibility streamers if appropriate. Bring the KAP rig and kite down if you need to make adjustments for any reason (e.g., higher winds aloft). Do not continue to fly if your kite is misbehaving or the conditions are changing where your KAP flight could be at risk.
- Step Nine: Fly your kite! Take action if needed due to changes in wind speed or other conditions. This is where I like the advantages of Auto KAP where you can focus on just flying and not on pushing servo controllers around on a R/C hand held box. Bring the KAP rig and kite down if conditions change to a point where the risks are too high. Keep an eye on the weather behind you (as you are properly focusing on the kite). If you walk you kite around during a flight take time to verify the kite and KAP rig continue to have safety box under them and watch out for any unexpected power lines nearby.
- Step 10: Recovery. Reverse the above steps by bringing in the kite line with a reel, by hand, by walking down the kite. Removing the visibility streamers as you go. Keep an eye on the kite while this process is underway. Common pitfalls during the recovery phase include lower wind speeds and ground turbulence as the kite nears the ground combined with a focus on the KAP rig (and not the kite) which leads to crashes. Recovery of the KAP rig brings an increase in activity (distractions from kite flying) as the multitasking factors increase. Takeoffs and landings are the high risk times for airplanes and for kites. Just like pilots take special care for takeoffs and landings (including checklists), KAPers need to do the same. Carefully pack away the camera and KAP rig but still keep a focus on the kite. Take care to keep others clear of the immediate landing area as kites tend to “dance” in the ground turbulence. Recover the kite line, streamers and kite. Carefully pack up the kite, kite line and KAP equipment. Double check that you have not left any equipment in the field. Last but not least….enjoy and share the pictures.
See part 2 of 2 below for the rest of this article on KAP Safety.