The Crane Reel: A new method of controlling my line

edited June 2014 in Bits and Pieces
New Guy on the Block,

I have been reading forums by the dozen and find it so remarkable that so much of our efforts at controlling the kite line involve laying it on the ground, pulling it in by hand, trying to keep hands from getting burned and scarred.
Over the last couple of years or so I developed and built a spool and reel system that I thought would be just the thing for regular kite flyers but I have had only a little response. Finally I came to the realization that this equipment is exactly what KAPers need to use if they want to launch and recover with utmost alacrity.
I have some photos that I will post as soon as I have a little time and help in doing it.
In the meantime, some information will help me to perfect the operation of my reels. I have flown kites for many years but never done KAP. I can predict that I will need to get going in the near future. The condition is obviously highly contagious.

Special Note:
Could one of you KAP vets tell me about the amount of line pull you normally experience and under what wind conditions. Do you have a method of testing the amount of pull? How much line do you normally play out? If the wind dies, how much time do you need in order to successfully recover your kite and equip. without crashing in the lake or neighbor's yard? What are the requirements for line strength, diameter, weight?

In my kite flying I have rarely had more than 18 Lb. pull, as tested with my fishing scale. I try to fly with the smallest Spectra line that will serve me safely depending on the conditions. If I don't need 200# line and 60# will do, there is less wind drag on the line, especially if I have a half mile out. In wind of over 15 MPH and using a 9 or 12 foot delta, I use 80# Spectra line and I might get over 18# of pull only because of the possibility of a sudden gust. My knots are always tied using a sleeve of strong hollow Dacron.

When reeling in a half mile of line with a 10 or 15 Lb. tension, the spool gets tons of compressive force, enough to crush most spool barrels. Never is a problem for me.

An earlier thread asked about testing line strength. If you use a pull scale to pull the line until it breaks, you will likely ruin the scale. So you should use a pulley suspended from a strong tree limb and borrow your kid's workout weights. Hang a hook on the line to be tested, running through the pulley and out to another tree several feet away. Start adding weights until the line breaks. Another revealing test is to have someone else add the weights while you hold the other end of the line. Then you will realize how hard it is to hold a kite with a 200 Lb. pull. As matter of fact, you will need help to even hold it with gloves on. Two hundred pounds will pull you right off your feet.

This testing method will also help you develop and tie a loop knot that will achieve the best strength. Ordinary knots usually weaken the line as much as 50%. No wonder they so often recommend using such strong kite lines. The hollow-line sleeve can be used on the loop attachment to the kite and also for line splicing. The strength is gained by internal friction and not by binding the line upon itself.

Many years ago, kite altitude records were achieved using piano wire. That was before the advent of miracle space-age fibers. Wire, mono-filament, and regular twine are too heavy and create excessive wind drag. Hollow Dacron also has too much drag. Spectra and the like are ideal for single line kiting at high altitude. Look at Bob Moore in Australia to see his calculations. His web site is kitesite dot com dot au/kiterecord/index dot html. Very Interesting Kiter.

I Am Frank Crane in San Jose, CA.



  • I can answer some of your questions for how I fly:

    I have 1000' of coreless braided Dacron on my reel. I use #200 for almost everything. Even though I rarely handle line these days, I've had enough line cuts from thinner line I really don't like using it. #200 is thick enough to give me the option of handling the line without guaranteeing a cut or burn.

    I rarely have all 1000' out. Because I hang a substantial weight from my line I treat my kite/line/rig/camera combination as if it is over the five pound limit the FAA specifies for airborne kite regulations. (Some times it is over five pounds!) Those regulations stipulate that the kite, line, and all payloads stay under 500' AGL without prior approval from the FAA. That's why I rarely use more than about 600' of line. Most of my KAP photos are done below 300' anyway, so I don't have a lot of interest in flying higher except under very unusual circumstances.

    I like to fly with no more than #10 of pull on the line, but with steady changes in wind speed I know I've come closer to #20. I've also had some really obnoxious flying sessions in which the weather changed suddenly and the pulls ran upwards of #50 of line pull. I do not wind directly to the reel if my pull is over about #15. I designed my reel to be able to take 1000' at #20 and still have about a 2.5x safety factor, so I should be safe at those pulls. In the best of all possible worlds I'll always use the appropriate kite so my pull never goes over #10. I don't live in a perfect world.

    I use an internal splice to make loops at either end of my line. No knots at the end of the line. I'll isolate abraded sections with an alpine butterfly, which has close to a 90% breaking strength. Since I rarely run over 1/4 the strength of the line this shouldn't be an issue.

    Please do post photos of your setup. I've had non-KAPing kiters tell me point blank that the ONLY way to launch a kite is with a long line launch, and that the ONLY way to take a kite down is to walk it down. When I tell them that I've launched from rocks poking out of the ocean or from rough lava fields they've told me I'm an idiot for even trying. Not very receptive to new ideas. I think you'll find that KAPers as a whole tend to be more interested in new winder designs.

  • I'm the guy who builds Strato-Spools. Back in testing days, I used the 'weights on a rope' method of determining how much line tension I could work with, I rate my three sizes as 10-15-20 pound retrieval.
    The big problem I have found with thinner line, at least with dacron-type lines, is that it stretches in use, the thinner it is, the more it stretches, and when wound back onto a reel, that tension, being unable to crush the solid core, wants to go somewhere, so it tries to blow the sides out. Earlier prototypes were mostly destroyed this way. I always suggest using thicker lines, for this reason. I fully agree that line weight is an issue, so it's always a balance between big enough to handle, and light enough to fly.
    I'm with Tom, here, in that 10-15 pounds is a comfortable amount of line tension, even on larger kites, still gives me a little reserve if the wind picks up.
    For launch/retrieval, with a good reel, it is easy to fly without ever taking a step in any direction, I fly right out of, and back into, my hand most of the time, and even if the wind dies, I can crank the kite in fast enough to keep it aloft.
  • Also.... the thing that causes line to break in a knot is the tightness of the bends in the knot itself, the fibers in the outside of the curve get stretched more, leading to more chance of failure of the individual fibers, and thus the knot. Sleeving helps to increase the radius of curve, which is why it helps. Thimbles (those teardrop-shaped things in the end of wire ropes) are just for this purpose, but I haven't found a source of tiny ones that would work with kite lines.
  • edited June 2014
    If not already pointed out, there is another important reason to use AT LEAST 150 pound braided dacron kiteline and to avoid thinner yet super strong Spectra - as wonderful and amazing as those fibers are. In my experience, and that of most KAPers I wager, you will never use a reel exclusively during a session, no matter how strong or weak the kite is pulling.

    In other words, you have to grab the line from time to time with a gloved hand, and it has to be substantial enough to grasp. The line may be under tension or not, but you must be able to directly hold it, pull it, pile it...whatever, no matter what reel you use.

    Really looking forward to seeing your designs.
  • Frank,

    Thank you for your post. Per your specific questions:
    - average line pull during winding.... I estimate this to be near zero to 20 - 25 lbs on the upper side. (0-25 lbs). Average range 0.5-10 lbs.
    - type of line - I fly with 150 lbs dacron. I also sleeve my line at the kite attachment point with hollow dacron sleeves to increase the strength. A few KAPers use Dyneema or Spectra but most seem to prefer dacron mainly for the feel of the line and out of concern for safety of others.

    I agree in general, you need to match your kite line to the kite and the conditions. Many of us KAPers travel to remote locations and do not have the luxury of carrying multiple reels and different line strengths. I typically only carry 2 kites (Levitation light fitted out with stronger spars (p400 skysharks) and a Dynamic Spreader and a large strengthen Dopero or Rokkaku. I only carry one kite reel (specially made stratospool fitted with 150 lbs Dacron kite line). Early on I did experiment with a winder that would permit a quick swap of the string for different strength.

    As for easiest way to post pictures here on this forum, I 1st post my pictures to flickr and then click on the share icon, select the html link and simply copy and paste directly to your post. There are other ways, but this is what I use. If you do not have a flickr account, I recommend you set one up (easy to do and near no cost).

    Looking forward to seeing your winder design. Agree this is always a subject of great interest on this forum.

    See a few links below for past discussion on the winder subject below:
    - Winding in That Big Kite
    - My Ideal Winder
    - Help me find a reel

    - Kite line discussions

  • edited June 2014
    For one-off image hosting you can also try imgur:

    They keep hosting photos as long as they get a view once every six months. No login. No need to associate photos with yourself.

    Once it is on the web you can post it here by sticking the html in the appropriate spot here: <img src="http://www.blahblahblah.jpg" />
  • Hopefully later today I will have some help getting some photos uploaded and I will post a big update.

    I should explain my high flights of half mile or so --- Of course the FAA regulations should not be ignored and the only excuse I have is that my usual location is along the foothills of Silicon Valley (The Mt. Hamilton Range) where small aircraft must fly at a higher altitude and my kite is probably less than 1000 feet above the upper ground level. Large aircraft are above three miles and more to the West.

    Granted that I do not have a camera on board. Routinely, I can launch my kite and extend to the altitude I want. All the while counting the revolutions of my spool to determine approximately the length of line. Then retrieve my kite in hand and never have to grab and pull on the line, all the while standing on a 2 by 2 patch of ground. I always wear a glove I use to control the play out and to level wind the line on the way in, never to pull on the kite line directly. A mechanical spool brake does not work due to the sudden variations in line pull.

    On the use of sleeve knots, careful tying is important in order to evenly distribute the internal tension rather than a sharp curve. Roscoe writes that the outside of the curve must stretch more. Also the inside of the curve is stressed against another part of the line where it can get nicked and weakened. The sleeve works very well with Spectra because it is so slippery and the only way to effectively tie it is to develop internal friction sufficient to control it from slipping.

    That stuff is too slippery to safely hold, even with a good glove and you can surely get a rope burn (String Burn) if a gust hits you. I attach to the kite with a small aluminum carrabiner.

  • You said: "Finally I came to the realization that this equipment is exactly what KAPers need to use if they want to launch and recover with utmost alacrity."

    Well, that's an interesting, almost Victorian advertising sounding, claim. We wait with bated breath. Mind you if it involves using thinnest spectra line, you can count me out, I'll stick with 150# plus Dacron braid.

    Sometimes the methods KAPpers use may seem counterintuitive, but it isn't all about height and speed of reeling. Sometimes it's about taking time and using the weight of line as part of a dynamic system to keep things in balance and work with line with low tension. Wire tight line transmits vibrations easily to the rig and camera. Many KAPers work low and use flat reels and line flaked on the ground for reasons that are not obvious until one has KAPped for a while. Some KAPers like to work at altitude and tend to work with excess lift and use mechanical reels like the Stratospools. I'm pretty sure these are the folks who will be interested in your work. Sadly here in UK we are mostly legally limited to 200 feet so fast running spool systems are a bit wasted on some of us.

  • And that's something else I love about KAP: One size doesn't fit all.


    P.S. But Simon has me thoroughly sold on slack line flying.
  • edited June 2014
    The key word here is balance, of late I have been able to use dumped (carefully looped mind) line as a brake on the kite in a light wind, in lull I spooled it on to the meadow from a hand over hand haul down and then paid it back with the lightest touch- I don't use a reel because I want to feel as much as is possible of the reaction of the kite. I really felt I was able to get the most from what little wind there was...
    ..the line kind of un-peeled from the ground as the kite needed it!
    ...and I want to travel as light as possible too!

  • edited June 2014
    I love slack line work, but the heavier the rig, the more I gravitate toward some extra tension on the line as insurance. And when you have the potential for 20 lb or more (because of the wind picking up) having more tools available to handle it all is important. I also don't like dropping line on the ground around cactus, sharp rocks, shrubs, star thistle, etc.

    I'm not that interested in thin, rigid line though. Attaching the rig, and working by hand when you can means 150-200 lb braided Dacron for the most part.

    Depending on the rig/kite/location I'll use a halo or stratospool.
  • I like the simplicity and portability of a nine-inch halo hoop.

    I would like to see one made of aluminum, or maybe steel, though. I have broken one by winding line under tension, documented in the Dumb KAP Mistakes thread.
  • This has been a very valuable thread for me. Let me tell you!
    This Crane Spool was my brain child years ago when I wanted to go so high that my kite was out of sight. The design features were mainly to allow a half-mile or two or three miles of super strong line with 20 or 30 # of pull during rewind. I built it to assure there would be no collapse of the spool, no matter how much pressure built up on the barrel. With all your feedback I realize the KAP methods need a lighter-weight equipment for most of the situations and rarely need more than 1,000 feet out.

    I currently have two spool/reels: a small light weight set-up mainly for kids that weighs about three pounds. The larger one is for bigger kids and adults designed specifically for putting out a lot of line, even under strong wind conditions. It is bulky and weighs about eight pounds.

    I'll have the pictures soon . The main photo got cancelled somewhere along the line, the one that shows me using the big spool. And then as soon as I have built a lighter weight reel with a shorter barrel spool, I'll get some more photos. You will see how my "Hands Free" reel will make life a whole lot easier: no line on the ground to tangle in the cactus or sea weed: No line to tangle in your feet. And you still get the feel of the kite when you need it. I want it to come at about four or five pounds.
    Thanks all of you for your feedback!

  • "I'll have the pictures soon..."

    Would have been good with your first post. Four days down the line, I'm beginning to wonder what's going on. How difficult can it be to post a picture to a forum?

  • Cheer up grumpy pants.
  • I liked my halo for portability but was always afraid that a gust would pull it from my hands, losing kite and camera. I sometimes pile line at my feet but it picks up sticky weeds that become line laundry. I often need to move quickly to another part of the field so that my safety box doesn't overlap trees or a cliff so dragging line through mesquite isn't an option. I made this reel out of a 2" videotape spool. It has steel flanges and a steel core so I can wind my 200lb line under tension. It's awkward and a little heavy, but I can put a strap over my body and have my hands free once the rig is aloft.
  • Yeah, what Simon said. Score Grumpy: 2
  • edited June 2014
    I like the suspense ;)
  • Simon today =

  • edited June 2014
    Hahaha: in the media world they always say: No pictures, it didn't happen! :)
    But: I'm truly curious although I tend to fly thick dacron lines. :) But, I learn every day!
    So, the grumpy score = 3 LOL!
    BTW: the green guy above seems a talented KAP assistent for KAP foil flying! :)
  • I want pictures, too. Not really grumpy, but I like pictures.

    (If Simon = Hulk, iron bar flying wouldn't be a problem!)

  • Danger, danger... Simon today =


  • In the meantime....
  • I have to laugh at all these dramatic pictures being equated to Simon. I keep having that news segment (BBC?) about him from years ago rolling through my head: Delta in the air, line in hand, talking calmly to the reporter while he does KAP... That was posted at a time when I really needed to see it. I was so excited about doing KAP I was like a caffeinated puppy in a glass shop. Simon came across like this calming force saying, "Bro... Chill..." It changed how I approached kites, the wind, and KAP in general. We don't use the same kites or cameras, and judging by the video we have different approaches to how we do KAP. But ever since I've appreciated the calm that can develop when the right conditions are there. And I've learned to look for those conditions. Thanks, Simon.

    Now... About those pictures...


    I wanna see the crane reel.

  • i must say simon's generous input has helped me to better understand that you don't have to make it more difficult, trying to make it
    easy. i reckon it's time to thank him and quit givin' him s**t. that reel reeely does SOUND interesting. love to see some photos...
  • Simon is the only one not biting! What a pro!

    Where's the mistletoe?

    So how about we see the infamous Crane reel, I am Frank from SJ, CA, OMG, WTF?

    I'm here all week......
  • Unpredicted Delays, time to load photos, figure out which ones to keep, and I first I needed to find out if there was some interest in members of this community. I am new guy here and a little unsure of how to do this. So I'll give it my best shot. Also we had to go to the SF Giants to witness first hand Tim Lincecum's historic nearly perfect game on Wednesday VS San Diego.

    The link below should supply a series of recent shots. I still need to add that lost photo of me using the adult size reel, but the flying technique is the same as you see my grandson using the smaller spool. They both have sturdy frames and straps around the waist and over the shoulder. Hands are free to manage the kite line and to control the speed of letting line out. I always use a glove. I build the spools with strong flanges and reinforced barrel and that is why the large spool is not light-weight. The metal spindle allows the spool to turn freely and I can still control the speed with a gloved hand. Spools can be replaced easily if I want to use a different kind of line. So I always have more than one kind of line with me.

    With the large spool, I can reel line in fast enough to support this 12 foot Delta even if the wind dies to nothing. The circumference of the large spool barrel is apporx. 18 inches so two turns is one yard (3 feet) so you always know how much line is out. The small spool circumference is 12 3/4 inches so it's not quite such an easy calculation.

    I tried to post directly on this forum the pics I have in Flikr but could not get it to go. This link is copied directly from Flikr. Each photo has a caption.
  • Line Tangles can be humorous?

    A few weeks ago I went to Santa Cruz Beach for some drama. I tried a "make shift" winder which conveniently failed when I had about 800 feet out. So I pulled the line by hand and carefully laid it out on the sand. Next step is a large waive with seaweed. Next step is try to rescue the line. Now I have a "rat's nest" on my work bench that is about 800 feet of Spectra. It would take hours to untangle. Not going to happen. It is now just sits as a tribute to Kite Humor.
  • Wow, I go out for the day, and you're all talking about me! I blame Kev with his hulk picture. I'm not at all like that. I weigh at least a couple of pounds less than him. My explosions tend to be non-nuclear, just damaging to those nearby. As to the nice comments well, gee thanks guys. I try to keep it simple, gentle and lightweight for a couple of reasons - I like to relax when I'm supposed to be enjoying myself, and.. I'm lazy.

    Now, as to the matter in hand - we got some pictures, thanks Frank, hope you didn't feel too hurt by my chiding and grumps.

    Interesting they are, and sure a great way to get a lot of line in the air, certainly a few KAPpers have used cordless drills to get things down again. It all looks neat and nice. I'll defer to the deep sky users to further comment and gently bow out of this thread, flat reel still in hand .

    It's been fun
  • How long does it take the drill to wind in line? I imagine the battery would wear out fairly quickly hauling in line under tension. Some of the big kites seem like they'd overpower a little drill in no time. I haul in line with a full-body-workout halo winder and home-brewed stratospool, so comparing my efforts to the power of a drill I feel like it'd be too weak in a lot of cases (given the comparable amount of energy I put in to haul down big kites). Slack line flying maybe, but that's a minority of the time for me. If it's easy to retract the kite with a little drill, it would seem that there's not enough power there to hoist the camera.

    Also, I don't have a beer gut (kite recovery workouts are handy!), so I feel like having the reel right on my front might get in the way of doing things or limit my mobility. I could be wrong though! I personally never strap anything to my person, preferring instead to keep it all in hand while I clamber over obstacles or run around to adjust angles and what not. Especially over the head... that seems kinda dangerous if things get out of hand.

    Cool idea though! Motorized recovery would be helpful sometimes, though it's too mechanical for me. I like feeling the line's power in my hand. Hopefully the photos dispel the suspense before Simon crash lands an asteroid into the planet :D

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