And Just How Far Might a Runaway Kite Fly?

First, let me thank you all for sharing your stories. I am particularly grateful for the "Dumb Mistakes" thread and this question probably belongs there. While not a newcomer to the world of kite flying, the art and the act of putting a camera in the air still feels thrillingly new to me. I have come to this madness through my work as a landscape photographer after a residency in the Alaskan arctic in which we worked on several archeological sites that were so old and so subtle visually that in many ways they were best understood from an aerial perspective. I've been practicing a lot over the last two years with a simple rig and a Go Pro so that I might work through my novice mistakes without costing myself too much money in the process and was just working myself up to a more complicated set up with a much more expensive camera when I had the following experience.

A few weeks ago I was working near St. John, New Brunswick and one particularly beautiful afternoon I launched my Levitation Delta above the salt marshes by the Bay of Fundy. The light was perfect. The wind was perfect--though a little unstable close to the surface--there was surface turbulence. That was the first sign I suppose that I should have planned for trouble. I put my trusty little waterproof and shockproof Fuji on the picavet and sent it out over the marshes and then farther on over the bay itself. The light was so great and the wind direction so perfect I had put a class ten 64 gig card in the camera and set the time lapse to every three seconds. I was no more than 200 to 300 feet up when suddenly the wind picked up rather significantly and it did not relent. It began gusting so ferociously that I decided too late to bring the kite down. As I was attempting to walk the kite down--I thought I had enough of a safety zone to do so--the 150 # line I had on my winder broke and the kite went galloping away across the Bay of Fundy. The line was 150 pound twisted kevlar and not the 200 pound braided Dacron that I usually use as I have been flying a lot lately in the arctic where the winds are strong. I had not tested the line that had come with a new winder because I had intended to switch out the line with my Dacron but I just didn't get around to it and suddenly there I was with my Delta in the car and the perfect conditions for flying. Preparation is all. I knew that before but I know it even better now. I am sorely missing that kite and camera and rig, and I am dreaming of what pictures it might have made on its journey across the bay.

So my question is this: how far might an untethered kite fly? I looked for an answer to this in other threads and it doesn't seem that there's any sure way to know but on the off chance there is some precedent for an untethered kite traveling a significant distance I thought I would ask. We followed my loose kite with binoculars as it soared across the water until we could see it no longer, and it seemed to be flying beautifully with the weight of the camera serving as ballast. The wind remained very strong through nightfall and on through the night. When I pulled out a map and charted the trajectory of my kite and the wind direction it appeared to be traveling straight across the bay along the path the passenger ferry takes from St. John to Digby, Nova Scotia--which is 80 kilometers. I feel a little silly asking this, but is there any chance at all that it would have make it all the way across? I know an untethered kite will drop the second the wind drops--or perhaps becomes too strong--but it was flying so beautifully without me when I last saw it I was just hoping against hope that it might have made it to land somewhere, that perhaps some kid might find it and have fun with it after enjoying all those wonderful pictures. I hate to think I have added to the problem of plastics in the world's oceans, but I fear that I may well have done so. Any information or advice in response to this question will be most appreciated.


  • edited November 2016

    Sorry to hear of your lost kite and KAP rig. A fair number of us on this KAP forum have had similar experiences over the years.

    See my story "Lost at Sea" with a similar outcome.....

    As for how far a kite will fly untethered .........hard to estimate. Flying a kite with a KAP rig suspended a special case....of "air tethered" with suspended weight providing a force that opposes the lift of the kite (air friction and gravity). Just enough force to keep the kite oriented into the wind but not enough to bring down the kite.

    The kite could keep flying for quite some time. Perhaps hours, days......or even weeks.... flying on till a lull in the wind brings down the KAP rig and kite. High winds or a storm would have less impact.

    A second consideration...what altitude will the free flying kite with a suspended weight reach? Experiments with flying kites at high altitude (above 10,000 feet) showed decreasing lift as the altitudes increase. I believe this will give a certain ceiling for a given kite / KAP rig in wind speeds. I do not know the ceiling but expect it to be significantly less than the height of jet streams that flow high in the atmosphere above.

    The one data point I have is the lost of my Dopero kite with an Auto KAP rig. During the free flight out over the Atlantic Ocean the kite was gradually climbing and then holding a given altitude of about 500+ feet before drifting out of site (I was using binoculars to track the kites progress).

    I always hoped that some kind soul would find the kite and camera somewhere in Africa or Europe and contact me someday in the future....but that was 3+ years ago....

    Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future. [Schuller]


  • I hope that someone does find the kite and rig. They may be able to identify the area from the ferry port and possibly you from a selfie or two.
    Did anything have your name, Adress or telephone number on? I put my name and mobile number on all my kites and rigs and cameras. Another kiteflier said he didn't because if the kite went AWOL and caught on power lines, he might get a hefty bill!!
    Just a thought.

    Something which wouldn't have helped in the case of a broken kite line which I do is to snap a large carbiner, which is attached to my belt, round the line and so if I accidentally let go, the kite can't fly away. It also makes it easy to be hands free when dealing with the rig and camera.

    Fly High

  • edited November 2016
    Twice I had kite escaping free to the sea . The first time, about 30 years ago, because the line broke. The second time because the line was cut by another kite line.
    Each time I saw in the binoculars the kite disappear in the sky over the ocean. The fist time there was enough line to act as an anchor, and the second time there were on the line 4 Koinoboris windsocks, sizes from 2.5 to 4m. The 4 m long one kept in the air when the others were in the water. I never heard anymore of these kites.

    As long as the wind is sufficient the kite will fly and travel away.
    Estimate R the resistant force of the weight on the line and the drag force of the line or other things in the water. R is equal to the pull of the kite when speed of the the wind on the kite is Sr.
    The true wind speed being S, the travel speed of the kite is St = S - Sr.

    Then, there are ocean currents. The kite may deviate from the direction of the wind if the currents are transverse to the wind direction. The currents can accelerate or decrease the travel speed if they are in the same direction than the wind, or not.
    When the wind stops, the kite fall in the water and everything will sunk.
    If the kite has ground on his way, it may be stopped by the line been catched by trees, high grass, etc ...

    But also, something heavy enough like a camera could sunk deep enough to be anchored in any place in shallow waters.

    So the area of investigation could be extremely large and chance can bring any bad luck.
    Unfortunately, hope to get it back is really small. If you can make sure that the kite landed somewhere it will depend on the chance for somebody to find it and be able to report on it.

    Think it could be the first kite crossing the bay of Fundy.
  • Thank you so much everyone for your responses to this. I deeply appreciate this discussion board not only for all that I have learned from it but for the commiseration! Wind Watcher, I read with rapt attention your story of losing your kite at sea--it is in fact one of the first pieces I came across when I began searching for an answer to my question. In fact, several of your stories of both lost kites and near misses serve as incredible cautionary tales and darned good dramatic reading to boot.

    Your responses make me feel just a tad less silly for hoping the kite has landed somewhere along the Bay of Fundy and may one day be found and put back into the air again. I replaced all my lost gear and am back in the air again and still taking pretty terrible pictures, but the picture taking is secondary anyway to the joy of flying, which is as close to sailing as I can get these days in the midwest.

    Sue, I did put my name inside the camera when I set it up, but this is lesson learned number #2. I'm going to write my phone number on the body itself with a sharpie or perhaps on a piece of tape. I had taken my now lost camera with me to the high arctic just this past October and I set it in the porthole of the ship I was traveling on and ran a time lapse shooting every three seconds out the porthole for two straight weeks. It was raining so much I never had a chance to fly, which was fine. By the time we reached 80 N we had entered polar night. It had over a 100,000 shots on it thanks to that absurd porthole time-lapse so the camera itself was probably nearing the end of its useful life anyway. I do hope to go back again to the end of land in the north and try flying again. Everyone keeps telling me drones are better, and maybe they are for some things, but I love the dance of flying and the element of chance that is fundamental to KAPing.

    Christian, I love the formula. I am passing it along to my favorite local camera dealer who told me "no way did that kite make across the bay."

    Thanks again. I feel a tad wiser and a lot less silly. Good air to you all.
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