The View Up Here

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From UFO to Rubbish

Posted by Tom Benedict on 21/05/2010

Back in May, 2009, I brought my KAP gear to work at the summit of Mauna Kea, and during some free time at lunch I tried desperately to get my rig in the air.  I never did get to clip on the camera, but some of the guys across the way at Keck saw the kite and wondered why a UFO was flying over our dome.  Andrew Cooper, one of the guys at Keck, witnessed the event and wrote it up in his blog, A Darker View.

I have flow on Mauna Kea, and have done some surprisingly good KAP there, despite the prevalence of questionable wind.  During my first session at the summit, I got a good set of photos from summit ridge, but when I moved less than 100m to the south, the only stable point of flight my kite had was roughly 15m below my feet!  It’s not a trivial place to fly, and certainly isn’t for the faint of heart.  I’ve flown there a couple of times since, but it’s never something I take lightly.  During one flight I let out the full 500′ of line the FAA allows kiters to use.  So far as I know I may well hold the high altitude record for kite flying in Hawaii, and possibly the Pacific.  But reading Andrew Cooper’s blog let me add one more to my list:  My kite had been flagged as a UFO!

Last week I did a session much closer to home.  In fact, this time it was just outside the door at work.  Two of my kids go to school at Waimea Country School, a small private school in Waimea.  I’ve been trying to do aerial photography of the school for ages, but I was never able to get the vantage point I wanted because of a big stand of eucalyptus trees.  In case you’ve never run into one, eucalyptus trees grow from 80 to 100′ in height.  They’re big.  They block wind, they grab kites, and they’re generally un-fun to fly near.  I’d made attempts in the past, but something was always wrong.

This time everything went right.  The wind, which normally blows along the stand of trees, blew diagonal to them.  So I was able to launch, get the kite a good 2x higher than the trees, and clip on the rig.  Once I had the camera well over the trees, I walked over to the treeline and laced the line through the tree branches until I had it just where I needed it.

St. James Circle and Waimea Country School

The flight went off without a hitch.

As it turns out the school was in the middle of its last fire drill of the year, so all the students were lined up in the field in the upper left of the frame.  I sent a copy of the shot to the school’s headmistress, who got a big kick out of it.  She wound up showing it to most of the school and the parents of the kids.  But I didn’t hear the best part until later in the week.

This morning when I was dropping my daughters off, my younger daughter’s teacher ran up to the car to tell me how much she enjoyed seeing the photo.  But she confessed that she had no idea I was flying a camera at the time.  One of the kids in her class pointed up in the sky and asked, “What’s that?”  She looked up, saw a bit of green hanging up in space, and figured it was just a garbage bag fluttering around in the wind.  “It’s just a bit of rubbish,” she told him.

So now my 6′ rokkaku, which was sewn by a friend of mine at work and framed out by me, can claim the lofty title of being a kite, being a hexagonal levitation machine for aerial photography, being a UFO, and… being a bit of rubbish.

Hey, it’s all good so long as the photography works out.

– Tom

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