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“Have you ever crashed?”

Posted by Tom Benedict on 12/12/2011

I get this question a lot when I’m out doing kite aerial photography: “Have you ever crashed?” One guy went so far as to talk down my camera as much as possible, while holding up his (a very nice Canon G9) and saying, “Of course you’d never risk a real camera with something like that.” Well… Considering how many KAPers I knew at the time who flew the G9, yeah, I would.

But until recently I really hadn’t ever crashed. I’d had some hard landings, but no real crashes. One of my hard landings put my camera up in a kiawe tree. (To get an idea of what a kiawe tree looks like, picture a mesquite but with more thorns.) Another time I put a kite in a kiawe tree. And I’ve had countless opportunities to see my rig come down on its legs on hard basalt.

Now I’ve crashed. This happened back in October. I don’t think I wrote about it because the crash happened while I was testing another idea I did want to write about. The idea didn’t pan out, so I more or less shoved both issues aside and moved on. Without further ado, this is what a crashed KAP rig looks like:

KAP Rig Crash 1(As a quick aside, losing the Picavet was not the root cause of the crash. It was never there. There’s no Picavet cross on the rig because I had to remove it for the test I was doing.) The rig crashed because my kite flew at the ground, and the camera had no choice but to follow. Here’s a closeup of the worst of the damage:

KAP Rig Crash 2

Bent in multiple axes. Almost every surface affected. A real mess, basically. Now for the fun part:

The camera, a Canon PowerShot A650IS survived without any serious injury. The rubber door covering the USB port was ripped off from the force of the crash, but the camera still works. The only real loss, aside from the damage to the KAP rig itself, was the right angle USB adapter that lets me plug my shutter release cable into my camera. I was never able to find it. A new one cost a couple of bucks off of Amazon.

So the only real damage I had to deal with was the KAP rig itself. Luckily, Brooks Leffler, who designed all the bits that look bent in those photographs, designed his stuff so that it would bend before it broke, and be able to be bent back without suffering permanent structural damage. Put this another way: I stripped the rig down, bent everything straight, and put it back together. Voila, new KAP rig:

All Better Now

The A650IS is to the right in its horizontal/vertical plan rotation frame, and the rest of the rig is to the left, fitted out with my Canon T2i DSLR. (Told ya I’d fly something as expensive as a G9!)

The thing in the foreground is what I was trying to test in the first place. It’s a counterbalanced gimballed pendulum rig I was testing to see if I could get rid of camera motion above 1Hz. That’s still a work in progress. Curious point of interest: When the rig struck the ground, it was upside-down. The counterbalance arm actually struck the street first. All the damage to the rig was from the impact forces transferring to the KAP rig through the long upright. The gimbal survived, the pendulum survived, the counterweights survived with minor scuffing, and the KAP rig was rebuilt. Can’t beat it.

Crashes really are a potential aspect of kite aerial photography. You put something up, it’ll come down. Most of the time it comes down in an orderly fashion. Other times it comes down like a stone. This is no different from airplanes, helicopters, balloons, or jumping off the diving board. The trick is to never assume it can’t happen to you, and try to take the necessary precautions so it doesn’t. I’m a little wiser now, and a lot more cautious.

– Tom


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