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Kite Altitude World Record
Theodolites are specialised optical instruments used for measuring terrestrial distances, angles and areas. I have kept this page, even though we do not use theodolites, because I appreciate the craftmanship and precise engineering which goes into their manufacture. The optics and precision of the instruments are impressive for those who are fans of things mechanical and quality gadgets. Under clear skies and with competent operators, theodolites are slightly more accurate than GPS over the distance associated with a record altitude. Well, in theory that's the case as I have never needed to demonstrate their capabilities. The traditional instruments are optical and the most recent instruments are about 20% optical/mechanical and 80% electronic. A major feature of some of the latest instruments is the ability to measure over 4 km using a laser beam with a sub 5cm accuracy. They can also measure angles with fraction of second precision. Over a distance of 10 km even an older opto/mechanical instrument has a potential precision of under 2 meters. Irrespective of whether we use the theodolites on the field to measure altitude, we always use a theodolite to track and view the kite. They are better than most telescopes due to their stability and excellent optics. In some ways I am disappointed not to use the theodolites. I guess it's a nerdy gadget thing.
Pentax laser theodolite. Using a bank of small reflective prisms, this instrument can measure the distance to a target over 4 km away with sub cm accuracy.
There is a specialised survey calculator that the 2 position kite data is imput to then it gives the kite altitude above the primary survey point (tether point).
This instrument was used in April 2005 to establish the reference survey points. The final survey was performed by an engineering surveyer specialising in terrestrial mining. Thank you Hugh Patterson.
This T16 Wilde is the "Rolls Royce" of optical Theodolites and although superceded by electronic instruments is still more than good enough to surpass all standards of accuracy for our record altitude measurement if we chose to use them.
The main Archilles heel of the theodolite in respect to measuring kite elevation, is cloudy conditions. Universal Instruments loaned us two instruments each year up to 2007 then from 2009 we borrowed 1 and in 2014 we diddn't use any theodolites. The other problem is operator training and it takes a skilled operator to use them correctly.
Left:This is a small routine I developed in MS excel to aid in theodolite observation. It enables the reading of the primary theodolite in conjunction with the GPS telemetry to be used to predict where to aim the second theodolite to view the kite. At altitudes above 8,000 ft the kite may not be naked eye visaible and the second observer will not know where to aim the theodolite scope. It requires GPS telemetry data to close the observation loop.
Above:This schematic lays out the labelling to insert into the position prediction routine.
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Two theodolite trigonometric altitude and position measurement