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Kite Altitude World Record
March 2010 - Higher and higher and higher.
Dyneema®, the world’s strongest fiber™
Twelve months earlier Michael Richards, Michael Jenkins, Roger Martin and I had endured rain and violent storms which ultimately cut short our record attempts. Despite the bad weather and less than ideal winds we flew rather high and we were confident our equipment, kites and line had performed well. This year I tried doubling the time on the strip to 2 weeks in the hope of increasing the chances of encountering ideal winds. I spent the first 5 days on the strip alone, although I had vowed not to do that I was confident If I encountered good winds, the winch was good enough to provided trouble free operation. The trouble was the weather did not cooperate and a high-pressure system dominated for over 10 days. Mostly I spent the first 4 days twiddling my thumbs. I flew the black and white DT delta to over 5,000 ft. off to the north but the wind dropped stranding the kite out over 2km into the scrub. There was no wind to speak of on the other 4 days before the other guys arrived. On the 28th, the day after they arrived we got some reasonable wind from the N-N-E which came around from the north as the day progressed. We got off to a strong start with a smooth passage to 5,000 ft then we struggled for hours, eventually broaching 10,000 ft but we had to risk lar line sag and line nearly touching tree tops. After the series was completed I came to the conclusion that doubling the time on the strip doesn't guarantee good conditions because it is the time of the year that is most important. I revisited some of the wind data then concluded that late winter or early sprig offered the best chance of breaking the world altitude record. We endured a massive thunderstorm overnight which was another factor in our decision to stay in the woolshed next year.
Above: This graph is generated by GPSFlight telemetry data and displayed by MS excel spreadsheet graph. It shows the flight to 11,311 ft. above mean sea level (AMSL). The height of the Cable Downs airstrip above sea level is subtracted (630 ft) to give height above ground level (AGL) or 10,681 ft. This was our best to date and beat the 2007 Aussie record by 215 ft. This altitude came as a surprise to me as it was preceded by a struggle with line stuck in a tree and it was during this battle that the kite reached 10,681 ft, probably due to an updraft. In in hindsight the line was being released to create slack to release the line from being hooked under a branch. As many kite fliers will know, kites will rise on a thermal with a slack line. We have no way of knowing where thermals are in clear air. Glider pilots can hunt for them then circle within them as they have more sophisticate instruments and audible warnings when their glider is rising or falling. We know if the kite is rising or falling but we don't know if it's due to horizontal wind lift or vertical lift due to a thermal column. The only way of knowing would be to have a wind meter with a vector indicator.
Above: Track data and vertical profile of a flight on 29th March, showed some early promise but soon we struggled to reach 5,800 ft and eventually we gave up trying. It's one thing to be persistent but another to flog a dead horse. The skill is to recognise when to persist and when to quit. We persisted the following day without encountering any wind of to speak of. The guys returned to Sydney the day after as there was no prospect of better winds. I stayed on for another day being the eternal optimist (or idiot!) and wanting to use the CASA permit to its full extent.
Above: 3 days after the flight to 10,681 ft this Garmin GPS data shows a typical struggle to reach altitude. Eventually we gave up "flogging a dead horse". Every peak is not a wind gust but is a counter winch operation. Every trough is a line payout. The prevailing wind was insufficient to sustain flight. The max altitude was a little over 1,000 ft. above ground level. Ordinary kite flyers would think that this is a tremendous altitude but for us it is barely off the ground.