Gear

Most drones have the camera fixed as part of the aircraft. In contrast, the kite photographer has an unlimited choice for shooting stills or videos: a GoPro clone or compact camera, or even a premium SLR. The heavier the camera the bigger the kite or the stiffer the breeze required to get airborne. However, there are many kites available that can lift a mountain of gear.

I use two 10 foot span kites as my standard ‘lifters’. One is a Delta Conyne that combines a central triangular box section with swept wings in a flexible structure that can bend to absorb gusts. The second is the unusual Hoffman’s Canard Delta that features a unique nose wing with a sturdy carbon frame and a trailing tubular tail. Both kites combine the strength and flight stability required for KAP over a wide range of wind speeds, while rising at high line angles.

For flights to about 700 feet I use 100 pound rated braided Dacron line on a home made reel. Find out how to make this by going to the PROJECTS page. Higher flights require high tensile thin line with less wind resistance, such as super-thin Dyneema.

Alpine Delta Conyne kite

Alpine Delta Conyne kite

Hoffman's Canard Delta kite

Hoffman’s Canard Delta kite

Kite line reel based on a modified electric fence wire reel with 3D printed components

Kite line reel based on a modified electric fence wire reel with 3D printed components

But how high can you fly while staying within the law? National regulations vary and stipulate only 60m in British airspace. However, it is sometimes possible to negotiate permission to exceed the local limit, although you may be required to fix flags to the line to improve its visibility.

A key question is: ‘Where and how to attach the camera?’ The answer is never actually on the kite which moves about too much; instead the camera is suspended on the line some distance below the kite where the movement is much less. About 30 to 50m down from the kite is about right.

Example of a record from the altimeter module

Example of a record from the altimeter module

Next – ‘How to attach the camera to the line?’ The simplest method is to hang it on a selfie stick or telescopic hiking pole but this will not prevent swinging and hence blurred images. Some form of sail damper can improve matters but this primitive ‘pogo stick’ approach is not favoured by KAP enthusiasts, most of whom instead use a Picavet Cross type of suspension devised by French inventor Pierre Picavet in 1912. This comprises an X-shaped platform that hangs from the kite line by a set of strings that pass through 4 pulleys. The platform carries the camera and is self-levelling by gravity in the line direction but still swings from side to side.

Numerous iterations of the Picavet have explored changing the size and shape of the X platform and positions of the line attachment points in the quest to maximise stability. James Gentles has researched this extensively (see the RESOURCES page).

Picavet Cross Suspension

Picavet Cross Suspension

I have devised a new design that is simpler to attach, is compact and provides excellent stability. This new Aeronaut Suspension incorporates only 2 pivots and is built of stiff carbon fibre and 3D printed parts. It is effectively a twin-pulley parallelogram which ensures that a camera fixed to the lower pulley maintains a fixed angle to the kite line as it swings, as shown in these pictures.  Experience shows that the taut line generally provides a more stable reference for a suspension than the ‘effective gravity’ seen by a Picavet which can swing away from being level due to vertical acceleration of the line.

Aeronaut suspension complete with altimeter, PanGimbal and Runcam5 camera

Aeronaut suspension complete with altimeter, PanGimbal and Runcam5 camera

Swing centre

Swing centre

Swing right

Swing right

Swing left

Swing left

The Aeronaut Suspension weighs only 115 grams (4 ounces) and folds up easily with no tangling of line as can happen with Picavet kit. Key features are the upper and lower adapters for attaching various modules that can include cameras, panning motors, altimeters and GPS sensors.  

The male adapter flange on the lower pulley engages with female sockets on the camera and panning systems.

The versatile upper TriTaper socket is presently used for mounting the altimeter or a roll stabiliser. Gadgets made with TriTaper adapters can be stacked, adding multiple functions to an aerial mission.

The new suspension is compact when folded up

The new suspension is compact when folded up

TriTaper Socket on the upper part of the aeronaut suspension

TriTaper Socket on the upper part of the aeronaut suspension

Flange adapter on the lower pulley of the aeronaut suspension with camera mount attached

Flange adapter on the lower pulley of the aeronaut suspension with camera mount attached

The 60cm long carbon beam attaches to the line by 3D printed Capstan Wraps with teeth that prevent slippage and a secure fixing that takes only seconds to complete.

Capstan line wraps at one end of the suspension beam

Capstan line wraps at one end of the suspension beam

The assembly and launch sequence is straightforward. With the kite airborne the beam is attached to the line and the suspension allowed to hang vertically before the clamp and lock nut are tightened.

Often it is better to attach the suspension (with equipment fitted) to the line prior to takeoff, placed on a ‘Launch Pad’ from which the gear lifts as the kite takes of. This provides a clean surface when launching from sandy ground, for example.

Aeronaut suspension complete with altimeter, PanGimbal and Runcam5 camera

Aeronaut suspension complete with altimeter, PanGimbal and Runcam5 camera

The rig lifting off from the Launch Pad

The rig lifting off from the Launch Pad

Most of the major kite stores sell various flying line reels. The simple hoop types are light, inexpensive and popular but introduce twist each time line is wound back onto one side.

A lightweight ball bearing swivel near the kite eliminates this problem. If flying to greater altitudes with more line then cranked reels facilitate the task of paying out and reeling in.

Simple line reels

Simple line reels

ITW's Kite line reels

ITW’s Kite line reels

This picture show my modified electric fencing reel. It incorporates friction and holding brakes and a line guide, and the actual spool is removable to allow loading of differing line gauges.

Once locked, the reel can be tethered to a ground stake for hands-off flying. Jump to the PROJECTS page to follow this build which can easily be adapted to other fencing reels.

When flying a large kite in strong winds a secure ground fixture is essential and one solution is to use the dog tether and carabiner kit shown here.

Kite line reel based on a modified electric fence wire reel with 3D printed components

Kite line reel based on a modified electric fence wire reel with 3D printed components

Ground tether and carabiner

Ground tether and carabiner

My initial attempts at aerial photography used my antique R.A.F. kite to lift a Ricoh FF9 which has a 1 minute intervalometer setting.

Not surprisingly very few of those pictures were useable. Now the world of photography has moved on to digital, and I am using two cameras: a Runcam5 which shoots wide angle 4K video, and a Sony Cybershot.

However, single frames from Runcam footage can be captured, cropped and sharpened in software to yield images that compare favourably with those from the Sony.

Ricoh FF9, Sony Cybershot & Runcam5 cameras

Ricoh FF9, Sony Cybershot & Runcam5 cameras

A useful addition to the camera platform is an altimeter module that fits the TriTaper socket.

Logged data are processed and plotted to provide a graphical plot of each flight profile. The unit combines 3D printed parts and commercially available circuit boards that make it easy for you to build a replica, as described on the PROJECTS page

Barometric altimeter with TriTaper Socket connector

Barometric altimeter with TriTaper Socket connector

Several of my KAP ventures have overflown sites where we have made geophysical surveys. These used sensitive magnetometers to map variations in subsoil properties that provide clues about vanished archaeology.

Technical details are beyond the scope of this website but more information can be found through links given in the RESOURCES page. Use the CONTACT page if you want to chat about this or share similar interests.

GeoScan magnetometer

GeoScan magnetometer