Dancing with the sky


in Geek stuff, Photo essays, Space and flight, The outdoors, Toronto

I find that my Prism Quantum two-line kite is too frustrating to fly in winds of less than 16 knots (kn). The ideal range is 16-25 kn, with the wind consistent in power and coming from a consistent direction. That’s a rare situation indeed in Toronto, where winds are almost never so strong and tend to be turbulent and inconsistent when they are. Because of that, I check Windfinder.com for the Toronto Island Airport to spot days which may be plausible for good kiting.

The forecast for today looked promising, so I went with my friend Nada to fly a bit in Riverside Park. It’s not as good a kiting location as Hanlan’s Point beach, but it’s a lot easier to reach and depart from and offers more options in the event of the summer downpours and thunderstorms that often accompany windy spring days.

All photos of me are by Nada Khalifa.

Milan Ilnyckyj flying a kite - photo by Nada Khalifa

One of my favourite things about kiting is teaching it to less experienced flyers. Anyone who seems interested and heavy enough to safely use this particular kite in these particular wind conditions is encouraged to give it a try. All told with this kite — in a variety of locations around Toronto — I have helped at least 50 people take their first flight with a two-line kite, with inductees ranging from about ten years old to well over seventy. I make a special effort to encourage women of all ages to try it, since there seems to be some general set of social expectations that makes men and boys more willing to give it a try.

Nada flying

I feel like a few years of intermittent kiting (along with related reading, video tutorials, and inspiring acts of lunacy) have taught me a fair bit about aeronautics in an applied sense.

Milan Ilnyckyj flying Prism Quantum kite

I tell my Massey friends that kiting is a bit like sailing for poor people. The Quantum has carbon fibre (or, apparently, “Pultruded Carbon“) spars and a sail made of material that would be suitable for a sailboat. Kite lines are highly specialized polymers. A kite lets you grab a little piece of the wind and feel how it’s moving across a fairly large area. As well as a meditative activity, it’s a cybernetic one: a complex interface between your body, a machine, and changing environmental conditions.

Two-line kite flying in Toronto's Riverside Park

Early when I was reading about more advanced kites, I thought that more power and more lines (there are lots of four and five line kites) would probably produce a more sophisticated or interesting flying experience. Having seen people using large but much less maneuverable parasail-type kites for kiteboarding, I am quite happy with the flexibility and acrobatic potential of a two-line delta style kite like the Quantum.

Prism Quantum kite

Concepts from kiting — about airflow, turbulence, attitude, and so on — seem generalizable to craft of many kinds. Indeed, thinking about attitude in the specific sense of simulated spacecraft in Kerbal Space Program has helped me disentangle some of the complex elements involved in precisely maneuvering a flying airfoil through a turbulent mass of air. Direction vector relative to the wind is crucial, as is responding to abrupt changes in air flow.

Riverside Park, Toronto

I would love to get a small soft kite with no hard parts, small enough to pack into the cargo pocket of my trousers or the poacher’s pocket in my winter jacket. With a light one-line kite, it would be possible to do a bit of flying whenever I happen to find myself in a decent wind. The Prism EO Atom is an intriguing possibility of this sort, though it’s hard to gauge how compact it is. Unlike most single-line kites, it offers a bit of variety in how it flies because you can pull it downward and watch it tumble and recover in interesting ways.

Dancing with the wind

My sense is that kiting has therapeutic value for my chronic shoulder injury. The traction is probably similar to what physiotherapy elastic bands are meant to produce, and it’s a whole lot more fun.

Kiting as therapy for chronic shoulder injuries?

With very stable wind, kiting is an excellent solitary activity. I just start a set of lectures rolling on my iPod and keep going for as long as the wind supports me. This tends to work best during adverse weather — either days well below 0 ˚C or those interspersed with thunderstorms. In those conditions, good flying locations tend to be thinly populated. When the weather is fine, you are sometimes interrupted by (welcome) inquiries from people who want to give it a try, unwelcome complaints from the maddeningly large subset of the population who are reflexively anti-kite, and the thoughtless interference of people who aren’t paying attention to what is happening above and around them.

With variable wind, it’s highly useful to have a friend to help you re-position the kite for launch after a crash or a failure of the wind.

Nada helping with a launch on a turbulent afternoon

I love the paganism of kite flying: the immediate connection with natural forces vaster and more powerful than you, and efforts to work alongside them rather than seek to dominate them or escape from their power.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

alena June 7, 2016 at 7:54 pm

What a wonderful day you had! I am so happy for you and your friend. It reminds me of the kite flying festival in Lahore that we eagerly participated in as children. The kites often had money on them.

Milan June 13, 2016 at 6:56 pm

My latest kiting excursion was also with Nada — this time to the superior wind at Hanlan’s Point beach.

It was a good excursion all told. I taught two complete beginners the rudiments of flying, though unfortunately it wasn’t long before one of the terminally sunburned and cantankerous old men who love to complain about kites to the lifeguards forced us to move to a nearby field.

Beyond the standard complaints and misuse of authority, there was also a reversal of Toronto’s usual problem of insufficient wind. Flying on the field, I snapped the right flying line which came with my Prism Quantum (an 85′ line rated for 150 lbs). I didn’t think quickly and held on to the left line, leading to a long series of aggressive spins which left the lines hopelessly tangled beyond repair and actually threw one of the trailing edge spars from the kite a good distance away, through thankfully a careful search of the grass turned it up.

Trying again with my 50′ x 50 lb lines back on the beach (after the lifeguards went off duty), both lines abruptly snapped, sending the kite spinning away downwind.

This was by no means the windiest or gustiest day in which I have used this kite and these lines, so I am not totally sure why they failed in this case.

I ordered two sets of the stronger lines, which will hopefully arrive in time for solstice flying. These linesets aren’t cheap, and there’s also no guarantee that the solstice will have usable winds. As a backup, I ordered a Prism Atom EO single-line kite, which should be good for low-wind days, as well as low-mass people who want to give kiting a try.

Milan October 18, 2017 at 1:24 pm

Alas, Toronto really doesn’t have the best winds for kite fans. Even when they are more than strong enough, they are often too turbulent:

Note: this is a simple one-line kite not meant to be steerable. In an adequate wind, it should just go up in a straight line and stay there.

. December 17, 2017 at 4:08 am

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