Kite Story #1

This happened at the start of my freshman year in college, 1984. It was a nice afternoon, with a good breeze, and I decided to see how high I could fly my new parafoil. Little did I realize the intimate relationship between distance and time.

The academic circle was a grassy large circle (500'?), next to the dorm. The dorm itself was a square of 3 story residences with a 20 story tower in the center. It was a minute or two walk from the circle. There's a road that runs around the circle, where buses run to take students downtown to the other campus.

I let the parafoil out and it flew well. I had 1000' of 50# line, so it wasn't a good idea to let it all out. The parafoil caught the upper wind and quickly went up, taking all the line I could give it.

After a while, it was just a little dot in the sky. Okay, that was far enough. There wasn't that much line, maybe a hundred feet, still on the spool. Definitely more out than should be. I started reeling it in...

...but it didn't work very well.

The wind was pulling it so hard that I couldn't reel it in! It might not have been so bad with a winder with handles, but the line was wound on a plastic spool. Eventually I discovered a method: sitting on the grass with the line looped under my sneaker. I'd wind the spool down to my foot, and then pull the spool toward me. There'd be two feet of line, and I'd wind the reel down. Again. And again. And again. It was taking a long time. The line was cutting into the soft sole of the sneaker, too.

[rainbow dragon kite]

In the meantime, a guy drove up and pulled out a kite like I'd never seen before. it was a 30' nylon dragon. Its tail was in rainbow sections. The top was applique of an island sunset.

This guy wasn't doing too well getting it into the air. I watched him try and try, as slowly my parafoil grew closer and closer.

Suddenly I felt a jerk in the line. I looked up immediately. The kite was still there, about a hundred feet overhead. Hunh? What happened? Then I looked down. The plastic spool had broken in half, right down the middle. The spool was sitting in my hands, both pieces, with 900 feet of line wound on it, and 100 feet that I'd been slowly winding in for over an hour still in the air.

Nightmare. Now I had to try to wind these two pieces simultaneously, since the line crisscrossed back and forth between them. A slow process became even slower.

The guy trying to fly the dragon came over and we got the parafoil down. In exchange, I offered to help him get the dragon in the air. With the good stiff wind, it wasn't a problem. He started letting out a lot of line and it went sailing farther and farther away. I was thinking that he was letting too much line out, and the kite was beyond the circle. If it crashed, he could lose it. And it was such a nice kite, too.

The kite crashed, but it didn't crash just anywhere: it crashed on the top of the 20 story residential tower. The tower wasn't big, and hitting it flabbergasted us both. Even more amazing, with a bit of work, we were able to get the kite back in the air.

The kite ended up crashing off to the side of the low-rise dorms later. As we watched, a bus drove out and snapped the line. We recovered the kite. But I was still amazed that we recovered it from the tower.

[Map of crashes]

Sometime after that I got a wooden and metal winder. No more plastic spools!

Last updated 8 June 2000
All contents ©1997-2002 Mark L. Irons except SUNYA campus image (copyright holder unknown)