Flight Obstacles

Reading about Charlie Brown in the comic strip Peanuts, if not by personal experience, has taught us that trees are the nemesis of kites. When a kite or its tail becomes caught, it is important not to pull on the kite line, as this would only drag the kite deeper into the tree. Let the line go slack. With luck, wind may lift the kite out of the tree. Otherwise climbing the tree may be the only means to recover the kite (Fig. 9-3). Most such incidents happen because of inattention by the kite flyer; a moment spent adjusting the camera rig or other equipment may be just the instant when the kite makes a loop or takes a dive.

Actually trees and other obstacles present problems for all types of tethered or free-flying platforms. Tangling a blimp tether at the top of a tall tree, for instance, leaves few options for recovering the blimp and camera rig. The most dangerous obstacles are high-voltage power lines, along with telephone wires, railway power lines, radio towers, light poles, and other electrical sources. Dry tether lines normally are not conductive for electricity, but may become conductors when damp, which represents a serious safety issue in cloudy, foggy, or rainy weather. The best solution is simply to keep well away from any such power supply. Other potential obstacles for tethered platforms include buildings, steep cliffs, and high river embankments.

FIGURE 9-3 Rokkaku kite caught in a tree at a cemetery study site. (A) Kite lodged near top of tree; slack kite line to lower left. (B) JSA standing on a stout tree limb to free the kite. The kite and tail were recovered without damage. Photos by SWA, Kansas, United States.

In a safety hierarchy are first and foremost people—both the SFAP operators and bystanders, followed by buildings and vehicles, wildlife and natural features, and lastly the camera rig and platform. This order of priorities should be kept clearly in mind before and during each flight by all members of the survey team. Once the device is in the air and everyone's attention is upward, many dangers may be overlooked on the ground.

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