My intended field testing of my Stratospool has been delayed for a while due to other priorities. This weekend though I did get the chance to try it out. The wind was blowing around 9-10 mph at ground level so I chose to fly my Paul’s Fishing Kite (PFK). I didn’t have to work to get the kite in the air, it launched from my hand and steadily took line off the reel. Adding a little tension with the brake caused the kite to rise quicker just like you would expect anytime that you tension the line. The variable tension possible with the reel made this a much easier, less physical, process. Once at a suitable height and clearly stable in the wind, I attached my camera rig and let out more line. Again the ability to let line out in a controlled way was a bonus as it prevented any sudden jerks being transmitted to the camera. That helps to keep the camera level with the horizon.
I worked with the reel strapped to me via a climbers sling clipped into a shackle on the frame. The sling is long enough to pass around me twice and I tend to slip one loop around the back of my thighs and the other around my waist. It therefore shares the load like a climbing harness. I had a shorter sling that I had planned to put around my neck to further share the load (see here). I can see that this may be useful in very strong winds, but would normally not be needed. This short sling was however very useful for locking off the reel. Once locked off the reel looked after itself. I could feel the tension on the line just the same as holding it, therefore I am confident that any fluctuation in the kites behavior would be just as easy to respond to. The pull of the kite was quite capable of supporting the weight of the reel. This was a pleasing observation as the reel can initially seem a little bulky and awkward compared to a simple spool.
Reel locked off with a small climbers sling – Click on the image to enlarge
I let out plenty of line and then reeled it in. I can see that I need to practice this stage as it did make my arm ache and unlike a simple spool its not that easy to swap arms. I could however lock it off to have a rest if needed.
Now for some of my more detailed observations. The small tee piece at the bottom of the frame, resting against my thigh, worked well. Turning it through 90 degrees may however be more comfortable. The screw eye for the line appears to be in the right place, but did have a tendency to wind the line on the outside side of the reel. This was rectified by manually deflecting the line with my left hand so that it loaded evenly.
One aspect of the design that I have never quite got to grips with is how the reel runs on its axle. In my case this is a 10mm fully threaded bolt. The bolt needs to be just tight enough to allow the reel to rotate but not so tight that it binds against the brake pads. Equally if it is too loose the brake will not work at all. The full details can be found here. The brake lever needs to be able to move the axis of the bolt a small amount so that it binds against one of the brake pads (see below).
Having a fully threaded bolt may be a problem as I think that as it is pushed off its axis when braking, the thread, as it rotates, acts as a cutter enlarging and deforming the hole in the frame. It may be that this would be prevented by using a partly threaded bolt, or by adding a metal bearing, or just a metal sleeve to protect the frame.
Final alteration for now is adding a loop of bungee cord to the head of the frame to lock off the reel. Although primarily to lock the reel in use it should also help to keep it tidy when not on use. If you chuck it in the back of the car without, you inevitably get some line escaping and the potential for a birds nest of tangles.
I have had another flight today in difficult conditions. The wind was all over the place at ground level and strongly gusting above the treetops. Lesson learned today is that trying to coax a kite skywards in these conditions cannot be done simply by winding in or letting out line from the reel. The solution was to pull a suitable length line off the reel and then use that hand over hand to get the kite up into more consistent air. Once all that line was under tension I picked up the reel and used that to control the kite. The reel did exactly what it should and I was able to let out and take in line in a controlled way. The addition of the brass bearing has improved the rotation of the reel and has not had an impact on the effectiveness of the brake.
More flights planned in the next week or two.
Back out again yesterday and today and got a bit more flying time under my belt with the reel. I am now getting a good feel for the reel and how to use it. Conditions were pretty rubbish today so I actually flew on three separate sites. The first had poor wind, the second had far too much, and rather like the porridge that Goldilocks sampled, the third was just right.
One minor problem today. The bungee that I had temporarily tied around the head of the frame caused the tee piece handle to come away from the frame. It looks like the cord was causing sideways stress and there was no resistance, so the joint came apart. Now working on strengthening the joint and reconsidering the use of bungee.
I have had the stratospool out for several more flights, with a fled in light winds, and in stronger winds with a DC. Both times the reel worked very well, although reeling in 100m of loaded line is still hard work. My technique is improving though and each flight is easier as I get to understand its behavior and how to best use it.
My plan now is to keep using the reel “as is” to monitor any long term wear and tear issues. That means for now I am happy to stick with the current design.
Over the last month I have had a few more flights with the reel which is still performing well. Discovered a new trick to tie off the reel. Simply loop the line over the handle (see below) and it locks solidly.