Issue 55: Taming the Bull

In issue 53 of Kitelife, we brought you the Riding the Bull article, an inside report on a 10-day training session held by the Kite Performers group working in some of this years Red Bull Air Races… Now, a look at the first show of the year, launching professional kiting into a previously unknown level of exposure.

My trip began with a Lufthansa flight from my home in Portland (OR) to Frankfurt Germany, then on to Zurich Switzerland where I caught a train from the airport all the way to Interlaken where I would be meeting up and performing with the rest of the team.

Interlaken, simply, means between two lakes. As the train made it’s way deep into the Swiss mountains, the landscape became more and more breathtaking… As the first lake came into view, backed up by an immense range of mountains, some of them snow capped, I was nearly overcome with the grand scale of where we’d be performing and staying for the following three days.

Arriving mid-afternoon on a Thursday, I found the rest of the team had already arrived and were eating lunch. After unloading my luggage into the room I’d be sharing with Lam Hoac, the team decided to go ahead and get a look at the venue we’d be flying in.

As we rolled up in the three Red Bull detailed Seat cars provided for our group, a camera helicopter was already tracking race pilots as they were testing the course and making note of best times… Wow, I’m here to tell you… These races are amazing! Pilots weave in and out of inflatable pilons, no more than 15-30 feet above the deck, snapping turns and trailing smoke as they round each one.

Due to the schedule and flight activity, we had no more than a distant look at where we’d be flying and decided instead to go through our equipment, making sure everything was ready and up to snuff, then made our way back to the hotel for some much needed libation and rest.

Understanding that access to the actual performance field would be limited at best on Friday, we scouted out a local field in city limits where we could fly and run through some drills… Having had our last session together in France last April, time was of the essence to work out the kinks, refresh our memories and re-familiarize ourselves with each other’s flight styles.

Although we hadn’t been able to get as much time to practice as we’d have liked, the overall caliber of the pilots who were involved definitely helped to accellerate the planning and process.

For this show, Swiss resident and top dual line pilot Stefan Furter also joined us to help make the show a success, lending his individual skills and crewing for the official Kite Performers.

Saturday morning brought variable and light winds, giving no more than 2-3 mph at any given time, and switching directions periodically… Naturally, this made for a challenging show in both the morning and afternoon, but with some careful planning and strategy, the team managed to pull off two 25 minute exhibitions featuring team flying on both dual and quad line kites, as well as some individual time on both styles of kite.

A camera crew threaded in between team members throughout each performance, relaying video live to “jumbotrons”, or giant TVs placed periodically on both sides of the airstrip on which we were performing… It was interesting during the first show, as most of us were unaccustomed to non-fliers being so close and occasionally in the way, but the first set taught both pilots and video crew quite a bit.

Hot weather had us downing water all day long, retreating to the shade after each performance so we could plan the next set without baking in the hot sun.

Sunday morning’s set was more of the same light and variable conditions, but the afternoon exhibition was a great deal less work, giving us occasional winds in the 4-5 mph range for several minutes at a time… This allowed the team to finally pull out the 8-man mega fly with Furys, something we’d been hoping to do all weekend for maximum effect.

It could be said that over the course of the entire event, the team may not have been able to fly with the power and aggressiveness that we would have liked, but the comments received from Red Bull brass in the control tower was encouraging, and when all was said and done, the Kite Performers team did an amazing job of working in very difficult conditions to get the job done.

On behalf of the entire team, I’d like to extend a hearty thanks to Peter Rock and Konstantin Jakkab of Rock + Partner, and to the organizers at Red Bull for helping to make this opportunity a reality.

Just several days ago, it was announced that there would be no kite show at the London air races due to severe flooding in the area and related last minute organizational issues. At this time, it does not appear that this will effect the remaining two shows scheduled for San Diego and Perth later in the year.

We’re looking forward to taking what we learned in Switzerland and upping the ante next time around.

Cordially yours,

John Barresi