For a comprehensive study of team flying (which this is not), Ron Reich's book, "Kite Precision" is highly recommended. This article will provide some recommendations that may help new teams and team members to adjust to the experience of team flying and to each other. The intent is to introduce some ideas that might help new teams and new team members to get more out of the team experience.
IN THE BEGINNING...
Before you attempt to form a team, one of the first things to do is to have a meeting with all the potential team members and have a frank discussion about goals. You need to find out whether or not you all have the same goals. Maybe you just want to fly for fun. Perhaps you are interested in competition. The goals themselves are irrelevant, but no matter what they are, they must be commonly shared because what they are will certainly determine the amount of time and expense, and the level of effort the team will have to expend. Otherwise, there will be different expectations and different levels of commitment which will pretty much guarantee that the team will not last.
In order to be fun, team fliers need to understand that they have to sublimate a certain amount of their individual identity and personal expression. There is a certain amount of discipline necessary for the fliers to function successfully as a team that not all fliers will like.
For team flying, there are a number of characteristics to look for in the kite you choose to team fly with that will make the team flying experience a lot more fun:
1. Tracking - A good team kite needs to be able to fly a straight, steady line. No wobble.
2. Turning - The kite should be able to execute an excellent push turn.
3. A little bit radical - Modern routines regularly will contain slack line tricks and ground work. You would do well to use a kite that does not accelerate at quite the rate as one you would use for individual flying but still has good speed.
4. Available in sets - You will need ultra-light, normal wind and high wind kites. It is an advantage to be able to draw from a family of kites that will handle similarly, model to model.
Lines are expensive, but you should have several sets. The longest lines should probably be a maximum of 150'. The shortest, maybe100' (for really light wind). For small fields, 125'. Most teams will fly with the longest lines they can get on the field with. Different weights may include, 50# short line for light wind competition only, 100#, 200#, 300# for heavy wind, and 500# for extremely heavy wind. Generally, you try to fly with a heavy line because you don't get as line locked as often as you might with light line. 300# line is good for most wind conditions. After a while, try using 200# as your main line because you get less line sag and better reaction time with the kite and you won't be breaking it as often as you might when you first start. Putting 10' Kevlar leaders on the lines will do much to increase line life.
Some teams fly with staggered lines: that is, where the number one kite has the longest lines, kite two has the next longest, kite three the next and finally kite four with the shortest lines. We do this to avoid the wake and turbulence that a kite leaves behind it for the following kite to try and fly through. In this configuration, all fliers can stand shoulder to shoulder. Speed matching is harder but you can use the speed differences between the kites to help you do certain maneuvers. More flexible is just to use even length lines and create the offset with ground position. Speed matching is a lot easier, plus the team can fly lead from any position.
Other good stuff would include: a wind meter, sets of wind screens,
spare rods and fittings, boom box, electrical tape, material tape (to repair torn sails), and crazy glue (Cyanoacrylate). You will need the repair items. Every team breaks kites.
SETTING UP THE TEAM
For a four kite team, usually the most accurate pilot flies lead. The most agile pilot flies tail gunner. The least experienced pilot would fly number two and the second most accurate pilot might fly number three spot. At least, this would be a place to start. Line ups can affect team performance. Teams can vary in size from three persons to whatever (nine is the largest team that I have ever seen in competition). Generally, the difficulty increases geometrically as you increase the number of fliers.
Skills that an individual flier can improve that will greatly affect
the quality of their team flying are:
1. Being able look away from your own kite to either focus on a target, or to see your kite in relationship to other kites. Being able to fly without looking directly at your kite.
2. Knowing how to read the wind window in terms of percentages. That is, as an example, knowing where the 50% height is, or how far off the ground 20% is or where the physical center of the wind window is. This is a developed skill.
3. Being able to execute a quality push turn. The push turn is one in which you turn the kite by pushing a hand forward rather than pulling one hand back.
If we are flying only one kite, we will tend to focus on that kite. However, in team flying, we need to expand our vision to be able to focus on keys. A key may be a targeted space to which you are flying to, or the spatial relationship to another kite(s). To avoid hitting other kites, or to form certain figures, we use keys to guide our kites on specific paths.
Each flier needs to learn how to read the window in terms of percentages because a lot of maneuvers are set up by using a spatial target. For example, certain maneuvers like bursts, and threads, become much harder to execute if the formations are not centered. The difficult part is knowing where the center of the window is with relationship to the whole team and not just to the individual pilot.
Pull turns skew the kite's position in the turn more and make it harder to hold formation. Pull turns return to neutral with more wobble than a push turn. Pull turns are slower. The push turn is so much better for team purposes, most good team fliers do not consider it an option to use other types of turns.
ON THE PRACTICE FIELD
If you are a new team, it would be wise not to have fliers correcting each other. Avoid this like the plague. First of all, as simple as it may seem, being able to see what the kites should look like to judges or an audience, is difficult because it takes practice to be able to "see" the two dimensional picture the team is trying to construct in the distortion of a spherical window. Its an acquired skill for sure. Secondly, nothing is more depressing for the flier that is making a good effort to fly well then to be told to make a wrong correction, which results, in poorer performance despite greater effort. If you are a new team, its pretty unlikely that you know which kites are keys, and which make the adjustments.
For example, if a four kite team is flying a box formation, left to right, the top right hand kite should be the key. The bottom right kite sets the vertical spacing and flies directly below the top right hand kite. The top left hand kite sets the horizontal spacing and flies directly behind the key kite. The bottom left hand kite keys off of the bottom right and the top left kite. In this scenario, the top right hand kite should fly a perfectly even speeded horizontal line. The pilot will use light line tension in the middle of the window, and will gradually increase line tension as that kite nears the edge to keep that kite's speed from dropping and collapsing the box horizontally. The top right hand kite makes zero adjustments to any other kite. It if does, it actually makes constructing the figure harder even though it is trying to "correct" it. Or, in the example of executing a four kite horizontal thread where one pair of kites threads through another pair, you can make this maneuver extremely difficult by flying it without keys. I call this dodge-a-kite. However, if you assign one pair of kites as the ones that will set the line and spacing, they then become the target and the other pair become the threading kites. One pair is the key, the other pair makes the adjustments. Also, one kite in each pair may serve as a key for the other kite to line up vertically with. It's clearer on the field and not as complex as words may make it appear.
You will assign keys to every maneuver. If your kite is one of the keys, then you need to fly your line and not flinch. If you are one of the kites that fly off the keys, then you need to put your kite in the right space in relationship to the keys.
The best thing to use is video tape. Watch it all together. You won't like what you see but it will become very apparent why making field corrections with an untrained eye is such a bad practice. You'll hear comments like: "Oh, I thought I was level", or "Omigosh, That's me", or, "Uh-oh. My bad". Not to worry. Just don't rush it. Eventually you will find the person that sees the window the best, and can mentally make the adjustments to compensate for window distortion, and that person, will make the field corrections. I think that most beginning fliers aren't aware of how difficult this is to do because they never test themselves and have always assumed that their perception of the window was correct. Use video first.
In the beginning, make as few corrections as possible. Let's face it, if you want to, you can drone on throughout the whole routine with: "You're too high, now you're too low, you're too fast, you're too slow, you didn't match the wing, you missed turning on the call, and quit wobbling...." It can go on forever because nobody flies perfect. Here's the problem with that type of "coaching". First of all, most of the time the offending fliers know that they're off. It's not a bulletin. They're learning to fly team and their skill level is not at the world class level yet. So, reciting a history of their errors does zero to correct them. The kite never stops, backs up and does it correctly. It just keeps on moving forward. While the flier reciting the monologue is having a great time, the target of this speech is not. And, even if the criticism is only mild, after a couple of hours of it, you can bet your kit, kite and kaboodle, that that flier will have lost all interest in team flying. In fact, the only interest the listening flier will have after that length of time is maybe killing the flier reciting the "error log". Or, at least wounding him. This kind of coaching can turn practice time into let's-get-ready-to-rumble time.
Make the corrections while the kites are paused, or on the ground. While flying, you may want to yell out reminders BEFORE you get to a particularly troublesome maneuver, but it's really a waste of the team's time to point out errors while flying. It's too late to correct them anyway, the kite keeps flying forward. But the worst thing is that it makes the pilot that made the error, look backward. Absolutely the last thing you want any of your team members to focus on. You always want your fliers either looking forward in time and anticipating the next maneuver, or concentrating on the keys and maneuver presently being executed. If a team member makes an error you may want him or her to "get it back", but never to "look back". If you are flying with someone that has become the vocal error history commentator, this person needs to be told that, however well intentioned it may be, this hurts the team. So, stop it already. I mean it. Don't make me come over there.
The best thing to correct are tendencies. A poor technique. Sloppy turning, not locking the kite up to the line, following too close, dropping out of loops. The thing with correcting tendencies is that this often improves performance in the whole routine instead of just one part. Sometimes you have to use a little common sense. If, for example, the pilot is executing a horrible push turn because it is a NEW skill, then let it ride. Ignore the sloppy turn for now, but it should be understood that it is expected that that pilot will practice their turns on their own and not use only team time to practice an individual skill. As long as they make the effort to make team time more productive, is all that ought to be required.
The next best thing to correct are repetitive errors. As examples: always flying low in the box, flying at 20% when the maneuver requires you to fly at 10%, not walking forward when your kite is heading down. The magic word here is "repetitive". The great thing about a repetitive error, is that the correction usually is obvious. The correction has to be in the description if it's repetitive. If you think about it, there isn't much point to drawing attention to single occurrence errors. Unless, of course they are a result of a tendency. Then, we're back on track correcting a tendency. And that's a good thing.
The worst corrections to make are non-specific comments like: "the flying didn't look good, you were off, you were flying weird, you were following all over the place". What's that's supposed mean? If you want to make it worse, be more vague, don't even pick out an individual... "you guys look awful". The only thing that this type of commentary does is to make the team feel bad or angry.
The rule is this:
If you can't say something nice, then at least be specific. Try to supply a fix with your criticism. If you don't know how to fix it, then be specific about where in the routine things look whacky to you and be prepared for the possibility that the fix may quite likely end up being a correction that you need to make. Better yet, if you don't know how to fix it, say nothing. Think about it for awhile.
As mentioned, each flier should practice and strengthen individual skills on his own, whether it's groundwork, landings, stalls, push turns, whatever. To make all the kites react the same, there should be a single technique that is adopted by all members for each skill. Find out which flier has the best execution for a particular maneuver, and then clone that technique to every other member.
As a team, you need to really establish ground rules regarding a common etiquette for field practices. It's important. This is where a lot teams begin their breakups so give these examples some careful consideration. I don't think that it is necessary that the team gets along really well with each other off the field. It's great if they do and we all should try to do this. It's optional. But, it is very necessary that they get along on the field. Once a team hits the field, they should attempt to practice behavior that promotes respect and effort for the team because those are the two things (a lack of respect for each other, and poor effort) that can break a team up very rapidly. And since I have seen this where the fliers can still be great friends off the field, I would suspect that it had a lot to do with the standards or lack of standards set up for field practices.
Some wonder how a team can have fun with so much discipline and structure? Isn't kite flying supposed to be free and easy? Well, that's a good point. A very good point. Team flying isn't for everybody. Depends on what you call fun.
Every practice ought to have performance goals. Maybe learning a new trick, getting further in a new routine, tuning up the ballet, but have some written goals the team hopes to accomplish at every practice. First of all, you will make progress much more quickly. Secondly, for some, the fun of flying team is being able to see progress. Building, shaping, and finally executing a team routine is a project that takes a lot of time. It is very rewarding to be able to measure progress as we "work" on that project.
OFF THE FIELD
Every team member should have a play book. The play book has the routines that the team is flying. Each pilot should make notes in their play book that helps them fly the routine, for example: what their keys are, ground position changes, corrections to errors, and the like. Some feel that it's too much too ask, but my personal opinion is that every flier should have the routine memorized, regardless of how new the routine is, or how recent changes and corrections have been put in as long as they have at least a few days to look at it. Personally, I don't consider it optional to know the routine well. Field practices are tough to arrange. The team dedicates this time, usually on a weekend, usually making plans around family and personal matters so that they can fly together. So, you make your choice. You can use the time to practice your routine, or you can use the time reflying your routine so that one or two fliers can learn it during field practice. Be aware that the difference in quality between a practice in which the team is learning to memorize the routine, and a practice where they have already memorized the routine and are tuning it up is mega.
Sometimes the team can meet during the week, after work. Problem with that is they usually can't fly. The next best thing is to practice "flying" the routine with laser lites. Maneuver the lites on a wall (pretend sky), and move them as you imagine your kites would move. You can practice keys, memorize the routine, and have open discussion. The other thing you can do with lites that you can't do with kites, is stop them in "mid-air". At that time you can study keys, discuss errors or problems with a maneuver at that precise point. All of which, makes field practice more productive.
Another on-the-ground method is to put miniature kites on the ends of three foot sticks, and practice the routines by using these little stick kites. For solo practice without the rest of the team present, the sticks are the best instruments to learn the routine with. They're better than laser lites.
The pressure of competition is a little bit different for team fliers than it is for Individual events. In some ways, it is more intense. Generally, mistakes in team routines have graver penalties than mistakes in Individual routines and there are more opportunities for catastrophic errors. A kite, for example, in an Individual routine cannot hit another kite or have its line tangled or even broken by another kite. For some, there is the fear of letting down their team mates by making a mistake. However, if everyone has made their best effort, the team should be well prepared to accept whatever happens. There are so many ways to crash when flying team, that the best course to take regarding errors in competition is to consider any error, a team error. The only thing that is hard to take when an error occurs is if it is the result of a lack of effort. Otherwise, deal with it. You're supposed to be a team.
One way to reduce the anxiety a little bit, is to have pre-planned alternate maneuvers in case of mishaps. In the case of a single kite crash that cannot be recovered immediately, the downed kite should be set up by field crew while the rest of the team continues on with the routine. The lead kite should know where in the routine the next opportunity will occur where the lines will be unwrapped so that the down kite may be called back into the formation. Generally there should be a great effort not to pause the routine and just hold for the correction but to keep the flow moving as much as it is possible. If you practice these "outs", the team will be able to recover more quickly instead of compounding the error due to a loss of focus and the inability to get it back.
Keep your eyes on your keys, and your ears on the calls. Curiously, in order for the team to fly well, no member actually sees the whole routine. Each person should be focusing on their keys and mentally looking ahead to what they need to do next. If a team member has a mental lapse and for a moment begins to watch the routine like an audience or judge would, that's the time that becomes ripe for mistakes. Have someone take video if you want to see the whole thing.
I think that a lot of new teams spend most of their time focusing on the technical part of team flying and sometimes forget about working on just the 'team' part of it. Hopefully this article will assist some new teams to at least establish themselves to this point before moving on to more technical matters.
If parts of this article are too vague, e-mail me directly or through Kitelife and I will answer ALL questions. Of course, some of the answers may be, "I don't know", but the intention is there.
Have a nice windy day!
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