Aerial Photographs from kites -- 1990

(Click on a picture to see the full-size version)

My senior year in highschool, I experimented with kite-based aerial photography. After several disasters, I finally found a system that worked. I attached a shoe-box to the kite line, 500 feet below the kite. Inside the shoebox, I rigged a kitchen timer to touch two wires together and complete a circuit, which turned on a motor which pulled a string attached to the shutter lever of a cheap camera.

This is the kite that finally got my camera off the ground. I made it out of wood dowels, garbage bags, strings, and glue. It had over 30 square feet of horizontal wing area, and weighed nearly five pounds. It had amazing lift. It could lift its own weight, the two pounds of camera equipment, and several pounds of (150-lb tensile strength) nylon cord in a gentle wind. In moderate winds, it could drag a bike sideways across a field. In strong winds (i.e. its final flight), it even started dragging me across the field. After it pulled me about ten yards, my friend Joe grabbed the line, too. With our combined weight on the line, the 150-pound cord snapped, and the kite was lost in the wooded hills downwind.

This was one of my first test shots. I only let out about 30 feet of line. My two brothers Pat and Mike, and my friend Dan, were lying on the grass below.

This is a bigger view of the field of Ralston Middle School, where I launched the kite.

Beyond the school field, there was this parking lot.

The wooded canyon, which leads down to Waterdog Lake.

This is the old Oracle building, before they built the new one down by the bayside. In the hardcopy photo, you can read the word Oracle on the side of the building.

Ralston Avenue. This was my highest shot. The camera was out about 1500 feet, and the kite was 500 feet above that. The camera was at an angle of about 20 degrees from horizontal, which means it was about 500 feet off the ground.

Finally, the wind was in the right direction, and I got a picture of my house. My house is the one in the middle on the lower left. The big grassy area with no trees between my house and Ralston is there because we had a slow-moving landslide in the rainy winter of 1983. We had to evacuate, and lived in a neighbor's house for several weeks. Luckily the hill moved less than a foot a day, and stopped moving before it reached our house. The ground slid on a clay "slip plane" about 20 feet underground that became slippery when wet. Our insurance company graciously dug up the hill, breaking the "slip plane" so that it wouldn't slip any more.

This is a zoomed-in, aligned picture of our house. At the top of the picture is our backyard, with the steps going up to the garden. The white square on our roof is where my dad was building the chimney. My sister's '65 Mustang is in the driveway.

For more info on kites & cameras, see the well-written Kite Aerial Photography Page by Charles Benton.