We aim to fly a kite to the highest altitude in the world
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Kite Altitude World Record
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Top to bottom right images:
1. Camping on the strip, the moon shrouded by cloud heralds rain.
2. 2,200 ft above Cable Downs an onboard camera captures the south side of the newly cleared paddock.
Yellow kite at centre bottom is at 500 ft.
3. Satellite eye view 20,000 ft above the strip in 2004.
4. In 2009 a huge storm turns Cable Downs into a lake and Mike Jenkins looks on from the woolshed.
5. 2011 and the 2 Mikes carry the kite out in preparation for launch.
6. April 2005 and the tail end of a severe drought. Wind drought as well.
7. April 2009 and camping on a lake challenged our camping skills.
Below: Red circle defines a 30 km diameter zone granted by CASA for the duration of the attempts. It extends to 20,000 ft
above ground level although that includes a buffer zone of 2,000 ft and the ground level height has to be deducted, giving
and effective maximum altitude of 17,370 ft. above grond level.
Cable Downs is a 50,000-acre sheep station (ranch) 40 km northwest of Cobar in Western NSW, Australia. It is 750 km and 9 hours from Sydney by road. We attempt the records here because there are few aircraft in the low to mid flight levels. It is near to a weather station and Steve and Karen Viant agreed to host our attempts so it ticked all the boxes. On the map, the red zone is allocated by our Civil Aviation Safety Authority each time we make a series of attempts. It is 15 km in diameter and reaches to 20,000 ft above grond level. this cylinder is theoretically out of bounds to aircraft except in special circumstances. The climate is dry with intermittent drought. It is hot in summer and cool in winter. We avoid the hot months because it has less favourable winds and is just too hot for us to tolerate. In winter the daylight hours are too short although winds may be favorable. If we got permission to fly a kite after sunset then our flying months may include May June July and August.
We have flown in March, April, September and October but September seems to offer the best prospects of good winds to high altitude plus it is more pleasant for us. In the image below, you can see a narrow field which is a disused airstrip built by a previous owner. In 2009, Steve Viant cleared the scrub either side of the strip to create a 1.2 x 1.5 km field with scattered medium sized trees. There is now an open section about 500 meters wide with few trees. The open spaces now allow better positioning of the winch so line sag is not a such a problem.
In the first few years it was often difficult to keep the kite out of the trees on launch. When a kite comes down it can be difficult to locate in dense scrub as there are often no tracks nearby. It is also very easy to become lost and disoriented as the millions of trees and bushes look the same. The terrain is gently undulating with large flat expanses so it hard to see the terrain beyond 100 metres. When it rains more than a few mm the red soil becomes mud and cars will bog easily. Even 4 x 4's will struggle when over 10 mm of rain falls. Rain is irregular but has impacted severely on the record attempts on 3 out of 6 occasions. This may be because the season chosen to fly kites is unstable, that is, early to mid-spring when cold meets hot air. Cable Downs is a dry land farming zone with marginal rainfall so can be subject to water shortages. During periods of drought the dust, locusts and flies have made the strip a harsh place on which to fly big kites. Steve and Karen's hospitality more than make up for the hardships. It can be a place for very violent thunderstorms, especially in spring, but we have the woolshed to retreat to and we now bunk in there. The clear nights allow us to view a spectacular night sky like nothing we will ever see in the city. The kite altitude record attempts have become more than just the quest to beat the world record. It enables us to glimpse the life of people in remote communities. We can experience a degree of isolation, see how fortunate we are to have plenty of water and sniff the essence of another facet of Australian life. Even if we didn't break the record I will have come away richer for visiting this remote sheep station, Cable Downs.
Below: From the eastern end of the strip in 2007. The green appearance hides a deceptively dry country.