Rocky Mountain High Flyers Guild
Our project goal was us to build a Leonardo da Vinci wing with a 30 foot wingspan. We needed to build the wing, along with 100 smaller kites within the Piazza workshops around the Man. I believe we accomplished our goal.
During the preparations for the trip to
Burning Man we tried making our own kite kits. This did not go well, but we learned a lot about making kites. Specifically we learned we needed to have a nose and a tail on the kite. At that point we changed the idea of Leonardo da Vinci wings alone, into a Dragon kite with da Vinci wings. We bought very large pieces of Balsa wood of different density and strength, typically used for making surfboards. By carefully cutting the boards into different sizes and along the diagonal, we created the different pieces we needed for our wings and the center body section of the Dragon. We used an ammonia water mixture soak the boards before bending and drying them in a fixture 12 feet long, in order to give them the curved look in all of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings.
This being our first time going to Burning Man we read the whole guidebook and took all the precautions, including buying too much water. We packed my car trailer with all of this stuff and mistakenly put just bicycles in the bed of the pickup truck (not enough weight). When we first got on the road, just 10 miles up the highway passing a semi truck our trailer started to oscillate. I lost control and rolled my truck over the guard rail, twice. Fortunately the trailer and safety chain stopped us from going any further down the embankment. The trip to Burning Man stopped 25 minutes from home. Everyone survived the accident with just bumps and bruises and cuts from the broken glass.
After a visit for 4 of us to the hospital Tuesday morning, we went home to lick our wounds. The next morning I got up with the same urgency I had been getting up to get ready for Burning Man for the previous week. Our 2nd vehicle, a big motor home, was parked out front of my house and we took off for the towing yard. While at the towing yard, we took an assessment of the damage to see what survived and what didn’t survive the accident, and concluded it was simply the truck and trailer that did not survive. So we decided to rent a U-haul trailer, which was much smaller than my trailer, in order to get back on the road to Burning Man. We managed to repack into the U-haul trailer in about 5 hours. After talking to my wife, who was staying home to nurse her injured knee, we were on the road Wednesday evening with only a 5 person team, down from 8.
The trip out was uneventful compared to the previous week. We originally thought the driving time would take 30 hours, but thanks to Brandon’s driving through the night we got to the gate in less than 24 hours. As soon as we turned off the motor home in line we had a dead battery and proceeded to need a jump start just to keep moving in the line. Thankfully we met our first Ranger in line, who gave us that jump start and taught us the first rule of Burning Man, “Safety Third.” In line we broke out the musical instruments and partied for 3 hours as we inched up to the gate to prepare for our virgin dive into the dust. I guess with the all of our musical instruments out, the gate personnel thought we must have been coming here for years, and they didn’t even ask us if we were virgin burners. Therefore we got in without the customary roll in the dust.
After searching around in the dark for about 30 minutes, we found our campsite by asking enough neighbors if we were in the right place. We unloaded a few things like the propane grill we brought, made dinner and proceeded to check out the neighborhood. We had arrived at Burning Man only 24 hours behind schedule after losing the truck and trailer we spent one week packing. Fortunately we found one extra crew member willing to show up on only 2 days notice to help the project proceed.
The next day we met up with Hale at 9 AM to figure out where our work was and what she could tell us about the schedule, given the man was not even finished yet. We set-up our workshop Friday and began building the center section of the kite on Saturday. Fortunately we started the project without waiting for Sunday morning because when Sunday morning came, we were not allowed to work.
While waiting we did get a little partying in. That was a good thing, because the rest of the week became a more and more intensive work week, trying to finish the kite before Friday evening. We were working to a deadline of our workshop closing at 6 PM on Friday night. Making the small kit kites with people became what we did in the sandstorms, when work on the big kite seemed futile.
At first we worked from 10 until 8 PM then we worked from 10 until 12 Midnight, with a break for dinner. We finished the center piece Tuesday night and started the wings on Wednesday morning. By Thursday at midnight we had the cloth on both of the wings. We had great helpers who showed up when we needed them. The further along the kite became the more people understood what we were doing and the more they offered to help. We had helpers sewing, holding balsa wood pieces as we tied the kite together, and helping us put our
winch platform together.
By Friday morning I was at work in our workshop by 7:15 AM. Friday the wings needed to be stitched, painted with clear polyurethane and the LED lights needed to be stitched on as well. Thanks to help from Sabrina, Friday afternoon I got a location where we could fly the kite out near the lighthouses. Friday night in the sandstorm we move the workshop from the Piazza to our campsite. After dinner we worked until 3 AM, putting all 3 pieces of the kite together into the 25 foot long, 30 foot wingspan da Vinci Dragon kite. We knew we could not put the kite together in the workshop anyway, given the 10 foot spacing posts.
Saturday morning I went to get our anchors put in. It took until noon on Saturday for all the finishing touches to be completed. At that point we were ready to head out into the desert to catch the wind. When I get back to camp we loaded the kite on the U-Haul trailer upside down. It was an interesting ride through the crowds of people, who barely paid any attention to the art piece upside down on the trailer.
Arriving at the launch area we rolled the kite off the trailer onto its head and wing and over, in order to get it right side up. We kept the head of the Dragon down to ensure it did take off on its own until we anchored it to our winch. We installed the winch platform to the ground and connected the guy wire to the Dragon like a leash. The rest of the day just sat around talking to people while waiting to fly. Unlike every other day before there was no wind at 2 o’clock, no wind at 3 o’clock, no wind at 4 o’clock, no wind at 5 o’clock. We did get a dust devil that picked up the kite 10 feet in the air flipped it over and landed it on its head, snapping the Dragons neck. With some added rope we straightened out the center section, flipped the kite right side up, and we were ready to fly again.
Waiting all afternoon for the usual wind and sand storm from the South, things got dark sometime after 5 PM. A storm blew in and out of the West but we were ready. We moved the kite downwind, adjusted the ropes to ensure the kite flew higher this time, and readied the winch. When the storm did blew in it picked up the kite about 30 feet in the air, flipped it over 3 times and landed it hard upside down on the ground. The team tried futilely to flip the kite right side up again, but the wind was too strong. Then it rained for only a minute and behind the rain was a very cold wind. We got into a hug circle stood there for almost an hour waiting out the storm. After the hug circle broke up one point one of my team members skinned the Dragon in order to make a blanket for his girlfriend.
Two of the team members had left before the storm to get food and the fireplace to stay warm the desert that night. Just as the storm passed they arrived back to see the results of the dragon’s flight. We knew with a small trailer we were not going to be able to bring home the Dragon. So we planned on burning the Dragon on Sunday. I decided that since one wings had survived, not counting being skinned, we would take one wing home and burn the rest. This was Burning Man after all.
Burning the dragon became a serious task for Sunday. I stayed back to start the packing process while the rest of the team went out to party for the last time at Burning Man. On Monday I went to get the anchors taken out and we finished packing and cleaning our site by 2:30 PM. Then we made the mistake of getting in an 8 hour line to leave. The people we met in line were great but it was too long and there was no way to go back. We made it home early Wednesday morning. Then the cleaning began and lasted on and off for another 4 days.
I would like to thank Brandon for his hard work, reliability, great attitude, and willingness to tell me when he thought I was wrong. I would like to thank my wife Elise for cooking such yummy food that we got to eat for weeks even without her there to reheat it for us. I would like to thank Drew for his artistry expressed best by the head of the dragon. I would like to thank Ashley for her enthusiasm, having a different consume for every day of the week, and doing such a wonderful job making kites with people even in the dust storms. I would like to thank Kristi for her sewing skills and for living with the yurt we failed to bring her. I want to thank Karen and Will for all the stuff they packed and let us take with us even though they did not make it. I want to especially thank B for showing up on two days notice to work hard in the desert for a week as part of the team, as though he was part of the team from the beginning.
Burning Man was a great work week in the desert. If we go again we will be more prepared with our art piece and less over prepared to survive in the desert.
Ed VanDyne October 1st, 2016