Kites and the

Rainbear Skydive Corps

(parafauna, bear dropping, skydiving teddy bears, fluted sled kites)

"The earth.... the sky.... the wind between...."

Contact Rainbear Skydive Corps:

Up With Kites! Down With Bears!

Kites and ParaFauna

"Rainbear Sky Dive Corps Training Manual - Mark I"

Another of my favorite activities (since 1993) is designing, making and flying power lifting kites as launching platforms for The Rainbear Skydive Corps, a disorganized and not always cooperative group of parachuting teddy bears, who along with related soft animal friends of theirs, are known as "parafauna". As the nominal "Commanding Officer" of the group (I say nominal because the bears really aren't much for taking orders), I spend a great deal of time in this activity. I'm fortunate enough to be asked to travel about in the summer, performing with the Corps at kite festivals. In the winter, I travel to kite clubs and conferences to teach classes on some of the kites I have been most successful with, such as fluted sleds (a design on which I have done quite a bit of developmental work and which I believe is probably the best power-lifting kite yet), as well as classes on the design of parachutes and rigging.

I wrote "The Rainbear Skydive Corps Training Manual", a 90 page compilation of information on parabear skydiving and the fluted sled kite. It was out of print for awhile, but I managed to collect an almost complete copy and have it converted to PDF format. Somehow, the last few pages, which contained only comments, no instructions or diagrams, were lost. However, the existing 84 page work stands as a complete presentation on making fluted sled kites, parachutes and packs and the related paraphernalia required to send teddy bears aloft and bring them back down safely. The PDF copy of the book is available for $10. ( email: )

I keep a kite bag with flutes of 8, 16, and 30 sq. ft. in it. With these, I can fly in any weather. In good winds, the 30' (my favorite) will launch 5 to 8 pound bears and it will launch 1 lb. bears in as light winds as will fly it. I have been the only kite aloft in 30 mph winds with the 8'. I once built a 120 ft. flute, even though friends on both sides of the world asked me not to. They were right, it was a downright dangerous kite and I passed it on to someone braver than I. I recently built a 40 sq. footer, which is a nice kite, not too much to handle in moderate winds but at 8' in length, is awkward to transport. Currently (June 2013), I am experimenting with ways to stack small flutes or sail them in a train... initial efforts are promising and info will be published here when I'm satisfied.


Some Rainbear Skydive Corps Pix


Amelia Bearheart, about to make a perfect landing on a camper!




Another nice bear jump by John Bearymore



Fluted Sled Kite

I learned of this kite, which had been developed in a small form by Helen Bushell, of Australia, from Vi Weeks of Washington. I should also give credit to Margaret Greger, who made some design changes to Helen's original plan. I did some massive scaling up and redesign of construction techniques, and a couple of years of experimenting with the performance of various sizes and proportions. I ended up with a design that I think is (maybe "was") one of the most powerful and stable kites available for use with scientific instruments and aerial cameras. Of course, this was back in the days when if you wanted a good photo from aloft, you sent your $1000 Nikon or Rollie up. Nowadays, a digital camera can go up on just about anything that flies. Fortunately for the popularity of the fluted sled, teddy bears have shown no inclination to diet and the chubby little devils still take a stable, powerful lifting kite to get up to parachuting altitude.


Testing the set-up on a 120 sq. ft. Fluted Sled kite, the largest of this design so far successfully built and flown. It once took three large guys 30 minutes to bring down a 30 sq. footer when we left if up a bit too long in a freshening wind. If you aren't careful, this one can lift you off the ground! 


Making a Fluted Sled Kite

This link takes you to an extensive presentation onthe making of my 40' sled and it's first flight.


My Kite Making Shop

As I got back into kite making, it became apparent that I needed dedicated space for it. Since age and arthritis are limiting my ability to do heavier work in my shop, I decided to do some basic "re-engineering" based on getting rid of some of the larger wood working tools to create space for some kite work. Here are some pix:



This wall was parking space for a table saw, sawdust collector and drum sander. It's now a cutting surface and sewing machine space plus storage for various kite making tools and materials.






This picture was added a bit later, as the shop became better organized (still aways to go) and a new Brother industrial needle feed machine was added.



Here's the first shop project with the new sewing machhine, a banner for the Corps:



Basic Dropping Operations of the Rainbear Skydive Corps

This is a put together collection of pictures of the Corps in operation. I found I didn't have a nice complete picture set of one drop from setup to retrieval. Hopefully, this is the next best thing and may answer some questions...

Dropping techniques are extremely varied. A simple system might be one where the kite is lowered, the bear fastened on with a tether release line, then the kite is raised with release occuring when the tether line runs out. More advanced systems range from timer devices to advanced radio control systems. The basic concept for the RSC operation consists of a doubled kite line run through three pulleys. Two pulleys are on the ground, spread apart. The third pulley is aloft. This makes a large triangle of moveable kite line. A separate long kite line, or leader, runs from the aloft pulley to the kite. A spring release mechanism is fastened to one side of the triangle pulley line. When the other side of that line is pulled, the mechanism rises until it hits the aloft pulley, which triggers the spring mechanism and drops the bear. Once the bear is retrieved, the release mechanism can be pulled back down and the bear, chute repacked, reloaded. You never need to lower the kite to drop another bear and you have complete control so that you can always give that last or releasing tug to the line when the kite is at its maximum height.



Operation begins with the placing of two steel stakes that will hold the triangulated kite line.

With the stakes placed approx. 20 feet apart, one of the pulleys on the kite line is fastened to one of the stakes and the line is then walked all the way out, unwinding as you go. My most frequently used lines are a 600' piece of 160#, 250# or 500# (depends on wind/kite size) doubled so that the distance from the stake to the pulley that will go aloft is 300'. The leader, another 75' to 100' piece, goes from that pulley to the point the kite bridle will be fastened to. As described above, the bear will be raised to the aloft pulley and released. The extra long piece of line above the pulley allows the kite to stay well above the bear's weight to improve stability.

(Note: It is very important that all line connections include a high quality, very strong swivel to avoid recurrent twists accumulating in the line and weakening it.)

Once the whole line is wound out, the next step is to fasten the kite to the leader and allow the kite to take air and rise. Most often, with the sled, it takes right off. Depending on wind force and regularity, I may just let it go (quite thrilling!) or I may walk back on the line as it rises. Once it is up, it is flying attached to a single stake with the line doubled. I then go back to the stakes and separate the two lines, pulling the other ground pulley over to the other stake and fastening it. This leaves the kite flying on a huge triangle of kite line that is free to move through the pulleys. The bear releasing mechanism is fastened to one side of the triangle. When the line on the other side is pulled, the release mechanism goes up until it hits the aloft pulley. The release mechanism is activated by the pressure of the line pulling the mechanism against the pulley. Once the bear has jumped and been recovered, you pull on the opposite side of the triangle of line to bring the mechanism down for reloading.



Here is a drawing of the entire launch system, taken from the Rainbear Skydive Corps Training Manual



Steel stake with "pounding boss" welded onto its top.



Here is a sled aloft and you can see the separation of the two sides of the triangle of line very well. Unfortunately, the angle of the photo is such that it appears the kite is fastened where the lines meet. It isn't; it's on a very long leader way above that point.



Next is to fasten on the bear dropping mechanism. There are many variations of these. I designed and built this one more than 20 years ago and have used it ever since.

The caribiner is just a stop for the release mechanism to butt against The vertical bar at the front has a hook on the bottom that is holding the horizontal bar at the bottom in place under pressure from the spring. Note the four holes in the frame above the bottom bar. Four bears can be hung on the bar (takes a lot of wind!). When he mechanism reaches the top it butts up against the aloft pulley, the vertical bar is then pressed backwards, releasing the bottom bar to pivot on the bolt at the rear bottom corner. The bear or bears then slide off of the bar and fall. Each bear has a pull cord in his parachute that is fastened to screw eyes on the other side of the wooden block. The weight of the falling bears pulls the pin and pull cord out of the parachute pack, releasing the chute to open.

Over the years, I have found that multiple bear drops are problematic... bears can tangle with each other on the way up if the trip is rough. Nowadays I generally drop one bear, using the forward hole for light bears and the rear hole for the heaviest bears, so that there is minimal stress on the front bar release.




Here's Amelia Bearheart hooked up and ready to go aloft...

And here she is half way up. Out of sight on the ground, I am pulling on the other side of the triangle of line, causing Amelia to go up.



Amelia's jump was successful and I am repacking her parachute. Helprul hint: The kids will pressure you to drop every bear you have as fast as you can. Don't do it! You'll end up with 8 or 9 chutes to pack at once, a half hour's work. Repack chutes as they are used.



Here's a good drop caught in mid-air... not as easy to do you might think. This is Douglas Bearbanks Jr. He's gotten his shrouds twisted, but he's very experienced and will have them straightened by the time he lands.




Here's what it's really all about... kids retrieving bears :^)


It never fails... the kids will grab the bear by his legs and pull him back to base against the pressure in the parachute. I wonder why all my bears keep getting taller!?


What goes up must come down...

There is too much pressure in these kites to just pull or wind them down. Proper technique is to unfasten one of the ground pulleys from its stake, creating the original doubled line again, then hook a large opening pulley to the line and walk it down. Once it's down, roll up the kite and rewind the line onto its spool or winder, ready for the next outing.


I mentioned somewhere above that I am beginning to experiment with stacked flutes. This is the first try... two 15' flutes. I made a small slit in the back of the bottom flute. There is a 25' leader on the bridle of the top flute, fed through the slit and tied off to the bridle point of the bottom flute. This was basically successful, I had about the same power as with a 30' flute. However, the bottom one was not as stable as I would want it to be. After doing some research on stacking, I see that I needed a 100' leader for the top kite, which will be my next experiment. Once this is worked out I will probably build two 20' flutes, 4x5, that will be quite flexible as to wind speed and pack up conveniently in the Subaru wagon that has replaced my van. The new 8' tall 40' flute is quite awkward to transport.


Note added later: I finally got to experiment further with this and found it unsatisfactory, too complicated to rig and launch in any wind and the lower kite remained unstable even with 100' separation.



Simplified Low Altitude Dropping System of the Rainbear Skydive Corps

The growth of trees at our favorite park, Golden Gardens, has made dropping with our traditional system somewhat iffy. We have to keep the dropping altitude low to avoid having bears drift into the trees and the heavier bears barely get their chutes deployed before they land. I decided to face these issues by developing a dropper system that would let the chute deploy much faster. I also recruited a new Corps of lighter bears and equipped them with a new harness and parachute shroud system. Here is a link to some narrative and a picture series of a drop with the new system.

Link to Simplified Dropping System



A Good Drop Day at Golden Gardens, July 15, 2013

(Photos in this Section Courtesy of Donna Murphy)



First use of our new banner!


Posed with today's crew: John Quincy Bear, Douglas Bearbanks Jr. and Bearon VonOops


This is somewhat later, in the heat of full ops. Douglas Bearbanks Jr. is rigged to go aloft, the Baron has finished his jump and had his chute repacked. John Quincy is with the other bears as the day's wind turned out to be a bit heavy. There was fear he might drift out of the safe drop area. Note the Bearmobile just to my right under my arm. This is a runner's baby carriage rigged to carry all the Corp's gear from the car out onto the fields.



Ann, Mrs. Captain, works very hard in support of the Corps!



A Complete Set of Jump Pix from the Above Outing

(Photos in this Section also Courtesy of Donna Murphy)


Bearon von Oops heads aloft


Half way up. We had to get very high to get clean wind. Kite is at 400'. Jump point is the usual 200


Almost all the way up...


The Bearon's chute was slightly delayed in opening, resulting in a HALO jump... High Altitude, Low Opening.




But, being the skilled parachutist he is, the Bearon remained calm and opened the chute just above treeline. If you look very closely, you can see his static line dangling from the jump point on the line.


A perfect landing!


A very small bear chaser is recovering the Bearon, with some help from his dad.


Miles, our young bear chaser, with his dad. I think dad was more tickled to get a bear chaser badge than Miles was :^) Everybody smiles when the Corps is in action... it's really wonderful.




Some of Last Year's Flying Activity

Two Excited Kids Retrieving Bears

Magnusen Park, Seattle - Sept. 5, 2012




Flying at Semiahmoo - Sept. 7, 2012

Single panel flute high right, double panel flute left, Phantom of the Opera sled low right.




This is an excellent picture of the standard (15 ft.) fluted sled in flight.



This is just an "art" kite, a simple sled as opposed to the fluted sled. A plain sled like this makes a wonderful platform for "painting in the sky".



Kite Hill - Magnuson Park

Oct. 2, 2012



10 foot double delta conyne


Cody War kite -

In WW I kites of this design were used to lift observers over the trenches and over convoys to look for submarines.



Note the beautiful background of our flying hill.


After playing with those two, we got down to the bear parachuting. This is one of my fluted sleds at elevation, about 350 ft.


Here it is through a telephoto lens. You can see that it is supported by what appears to be two lines. Actually, it is one continuous line running through two pulleys on the ground and one aloft at the vee below the kite.


Here is Bearon von Oops, dressed to drop. He, and the wooden carrier, are on one arm of the running kite line. Ann is at the other ground pulley ready to hoist him aloft.


This is Amelia Bearheart going up. You can clearly see both arms of the lifting line.


And here's Amelia coming down and doing a spin in her shrouds. She always has to show off!.


A full afternoon of kite flying is hard work...




Some Older Kite Pix (and one newer one)


A friend, and internationally known kite maker, named Don Mock once gave me a sack of nylon scraps "too small to be used". I built "Mockery" from them. It is 12 1/2' high x 7 1/2' wide.  The three tails are from the same scrap bags and are 135' long. People seeing this kite suggested I try doing a patchwork quilt, and thus opened up two whole new activity for me... quilting and antique sewing machines. Since quilting is a traditional activity, it seemed to call for a traditional approach, and all of my quilts are made on antique treadle sewing machines.

It's a shame this is the only pic I have of Mockery in flight. However, some 20 years after building the kite, I decided that it was too much kite for me to manage physically any more and decided to cut the skin up and use it to build a reduced size Mockery Jr. This kite came out at 8' x 6' and was test flown Oct. 26, 2013 on a gray sky day with a 10 mph plus wind. I used the old bridle which turned out to be a bad idea, though the kite flew anyway. She'll get a new bridle and will be a terrific flyer...




This kite was made for a Methodist church, and was featured world-wide in the kite and church press. It was also both the cover and June picture for that year's Methodist calendar. It is 8 1/2' high by 6' wide.


Amelia, the Baron and the Captain, ready to fly

I plead innocent! Ann insisted I post this just to show you how crazy I really am. This is the well dressed bear dropper ready to hit the beach. The back pack holds various reels of kite line and additional bears. Careful study will reveal the big iron stake tied to the sideof the pack frame. There is another stake on the other side, and a short handled sledge hammer in the pack. The two largest bears, Amelia Bearheart and Baron von Oops, hang outsidethe pack, one on either side. The long black case holds about six kites, ranging from a 30 sq. ft. to smaller stuff. Note the crash helmets on the bears for safety and on bear dropper in case the bears have bad aim This set up is called for because the parking is often pretty far from the actual flying area. The pack weighs about 40 pounds. (Note: This pic is 20 years old!)




Captain Dick

Commander: Rainbear Skydive Corps


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