Waiting for the slightest puff of wind, Mix McGraw tensed, gripping
the red-and-black handles of the control lines attached to a train
of 75 kites stretched across a soccer field.
It's nearly impossible to fly a kite when there's no wind. But on
a recent afternoon at Fremont's Central Park, McGraw intended to show
the skills that have enabled him to set a number of kite-flying world
the past two decades, McGraw, an engineer at Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale
and a San Jose resident, has set five of the six world records for
flying the most number of kites at once.
And on Oct. 4 at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force
Base in Dayton, Ohio, McGraw set a new mark for the Guinness Book
of World Records by flying 230 kites at a time -- in a train 192 feet
A hint of a breeze, and McGraw tugged on the lines, lifting the lead
kite into the air; the others instantly followed. "The
moment you stand the kites up, they're ready to jump,"
ran backward to keep the assembly aloft in the limp air. He tugged on
the left control line, and the kites circled to the left; a pull on the
right line sent them into a turn that way. After a few brief moments,
about as long as the Wright Brothers' first flight a century ago, McGraw
tripped and the flight ended.
McGraw's wife, Pat, and kite-flying friend Achilles Gagliano of San Jose
aligned the kites with the shifting breezes for another attempt.
You need at least a 10 mph wind to keep these
75 kites in the air, McGraw explained. But
75 kites is no longer a big deal. It takes a lot more wind to keep up
53, started flying kites in the early 1980s. He had gone to Ghirardelli
Square in San Francisco, intending to buy a stuffed-animal toy for
his daughter, but ended up in a kite shop "and
the rest is history," he said
He began flying multiple kites, putting together 52 in a train to
set his first record in 1982.
saying you can't do it, that it's going against the laws of physics.
They felt it wasn't possible," McGraw said.
"It's really about going against the odds," he
said. "You can do anything you set
out to do if you stay positive, be focused and apply yourself."
In 1986, someone else flew 178 kites. McGraw responded
in 1988, flying 200 and 224 kites in San Francisco and then the
world record 253 kites at Ocean City, Md.
"It hasn't been challenged," McGraw said.
"There are a lot of fliers but nobody will even step up to
The problem with records on kite-flying, set following
American Kite Association rules, is that they're not well documented,
But setting a mark for the Guinness Book of Records "has a
paper trail," McGraw said. So he pursued that goal, flying
219 kites in the West Coast Stunt Championships in Berkeley in July
Then last month, he eclipsed his own Guinness record in Dayton,
McGraw's kites are modified versions of a stunt kite called the Hyperkite
Starfighter. They are delta-shaped, 9 by 11 inches, made of ripstock
nylon with birch frames.
He connects the kites with four lines, creating a train, with each
two spaced about 10 inches apart. Two control lines are attached to
the lead kite -- the one closest to the person flying the train. The
lead kite "takes quite a lot of punishment,"
McGraw uses 80-pound-test synthetic control lines for smaller stacks.
For the longest kite trains, he uses 400-pound-test Kevlar lines,
the same material used in bulletproof vests.
To launch such a huge assembly, McGraw said, "you
need about three football fields. That's how much space it takes up."
It takes McGraw and his wife about 45 minutes to lay out the kites
on their backs on the grass, in a straight line, perfectly aligned
with the flying lines connected.
Flying these kites is physically demanding, for in the air, the train
is "a monster," McGraw
said. Turning the huge train in 20 mph wind produces as much as 400
pounds of pull on the flier, dragging him along the ground when he
puts it into a turn.
The husky McGraw goes into a half squat, lowering his center of gravity,
which "gives you the ability to pull
twice your body weight," he said. Flying the kites
"just sucks all of the energy out of
When the trains are more than 150 kites, he has to overcome the "snake
factor." Because the winds were not very strong at Dayton, the
trailing end of the train whipped and wriggled around, making the
kite nearly uncontrollable.
Yet to set the Guinness record, McGraw had to fly for at least three
minutes and make one circle to the left and one to the right "to
show you have control and can maneuver." He stayed
up four minutes.
A year earlier when he set the previous record in Berkeley, 30 mph
winds had stabilized the kites, allowing him to stay aloft for eight
Next year, he hopes to fly 270 kites to break both his world and Guinness
McGraw says the wave of the future is indoor flying with kites made
of ultra-light material attached to 20-foot lines as thin as dental
floss that "just float in the air."
McGraw says kite flying "can generate
a positive image and message to young people, a make-it-happen, can-do
attitude. It is possible, even when everyone says you can't do it.
You can, but you have to have the right attitude."
McGraw's kite flying club, Teamskymasters, can be reached on the Internet
JOSE MERCURY NEWS - Frank
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