The Neatest Little Paper Ever Read ®

Issue 974

(Continued from front page)

• Kites were vital to the development of aircraft, with the first powered aircraft consisting of a large box kite with a motor fitted to it. In 1899, the Wright Brothers designed an experimental kite with a 5-foot wingspan that would aid them in their study of wind’s lift and drag effects on control of a biplane. By the following year, the brothers had designed a full-size glider based on their kite’s plans.

• In 1749, the first experiments to study the weather using kites were launched. The early tests used a kite to carry a thermometer to measure temperatures at high altitudes. By the 19th century, the U.S. Weather Bureau had established 17 kite observation stations, with kites transporting all sorts of meteorological instruments upwards of 8,000 feet to record air pressure, temperature, and humidity. The kites were a box type, constructed of spruce and a thin cotton cloth, with piano wire used for the strings.

• Telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell had a great zeal for aeronautics and kites, and experimented for many years with man-carrying kites. His creations consisted of a variety of geometric shapes, such as hexagons and tetrahedrons. In the early 1900s, Bell designed an enormous kite made of 1,300 four-sided cells covered in maroon silk, which was able to life a man 30 feet off the ground.

• Kites have been used for military operations for centuries. In ancient China, kites carrying gunpowder, along with a fuse and a burning stick of incense were used as weapons. In the 1600s, during a war in India, the line on a large kite was replaced with rope, enabling troops to scale the wall of a fort and overtake the guards. In 1855, the Russians used 12-ft. kites to tow torpedoes to a target. During the American Civil War, kites were used to deliver letters, newspapers, and other communications. Man-lifting kites were used during the Spanish-American War for enemy observation. Kites have proven valuable for delivering munitions and signaling troops.

• A kite proved beneficial in bridge construction in 1847. With plans underway to build the first bridge across the Niagara Gorge between Canada and the U.S., a contest was held to pull a cable across the gorge, a distance of 700 feet. The winner, American teenager Homan Walsh, attached a lightweight rope to his kite, which pulled a heavier rope, then another one and another until a steel cable reached the other side. Homan received a $10.00 prize for his efforts.

• Englishman Samuel F. Cody patented a man-lifting kite system in 1901, and became the first man to cross the English Channel towed by kites in 1903. He pitched his kites to the British Army, who purchased Cody’s “War Kites.” He followed up on this achievement by piloting a large box kite fitted with an engine. Tragically, in 1913, while testing a new design, the Cody Floatplane, the aircraft broke apart at 200 feet, and Cody was killed.

• During the Cold War, East Germany banned the use of large kites, fearing that people would be lifted over the Berlin Wall.

• The record for the most kites flown on a single line belongs to Japanese kitemaker. In 1990, 73-year-old Satao Harada launched 11,284 kites made of bamboo and polyethylene. It took three hours to launch them all, and the kites remained in the air for 18 minutes.

• Kite flying is not without its hazards, with an average of 12 people killed each year in kiting accidents. Wet kite lines pose a hazard, acting as a conductor for static electricity and lightning. Large kites have been known to lift the flier off the ground as well as dragging them into objects. Kite lines that have become tangled in electrical power lines have caused the electrocution death of the flier.