Last up date:1998/08/01
History of Kites

"History of Kites" was copied from "Kite Crazy" published by Deepak Sahasrabudhe SOMA film & video

Kites have a long and colourful history as much more than toys. They have been used for military purposes, for hunting, fishing, scientific investigation, even as a means of contact with the heavens.


Although they were probably independently developed in many areas of the world, kites almost certainly first originated in China more than two thousand years ago. Legends abound to explain their origin, everything from runaway boat sails to a farmer's hat being carried off by the wind and retained by the string around his neck. Although they may have derived from the pennons or banners flown by important people in the Middle, Ages.
Predating the invention of paper, the first kites would have been covered with cloth sails and soon were widely employed for strategic purposes, particularly by the military.
In one of the earliest recorded uses of a kite, in 196 BC. Chinese General Han Hsin flew a kite over the palace he was engaged in besieging, enabling him to calculate the distance be4veen his troops and the palace walls. Armed with this knowledge, he had a tunnel dug and entered undetected.
Oriental kites are commonly equipped with devices that produce noise, such as whizzers and hummers, but they can also be fitted with whistles or pan pipes, producing more melodious sounds.
Even this musical capability was turned to military use.

During the foundation of the Han dynasty (circa 200 BC) a general engaged in defending the crumbling reign of Emperor Liu Pang found himself hemmed in by his enemies.
At his wit's end for a means of escape, he conceived a last desperate plan. Over the enemy camp, in the dead of night, he flew kites equipped with metal strings stretched over an aperture. Hearing the unearthly sound of the wind through the strings high above, the enemy soldiers took fright, believing it to be a warning of impending danger from their guardian angels, and so they flyed.
As it spread throughout Asia, the kite found many practical uses. In Indonesia and the Pacific archipelago, fishing kites made of palm leaves were used to suspend lines and hooks out beyond the breakers, casting no tell-tale shadows to frighten the fish.
Soaring above the earth into the heavens" the kite became deeply bound up in religion and mythology. In Bali, where kites play an Important role in Hindu rituals, and offerings are made to the god of kites before flying, they are offered as "prayers on the wind" to bring good fortune.
In some parts of Polynesia, the kite was thought of as a means of contact with the gods and in some cases to represent tale external souls of gods and men.

In Japan, as in China, the kite rose to heights of sophistication and beauty unequalled in the West. Person-carrying kites are recorded countless times, carrying airborne archers, or for observation, and sometimes bearing unwilling passengers .
In China, in 1282, Marco Polo gave an account of how before commencing a voyage, the crew would bind a ulan, "some foof or drunkard", to a large kite and send it aloft.
If it went straight up into the sky it augured a quick and prosperous voyage. But if it failed to rise, no merchant would risk sailing on the vessel.
A more humane, though equally risky feat is recorded In the legend of Tametomo, a famous samurai warrior exiled to the island of Hachijo Determined that his son should escape back to the mainland, he constructed a large kite, and so the story goes, sent his son aloff and across the sea. To this day the traditional Ha(;h4o kite still be?ars the likeness of Tametomo.
In a more prosaic Japanese application, the if lifting ability of large kites was used to raise large baskets of brick and tileds to workmen building towers.
A kite powerful enough to lift heavy weights must be large. and indeed huge kites have been known in China and Japan since antiquity. The Japanese Wan-wan, developed at the turn of the century, reached a width of 24 m (60ft), with a tail of 146m (480ft) and weighed approxirylately 2.80 tonnes (3tons).
Curiously, the first generally reliable system of person-lifting kites was not developed in the West until the late nineteenth century, and no western kites have approached the size of the Chinese and Japanese giants.


Compared to kite development in Asia, western kites remained relatively crude until the nineteenth century. Early pennon kites developed from the wind-sock banners that had been flown by armies since the time of the Roman Empire. Borne on a pole, the carved dragon heads of the banners sometimes carried torches to spit fire and terrify the enemy, while a cloth tube billowing out behind enhanced the illusion of a flying monster and also helped the archers judge the strength of the wind.
By the fifteenth century, a flat, rectangular pennant kite, flown by a string, appears to have been wellknown in Europe, but through the influence or erode with the East, it was supplemented by the pear-top and rhomboid-shaped designs.
By the seventeenth century, kites were commonplace, used for loft in a tail of firecrackers skyward in public spectacles, but otherwise little more than a diversion for children.

A hundred years later, kite flying had become a popular sport, particularly in France, where competition became so heated that opposing teams of fliers rioted in 1736. This event led the authorities to ban kite flying in public places for quite some time.
The shape most commonly associated with kites, the classy(; trapezoidal Malay, was Introduced into the West in the 1890s by an American, William Eddy.
Eddy designed his own version, based on what he had heard or seen of a buoyant Malaysian kite. But a kite of this shape hod been flown throughout Malaysia, Indonesia and Java for centuries.


Despite the popularity and great cultural significance of kites in Asia, it was not until the middle of the eighteenth century that they became the subject of serious attention for scientific applications in Europe.
By that time physicists and meteorologists had discovered experimental uses for kites, beginning a long process of development that continued into the twentieth century. In 1752, in the most famous scientific application, Benjamin Franklin flew a silk-covered kite in a thunderstorm, conducting the lightning down the wet heine and through a key suspended bellow. By this means he proved his theory that lightning was identical to the electric charge he could produce experimentally by friction in a glass sphere.
After this, members of the "Franklin Kite Club", founded in Philadelphia, subsequently used kites for making electrical and meteorological readings. But it was not until the nineteenth century that the general fascination with science and experimentation led Western pioneers to improve on the simple shapes known at the time.
This enabled them to make kites that could fly higher, pull or lift objects, and be employed in ways very similar to their ancient uses in the East.
In 1825, George Pocock developed a kite that could tiff an adult up to 100 m (325 ft.) in the air. Using four-line "dirigible", or steerable kites. he also devised a kite-drawn carriage that antonished the inhabitants of rural England as he bowled along the roads around Bristol without the help of horses.
In 1847, a competition was held among upper New York State children to establish a connection across the Niagara River gorge. A young boy spanned the 250 m (800 ft.) gorge with his kite line and a series of heavier lines, and eventually cables were drawn across, allowing work to begin on the first railway suspension bridge connecting Canada and the United States.

The development of the box kite in 1893 by Lawrence Hargrave, represented a significant advance in design. A by-product of his attempts at powered flight, the box kite had unparalleled stability and great lifting power. It remained the standard kite for meteorological survey well into the 1920s. More importantly, it played a large part in the development of early aircraft. A remarkable man, Hargrave refused to patent his inventions, believing in the free dissemination of knowledge so that anyone could benefit from his discoveries.

For over a century, a parade of ingenious, brave and frequently colourful characters pursued the dream of flight. One of the most colourful was Samuel Franklin Cody, a show-man of the "Wild West" who toured the music halls of England in the 1890s.
In his Stetson and fringed buckskins, with long flowing hair and beard and flamboyant style, he traded on his resemblance to his friend. the famous Buffalo Bill Cody.
Having become fascinated by kites, he turned his considerable energies to experimentation. Although possessing an undoubted flare for self-promotion, Cody was a man of great intelligence, courage and perseverance. He crossed the English Channel in a boat pulled by kites of his own design and eventually developed a man-lifting kite whi(;h was adopted by the War Office for army observation.
The Cody War kite system was not a giant single kite, but employed a train of box kites with bat-like wing extensions.
Thus supported. a basket carrying a passenger could be raised high into the air .
The last years of the nineteenth century saw a fevered rush toward manned flight.
In pursuit of a flying machine, Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, began experimenting with kites.

Building on Hargrave's box-kite principle, he constructed huge, multi-celled compound kites with relatively little success insofar as aviation history is concerned. However, his major innovation, still made and flown today, was the highly stable tetrahedral kite. Each cell is in the shape of a cellular tetrahedron, utilizing the structural strength of trian war cells.
All this time, the Wright Brothers were carefully experimenting, developing a biplane kite, resembling the Hargrave box kite. They used control lines to warp the wings, a key feature in their aeroplanes where the aviator controlled the unstable lifting surfaces to keep the plane flying.
It is no wonder that by World War I planes were commonly referred to as "kites". When flight was in its infancy they were, in fact, little more than power-driven kites. The goal of flight achieved, aeronautics saw rapid development while the fascination with kites as an object of scientific experiment diminished.
Some practical applications continued. Kites were used by the military for aerial target practice, for raising distress beacons at sea, and for barrage protection of shipping convoys. A series of wire lines hung from huge kites deterred enemy pilots from strafing the vessels sailing below. Most importantly, box kites were used by the United States Weather Bureau for gathering atmospheric data until well into thel930s, when they were supplanted by the use of weather balloons and airplanes.
Enthusiasts continued to make and fly kites, experimenting with new designs, but they faded from popular notice Kites no longer captured the popular imagination as they had during the fevered rush toward night ftnd for many, their status once more reverted to that of a child's toy.


It was not until the fifties that another quantum leap in kite design took place with the invention of the flexible-kite by Francis Rogallo of NASA. The principles he discovered have been very influential in modern kite deraign and his flexible wing kite resulted directly in the modern sport of hang gliding.
Rogallo worked toward the elimination of rigid spurs, believing the aircraft should conform to the flow of the wind, rather than the wind conforming to the form of the aircraft. This led him to the invention of a limp wing. a totally unsupported sail capable of holding its shape solely by means of the distribution of the air load on the kite surface. In his work for NASA he developed a series of parawings, sophisticated steerable parachutes, for the controlled landing of returning space capsules.

The next development was the Allison or Scott sled, a semi-rigid canopy kite relying on the wind to give lateral support and hold the canopy open.
The bridle is attached to the lateral extremities, holding thrum down to form keels. In the 1960s the Gayly Kite Company of Texas independently developed and marketed a plastic kite in the distinctive delta-wing design. Their single-line, keeled delta spawned a host of imitators and established the delta as a popular kite form.
A true innovation is the paraffin invented by Domino Jabbers of Florida. Incorporating balloon, parachute, aerofoil and kite featureds, the paraffin has tremendous lifting capability. Apart from military uses in moving payload and as a parachute, the porafoil is popular in sporting applications.

With no rigid spurs, the wing is corn osed of two surfaces joined by a series of fabric ribs.
Wind enterlug the leading edge of the wing sets up an internal pressure which maintains the critical airfoil shape. Loteral stability is maintained by triangular ventral fins on the bottom surface of the kite, held tout by shroud lines from which the kite is flown.
The last two decades have seen a great resurgence in interest in kite flying as both hobby and sport, particularly in the area of steerable or stunt-kite flying, an exciting sport that requires skill and fast reactions.
In competition, fliers vie to execute a program of compulsory figures and (creative freestyle flying. Most stunt-kite designs are based on Rogallo's flexible surface principle. New variations, offering higher precision, faster speeds and capable of handling a wide variety of wind ranges, come on the market frequently.
Using two or more lines, the stunt flier steers the highly manoeuvrable kite by altering the angle with which the surfaces meet the wind.
Dual-line stunt kites have two steering lines connected to the left and right sides of the kite by a bridle. Four-line, or quad, kites control not only the right and left pitch of the kite, but the angle at which it meets the wind, or the angle of attack. This makes the kite even more responsive to the flier, but requires a higher degree of skill in handling.

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