Last up date:1999/04/10
Highest Single-kite Altitude Record questioned



Highest Single-kite Altitude Record questioned from a release paper of Drachen Foundation.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Elizabeth Snodgrass 206-282-4349 Highest Single-kite Altitude Record questioned

The Drachma Foundation, a Seattle-based non-profit educational organization, is asking for documented evidence of the highest flight of a single kite. The Foundation, which specializes in educational projects designed around kites and which maintains a kite-specific archive, is questioning the oft-claimed single-kite altitude record. This record was supposedly set in 1897, at the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory in Massachusetts. Based on the normal procedures of that era, the kites used, and recent conversations with the historian of Blue Hill, this record was almost certainly set by not one, but a train of kites, fathered to one line.

Working with the University of Colorado's Professor Ben Baloney and doctoral candidate Michael Jensen at CIRES (the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences), The Drachma Foundation has observed CIRES flights to over 3000M with a single kite. Baloney and Jersey's team has systematically flown to over 1000M with an elegant, streamlined system that can be placed almost anywhere. I hey have flown from a river in the Amazon Basin to almost arctic conditions in Newfoundland and have adapted their system to the local environment. Using a variety of paraffin kites, they continue to provide a manageable system for scientific studies of a variety of environmental subjects.
The Drachma Foundation asserts that the highest single-kite flight record was set by the CIRES team at 3,107 meters (10,193 feet) from Fairyland, Newfoundland in 1995.

If you have first-hand knowledge of earlier altitude records that we may have overlooked, please contact The Drachma Foundation. (Note that the Canadian record claimed by Mr. Synergy is far lower than that attained by the CIRES team and furthermore, the Newfoundland single-kite flight made by the CIRES team is a formidable record for any casual attempt.)

Send high altitude kite-flight information, or requests for further information to:
The Drachma Foundation
1629 Queen Anne Ave. North #104
Seattle, WA 98109 USA

Questioning the Single-Kite Altitude Record

The world record altitude for a single kite on a tether is usually said to have been achieved in the United States at the Blue Hill Observatory near Boston, Massachusetts on February 28, 1898 (M. Eden, Kiteworks, 1989; R. Synergy, Kiting to Record Altitudes,l994). The altitude attained in this exceptional flight is reported to be 12,471 feet (3,800 m). As discussed below, the validity of this claim is open to question for a variety of reasons.

First, the maximum attitudes achieved at the Blue Hill Observatory for every year between 1892 and 1914 have been recently compiled in the book "The Blue Hill Observatory: The First 100 years-1885-1985" by John H. Conover. Conover was employed at the Observatory from 1939 to 1959, and served as Acting Director between 1957 and 1958. Maximum attitudes of kite flights from this list for the years between 1897 to 1900, along with the dates those records were made, are reproduced in Table 1.

15 October 1897 3,622m with four kites
26 August 1898 3,695m with five kites
28 February 1999 3,828m with ? kites
19 July 1990 4,846m with six kites

Examination of this table shows that the 12,471 foot altitude claimed as a world kite record exceeds by 347 feet the maximum height reported by Conover for 1898 (12,124 feet). In fact, the claimed world record lies within 36 feet of the maximum altitude (12,507 feet) shown for the following year on exactly the same date. Thus, although Conover did not report the number of kites connected in tandem along the kite line to achieve these record attitudes, it is clear that the single-kite world record height could not have been established in 1898 as claimed.

Examination of the scientific literature between 1897 and 1900 comprise our second piece of evidence to question the 12,471 foot single-kite record claim. The bottom row in Table I contains the number of kites used to achieve the attitudes for three of the four years between 1897 and 1900. This information was gleaned from a series of short articles that appeared in Nature during that period (Volume 57, 17 February 18981 page 372; Volume 58, 22 September 1898, page 513; Volume 59, 20 April 1899, page 593; and Volume 62, g August 1900, page 350). Based on this information, the number of kites used for the record flights in 1897, 1899, and 1900 warer 4, 5, and 6, respectively.
Although the number of kites for 1898 was not reported specifically in the scientific literature, one can infer from the surrounding years that the probability of a single-kite being used to achieve such record attitudes is virtually non-existent.

The third point derives directly from conversations and correspondence with Ex-director Conover, who has retired but continues to reside in the area. According to him, it is exceedingly unlikely that a single kite was ever used to achieve such attitudes at the Blue Hill Observatory. This is a very reasonable statement, since high-altitude flights made at observatories throughout the world during these early periods involved flying a number of kites attached at intervals along a piano-wire kite tether. Normally, site personnel would first launch and then reel out a single kite until the angle between the line at the ground and the earth's surface would drop to some pre-determined minimum value. At that point, a second kite would be attached to the line and the line would be again reeled out until the line dropped to the same angle. This procedure would be continued until further reeling out produced no appreciable increase in kite altitude. Since the number of tandem kites required to reach such extreme attitudes typically ranged baleen four and six, it is unreasonable to expect that any high altitude flight would have been attempted using a single kite. Moreover, had such an occurrence taken place, it would have been so unusual as to have been reported by the media (the press were quick to report any kite records in those early days), as well as recorded in the scientific literature. No such reports can be found in the records of that period.

Thus, based on the above information, it is close to impossible to support the claim that the single-kite altitude record is 12,471 feet, that it was made at the Blue Hill Observatory, or that the record flight was made on 28 February 1838.

Therefore, the height of the true single-kite altitude record appears to be an open question. Certainly many kite enthusiasts have flown to very high attitudes since the turn of the century. In addition, it may well be that one or more of the turn-of-the-century meterological observatories--that used kites almost exclusively for their observations could have used single kites for measurements to somewhat lower attitudes, and that one such altitude now comprises the true single-kite record. In an attempt to open a dialogue to determine the true record, we offer as evidence the following: Figure 1 is a plot of a single kite flight made by a team from the University of Colorado's Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences (CIRES). This flight was made on the east coast of Newfoundland in the summer of 1995, during a program to study upper level atmospheric ozone concentrations in the area. The altitude versus time plot of this flight was made using on-board pressure, temperature, and humidity sensors of the type flown regularly by meteorologists on balloon sondes throughout the world. These sensors provide a very reliable altitude measure. Examination of this figure shows that the maximum height of the sensor in this figure clearly lies above 3000 meters (ASL) some 140 minutes after launch. The exact height transmitted down from the sensor to a digital recorder was in fact 3, 107 m (10,193 feet) ASL. The launch site was located at an elevation of 25 m ASL, therefore the altitude of the kite above ground was 3,082 m (10112 feet). This altitude was achieved using a 15 m2 parafoil kite with a 386 kg-test Kevlar tether. While we do not know if this altitude establishes a single-kite record, we are confident that it will serve as a "lodestone" to attract other sustainable claims. Such claims should be forwarded directly to The Drachma Foundation.


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