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Kite History

It is thought that the earliest use of kites occurred among the Chinese. They created aerodynes (heavier-than-air aircraft deriving lift from motion) that took on the shape of birds. Using bird shapes was the most logical way for man to begin flying in any mode, as birds are the biggest flying creatures around.

chinese bird kite image
No one knows exactly how or who invented the first kite. One legend has it that a farmer's hat blew from his head in a gust of wind. He tied a string to it to keep it close. The next time it blew off it remained airborne. The Chinese made a holiday of kite flying. The day is called the festival of Ascending on High. It is held annually on the ninth day of the ninth month.

General Han Hsin found a military use for kites when he flew one over an enemy compound and used the length of the kite string to gauge the distance his men would be required to tunnel in order to get inside. It was not long before men were actually being lifted off the ground by kites. Marco Polo in 1282 when he returned from a stay in China commented on seeing men being flown in kites from the decks of ships.

Kites spread abroad slowly in ancient and Medieval times because of the slow means of communication and travel. Japan saw its first kites in about 700 A.D. Buddhist missionaries brought them when they made their transit of the Sea of Japan. They may have been a religious symbol for transcending our earthly sphere. The Japanese found a practical use for kites in lifting materials up to craftsmen who were working in high places. In Japan kite flying became so popular that each of its regions has its own unique kite design.

Kite fighting became a popular sport. The object of kite fighting is to cut the string of the opponent's kite. To do this ground glass was stuck to the kite-string with paste. Kite fighting is still practiced all around the world.

While all of this went on in Asia, the Greeks were doing their own experimentation with kites. The first recorded kite flight occurred in about 400 B.C. Like the first Chinese kites, this one was modeled on bird physiognomy. It was developed by Archytas and was called the Dove of Tarentum.

The Romans are thought to have borrowed the idea of wind socks in battle. They were used as both a standard and an indicator of wind direction to aid in the accuracy of archers. It did not take long for the industrious and engineering Romans to detach the wind socks from poles and make kites.

Diamond kites had become popular throughout most of Western Europe by the 1600s. The idea was imported from Malaysia, where explorers and traders had found them used by the natives. This is the style that we find most familiar today.

In the age of enlightenment kites became a tool for scientific experimentation. Alexander Wilson, a Scotsman, used kites to take thermometers high into the atmosphere to measure temperatures far above sea level. Of course, the American, Benjamin Franklin famously used kites to prove that lightening was a charge of electricity. He also used kites to move himself across a pond while standing on a plank. Such experiments led George Pocock of Bristol, England, in 1826 to invent the Char Volant which was a carriage towed by several kites. However, this vehicle never caught on as a primary means of transportation because of the difficulties in steering and propulsion against the wind. Today kite buggies are used for sport on open terrain from desert and ice to water.

Kites were soon the object of experimental human flight. One of the first people to make progress was B.F.S. Baden-Powel, an officer in the Scots Guard. His kite was called the "Levitor" and it was designed to carry men high enough to see over enemy lines. His kite was also used to carry Marconi (the developer of the wireless radio) up over 400 feet to accomplish the first ever trans-Atlantic radio broadcast.

three-celled box kite image
Lawrence Hargrave, an Australian, used box kites as a stable design that would carry scientific instruments aloft. Soon these kite designs also carried people aloft. His experiments had tremendous impact on later aircraft design. S.F.S. Cody, a Texan transplanted to England, further developed the Hargrave design, building-man lifters which proved moderately successful. However, he was killed in 1913 trying out one of his designs.

During the Second World War, kites were developed as towed targets for anti-air gunnery practice. In 1948 Francis Rogallo developed the flexible delta wing, which was supposed to be used for the recovery of rocket boosters used in satellite launches. Later this design was the launching pad for the development of hang-gliders.

The parafoil, was invented in 1963 by Domina Jalbert. It was a mixture of kite and parachute. It was highly unusual for a kite because it did not need a rigid support structure and could be folded up into a relatively small and flexible size. Kite design soon accelerated. New, strong and lightweight materials, such as ripstop nylon, fiberglass and carbon fibers, would create a revolution in kite design. Steerable kites, stacked kites, flexi-foils, ship-kites, and stunt-kites all have become popular and can be found by kite enthusiasts in kite shops all around the country.

Next Page

The Story of Richard Babley
How to Make Your Own Diamond
Us Flying a Diamond
Delta Kite Design
Delta Kite Test Flight
Box Kite Design
Box Kite Test Flight
How to Fly a Kite

KiteFlyerInfo.com was created primarily to highlight some original kite designs using basic materials such as newspapers, dowels, and packing tape. But it has also become a repository of other useful information about kite flying. Use the navigation links at the top of the page to find out about some of the many different kinds of kites. Just above are links to some of our kite designs as well as some interesting info we have gathered.

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