Kites: A brief History by Ireporter Amy
When one thinks of Easter in Guyana the first thing that usually comes to mind is “KITE”……Kite making, kite flying, Kite flying competitions. Well over a week before Easter Monday you can hear the familiar buzzzzzz of a kite “singing” overhead and see them dot the skies over various Parks and playgrounds, as kids off from School get into the spirit of the thing. The pavements become a rainbow of color as vendors display every shape, color and size of kite known to man and imagination. But…..how much do you really know about kites?
Brief History of Kites
The exact date and origin of the kite is not known but it is believed that they were flown in China more than two thousand years ago. One legend suggests that when a Chinese farmer tied a string to his hat to keep it from blowing away in a strong wind, the first kite was born. Another early account describes a wooden framed, bird-shaped kite built and flown in China around 500 B. C. It is also said that in 169 B. C. a Chinese general, Han Hsin, flew a kite over the walls of a palace, using the length of its string to gauge the distance that his troops would have to tunnel in order to enter this enemy territory surreptitiously. Whatever the origin, the motivation surely was fueled by man’s early desire of bird-like flight.
Always vehicles for the imagination, kites themselves have inspired many diverse feats. In A. D. 1282, the explorer Marco Polo gave his own account of enormous kites being used by Chinese sailors to lift terrified men from the decks of ships. The success or failure of this operation was taken as an augury for the planned voyage. Early Japanese prints bear testament to similar feats of man-carrying. One depicts the son of Minamoto-no-Tametomo, an ingenious Samurai warrior, being flown from his island of exile lashed to the sail of a huge rectangular Edo kite. These acts of man-lifting foretold a much later time when nineteenth-century aeronautic pioneers, such as Samuel Franklin Cody, would use kites as a basis for experiments in early forms of aviation.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, kites were used as vehicles and tools for scientific research. Men like Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Wilson used their knowledge of kite flying to learn more about the wind and weather. Sir George Caley, Samuel Langley, Lawrence Hargrave, Alexander Graham Bell, and the Wright Brothers all experimented with kites and contributed to development of the airplane.
The US Weather service flew kites designed by William Eddy and Lawrence Hargraves to raise meteorological instruments and cameras.
One of the strangest uses of kite power was developed by schoolmaster George Pocock. In 1822, he used a pair of kites to pull a carriage at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. Some of his kite trips were recorded at over 100 miles. And because road taxes at the time were based on the number of horses a carriage used, he was exempted from any tolls! During World War I, the British, French, Italian, and Russian armies all used kites for enemy observation and signaling. The introduction of airplanes quickly made these units obsolete.
Kite flying was eventually spread by traders from China to Korea, and across Asia to India and on to Europe, North America and Beyond. Each area developed a distinctive style of kite and cultural purpose for flying them. Here in Guyana, Kites are flown in remembrance of Christs’ Crucifixion and Resurrection on the Third day.
There are many factors that go into the design of the kite including weight, aspect ratio, angle of attack, bridle points, line length, and of course, wind speed. Knowing why kites fly and what causes them to do different things will help you in learning to fly. Generally speaking, the larger the kite, the less wind it will take to get it off the ground. The basic design of a kite is the same design used in airplane wings. The wind rushes over the top of the wing of an airplane and creates a void or vacuum of air behind the wing. This vacuum creates a low pressure area and the front or bottom of the wing becomes a high pressure area. The wing of the airplane is forced and sucked into the low pressure area, creating lift. Kites fly for the same reason, air rushing over the leading edge of the kite creates a vacuum or low pressure area behind the kite. The kite then tries to move towards the low pressure area and this causes the kite to lift off of the ground.
Today’s kites come in thousands of different shapes and sizes. The traditional triangle design once used by Charlie Brown is still being used today, but modern technology now gives us many different designs to choose from including box shaped kites, cylinder shaped kites, Bi-planes, Octopus’, parafoils, ships … you name it and it has probably been designed as a kite and flown. The new variety in kites has made the sport not only relaxing, but very enjoyable to watch. The colors are beautiful and the designs are amazing.
Stunt kites combine modern design with precision control, allowing you to not only launch your kite, but actually control it in virtually any direction you wish. Complicated maneuvers are mastered with practice and when done properly, will amaze bystanders and friends. Power kites are impressive in size and takes the sport of kite flying to the very edge of extreme.