The Virtual Kite Zoo - Uses of Kites
Kites have many uses. Here are just some, in no particular order:
- Photography and meteorology. In the 19th and
early 20th centuries, this was an important use, but has since been
superseded by aircraft, balloons and rockets, except for amateur use
Here is an excellent
of kite aerial photography, by Charles Benton. (While you're there,
click his "Home" button for lots of nice pics and information.)
- Lifting transmitting aerials.
Marconi used kites in his early radio experiments, and in the second
world war, Allied airmen were provided with a
box kite and transmitter,
known as the "Gibson Girl", along with their rubber dinghy.
Some radio hams still use kites.
- Target practice. Also during the second world war,
kites were used for anti-aircraft
practice. Diamond kites were
fitted with a rudder to make them steerable, and had the outline of a
Nazi fighter painted on them.
- Anti-aircraft defence. In the same vein and also
during the second word war,
kites were flown on steel wire lines from merchant ships to deter
- Man lifting. Prior to the development of powered flight,
the military recognised the potential of kites for reconnaissance.
Warning: some kites you can make or buy today are
capable of lifting you off the ground. Don't! You may
come back to earth with a silly grin on your face, but there is a strong
possibility that it won't stay there long - it's hard to grin with a
broken neck. Try hang gliding instead, and get the proper training.
- Psychological warfare.
Another military use of kites was found
in China during the reign of emperor Liu Pang. A general, finding
himself surrounded, fitted Aeolian strings to kites, which he flew
over the enemy at dead of night. Thinking it was their guardian angels
warning them of impending danger, the enemy fled, with the general and
his army in pursuit.
Here are more details of
uses of kites.
- Life-saving. The possibilities of using a kite to
get a line ashore from a shipwreck have been recognised since the 18th
century, and many ingenious schemes were proposed. I am not aware,
though, of any lives that have been saved!
- Smuggling. In 1870, smugglers in Paris used a kite
to carry contraband liquor, so bypassing the city gates.
- Communication. Kites were used for military
signalling in China in the sixth and eighth centuries. In 1232,
kites were released over enemy lines, bearing messages to prisoners
inciting them to revolt. Leaflets were dropped from kites in the Peninsular
War, and the American Civil War, and in the latter, kites were used as
a form of airmail between Maryland and Virginia.
- Hunting. It is said that kites have been used
in China, with loud hummers attached, to drive game. In the 19th century,
kites resembling birds of prey were used in England and France in hunting
grouse and partridge.
- Bridge-building. When a bridge was proposed across
the Niagara gorge from New York State to Canada, just one technical problem
stood in the way: how to get the first line across the 800ft from one
side of the gorge to the other. Kite fliers were invited to attempt the feat,
but without success until the second day of trying, when a lad named
Homan Walsh was successful. For his trouble, he was paid $10, a handsome
sum back then in 1848.
In the same way, kites have been used to carry telephone wires across
gaps which would otherwise be hard to bridge.
- Teddy bear lifting. Those well acquainted with these
bold and adventure-loving creatures report that they take to parachuting like
ducks to water. A reasonable sized kite, such as a 7ft rok, will easily
lift a teddy, or other stuffed fauna, to a respectably height for a
drop. Visit the
Parafauna Resources pages for loads of info.
- Display. Many flat and bowed or dihedral
kites lend themselves to decoration. Or you can attach a variety of
windsocks or banners to the line at a suitable height (the technical term
is "line laundry"), or to the kite itself as a tail. The
Artistic Kite Group promotes
kites as an art form.
- Blowing bubbles. Several attempts have been made to
build bubble machines to be hoisted by a kite. Building something
sufficiently light is a major challenge, and much the best contender that
I'm aware of is Sonja Graichen from Germany with a very ingenious
design, pictured here.
- Fishing. Kites have been used for centuries in the
East for fishing.
Lowering your hook and bait from a kite can have two advantages over
casting: you may be able to get it further or into places you couldn't
otherwise reach, and you can lower it gently, so avoiding a loud "plop"
which might frighten off the very fish you wanted to catch. This New
Zealand website would
indicate the idea is catching on once again
- Falconry. The art of training falcons or hawks to
hunt with humans is very ancient, and the sight of a falcon diving on
its prey from 1000ft is breathtaking. No living creature moves faster.
But some falcons never bother to go above 200ft, and you can't make a
falcon do what it doesn't want to. However, you can train it to fly
higher by attaching some bait to a high flying kite, and you can use
the same technique to exercise falcons when it's too windy for normal
hunting. You can even entice back a lost bird by sending up a familiar
kite! Read this interesting
by Dave Scarbrough.
- Therapy. Many people find kite flying to be relaxing,
and a good way to unwind. It also gets you out into the fresh air and
provides a bit of exercise.
Here's a moving story of how it brought joy to
the life of an autistic child.
In the '80s, nursing staff in southern California performed a study
which showed that kite flying was the best method of relieving stress
of all those they tried.
all about it.
- Games. There are two kinds of kite race, the
upwind and the downwind kite races.
In the upwind kite race, contestants each have an identical
large, strong-pulling kite (baskets
are popular) which they have to drag upwind, the length of the course.
This is purely a test of strength.
In the downwind kite race, each contestant launches his kite, and at the
"off", has to walk or run downwind, the length of the course, without
winding in his line or allowing his kite to touch the ground. This is
more a test of skill!
Anthony Thyssen gives an extensive list of other
- Championships. National and international kite
flying championships are held by STACK (Sports Team and Competitive
Kiting). Here is their
There are Novice, Experienced and Masters
categories for individuals, pairs and teams, dual and quad-line,
precision, freestyle and ballet, as well as power kiting.
- Traction. Samuel Cody crossed the English Channel
in a boat pulled by a kite.
George Pocock's "Char-Volant" was a kite-drawn carriage.
Today, kites are used in the sports of kite-buggying, kite-sailing,
kite-surfing and kite-skiing.
Pocock found that kite traction had an unexpected but welcome spin-off,
when he approached a toll-gate in his Char-volant. He wrote:
"On one occasion an old inquisitive lady-like turnkey refused to open the
gate to a party with the Char-volant. Hearing a carriage rattle up to the
bar, she ran hastily out; but on seeing no animals attached to the vehicle,
she started and stared, and after a short pause, exclaimed,'Why, gentlemen!
what d'ye go by? what is it that draws you?' The kites were pointed out to
her aloft in the air, and then, for the first time, she noticed the string
fastened to the car. 'What', she added, 'do they draw you along? Do they
indeed!! Well, what must I charge you, gentlemen? What d'ye call them?' -
'Kites, Kites!' - 'They ben't horses!' 'Oh, no.' - 'Nor mules!' 'No.' 'And
I'm sure they ben't donkeys, nor oxen!' Then slowly examining every
square inch of her notice board, she observed, 'Kites! Kites! Why,
there be nothing about Kites on my board - so I suppose you must go
along about your business!'"
Kite traction was eventually defeated not by the mighty steam
engine, but by the telegraph. Telegraph wires were found to
be even more of an inconvenience than bridges!
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Copyright © 1999 Philip Le Riche