Are you a person that feels that kites are nothing more than childrenís toys? Iím going to set the record straight and tell you about one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Iím also going to give you some information on the history of kites, some examples of kites in use today, and some of the applications and safety issues involved. With this information I will reintroduce you to a great way to relieve stress, as well as promote quality family time. Kite flying has no age limits, but some of the kites Iíll tell you about are strictly for the big kid in all of us. Did you know that we owe our existence as we know it today to a kite? The kite is what actually created America by indirectly winning the Revolutionary War.
Throughout history, kites have actually shaped America, through persons like Benjamin Franklin, Homan Walsh, and the Wright Brothers. In June 1752, Ben Franklin and his son set out to fly their kite in a thunderstorm over Philadelphia to prove a point, and literally discovered electricity. Because of this experiment, he had endeared himself to scientists and scholars the world over, making him the only American known by name to the cultured class of Europe. In fact, the French held such high respect for him that they came to the aid of the struggling colonies with their powder and swords. With the help of France, Canada and the United States may indeed owe their existence, as we know it today, to a man and a boy with a kite. (1:20) Did you know it was a kite that first connected the United States and Canada across the treacherous Niagara River? Engineers were baffled on how to build a bridge because of the swift current, and during the winter, ice would pile too high to climb across. In 1849, a man named Homan Walsh flew his kite from the U.S., and when it was over Canada, he tied a clothesline to the line of the kite. When the kite came down on the other side, the awaiting crowd pulled the clothesline across, then a larger rope, and eventually a steel cable. Homanís kite became a lifeline, and his kite became known as the kite that built an international bridge. (1:41-42) In the years to follow, the kite would continue to play a major role in the shaping of America. After all, the Wright Brothersí first airplane was nothing more than a sophisticated kite with an engine! Their first airplane had evolved from a 5-foot kite they had flown a year prior to their first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Since the days of Benjamin Franklin, Homan Walsh, and the Wright Brothers, single line kites have been the traditional "diamond" and "box" kites that most of us have grown up with, eventually evolving into the "hi-tech" kites of today. Today, there are Japanese fighter kites, which are designed to knock other kites out of the sky, and giant flying windsocks. Some of these can be very large; the world record being 165ft long, 73ft wide, and 60ft tall. With the advancements in technology, single-line kites eventually evolved into the sport kites we have today. There are two types of sport kites: dual-line, which have two control lines, and quad-line, which have 4 control lines attached to the kite. These control lines enable the flyer to have total control of the direction of flight and control is what these kites are all about. From free style to precision, these kites are built to follow your commands with incredible accuracy. Designed to fly in a wide variety of wind ranges some are even designed to fly in no wind, and even indoors. These are considered zero wind, or super ultralight kites. At the opposite end of the range are your power kites, combining both power and precision for a kite that pulls like a truck, yet steers like a Mercedes. This is where the excitement begins, and as Tim Allen would say, "More power! Aaarrrrrgh!". By using larger kites, or stacking kites together in a train, if you dare, you can generate enormous amounts of controllable power. I have a stack of kites right now that would drag Tim Allen around, and have him struggling for grip, and his forearms begging for mercy.
This power, combined with the types of lines and spars of these kites, has also brought to light many safety issues. The power generated by these larger kites has placed them in a class all their own called traction kites, or traction engines. These environmentally friendly propulsion systems of the future can be used in many ways, whether you hold on and get dragged around or go for a ride, the only limit is your imagination. (2:7) Taking power kiting to the extreme, these traction kites are the sole powerplant used for boating, water/snow skiing, and also buggying down a beach or across a dry lake bed. Generating enough power, attaining speeds in excess of 50mph with a buggy are not uncommon. If all of this isnít enough, strap yourself to a kite that takes you along for the ride, better known as a hang glider. If you choose to go to the extreme side of the sport, some safety equipment such as a safety helmet, gloves, knee pads and elbow pads are required. No matter which type of kite you choose, never fly when thunderstorms approach, or near power lines, due to the fact that most spars for these kites are conductive and made out of carbon or fiberglass composites. Also, never fly over people or when they are in your flying area because the lines can severely cut someone and cause serious injury. The lines range from 30-500lb test, and combined with forward air speeds up to 120mph, they can become potentially dangerous. The bottom line here is, "fly smart, fly safe, and donít exceed your capabilities".
From the kites that shaped America to the hi-tech kites of today, they all have one thing in common; they all ride on the breath of mother nature--the wind. Whether you fly a single, dual, quad-line, or power kite, the bottom line is have fun, fly safe, and provide visual enjoyment for others. Although some of these kites can be expensive, keep this in mind: after the initial investment, the wind is free. Still think kites are a childís toy? Take it from this big kid, "theyíre a blast". Where can you purchase these kites? Check your yellow pages or e-mail me for some addresses, theyíll ship anywhere. So what are you waiting for? Harness the power of the wind and put your muscles and imagination to the test. Winds up!! "Go fly a kite"! You donít have to tell me twice. CíYa!
May the wind be with you! Always!
1. Thomas, Bill The Complete World Of Kites, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia and New York,1977
2. Servass van der Horst and Nop Veltuizen, Stunt Kites II, Thoth Publishers, The Netherlands, 1994