“Kites,” New Era, Mar. 1972, 21


How did ancient Asiatics make the crossing of a gorge or river to begin building a bridge? History records that kites were used to carry a light string across, and then heavier ropes and cables were pulled across in succession, and then a wooden bridge was suspended from them.

Silly, isn’t it?

How is it done today?

Often a kite is flown across the gorge and then heavier … well, you know the rest.

How would you do it?

It isn’t known just when kites were first made and flown. Some claim that the Greeks invented them in about 4000 B.C. Others think that the Orientals already had them.

We know that the kite in China goes back at least to the fourth century B.C., placing it well before the discovery of paper-making in A.D. 105. Those early kites were probably made of silk stretched on wooden frames, because silk antedates paper. We also know that kites, always a toy and a plaything, were seriously used in warfare—seventeenth-century Japanese and Chinese raised observers up and over the enemy lines and then, if luck held out, retrieved them. German submarines in World War II towed aerial observers in heavy kites attached to their submarines.

Benjamin Franklin was lucky to live to tell us about his kite experiments with lightning. My wife’s great-grandmother was killed by lightning as she stood in her farmhouse doorway waiting for her husband to come in from a storm, and she wasn’t fooling around with a kite and a key!

Our Boy Scout readers will immediately recognize the name of Baden-Powell, the man who started the Scouting movement. But probably they don’t know that in 1895 his brother flew five twelve-foot kites to lift a 150-pound man 100 feet off the ground.

Scottish doctors Wilson and Melville used kites as early as 1749 to carry thermometers high in the air to record temperatures, and the method has continued around the world for raising all kinds of weather-recording instruments. In fact, the U.S. Weather Bureau might still be doing it if, in the early 1930s, the wires hadn’t begun to endanger aircraft. Besides, new methods were being devised.

Do you remember seeing photos and drawings of the very earliest airplanes, and did you notice that those planes were little more than large box kites with some wheels and a propeller added?

Kites are mostly for fun, as they have always been; and though on the surface they are for the young, you might find that your relationship with your dad and your kite is pretty close to the relationship of your dad, your little brother, and his electric train.

For a large section of New Era readers, the next month or two are ideal for kite flying. The winds and breezes make it the perfect time for you to get a few friends together for some great fun making and flying your kites. But pick a day with a moderate wind, eight to fifteen miles an hour—the kind that keeps the leaves rustling and bends the topmost branches in trees. A heavier wind—the kind that sways small trees, kicks up the dust, and blows loose papers around—just increases the problems of keeping the kite sailing smoothly.

Your needs for materials are few—some small strips of wood about one-fourth inch by three-eighths inch in cross section for medium sized kites (two to three feet long), with strips a bit larger in each dimension for box kites and larger one-plane kites. Cypress is very good, pine is good, and balsa is fine for small, light kites. String for tying joints together and framing (running around outside edge) can be the same string selected for flying.

The paper for two or three stick (one-plane) kites can be crepe or tissue paper, both available in many exciting colors. A thin, smooth, or glazed paper can be used if you want your kite to dance and do tricks in the air. For box kites, a thin wrapping paper is excellent; crepe or tissue paper is a little too flimsy to withstand the air pressure. Cellophane or plastic are equally good for all sizes of kites; and cloth, either silk or nylon, is very satisfactory for larger box kites.

To make the wood frame work, cut the wood strips to their desired length, determine the points at which they will intersect, and put a thin coat of glue on each surface. When tacky, put the two surfaces together and tie securely with string. (See illustration A.) Some kite makers prefer to use tiny brads instead of glue, but one brad at an intersection wrapped with string is preferable to two or more brads.

The string framing on medium and large kites (three to four feet) should be strung between the notches near the ends of the sticks, leaving plenty of end sticking out to protect the paper. For smaller kites (one to two feet) the framing string can be slipped through notches cut in from the very end of the sticks. (See illustrations B and C.)

When the wood frame and framing string are in position, cut the paper so that there is about one inch extra on all sides. Apply a good paste or glue and fold the paper over the string (D). If cellophane or plastic is used, tape the edges down with transparent tape. Attach the harness strings, bring them together to the flying string, and you’re ready to go (E). A two-stick (one-plane) kite may need a tail for balance (indicated by its pitching forward). The tail is simply a length of string with strips of cloth tied into it (F). Using these instructions as a starting point, go on with your own imagination and make other shapes of one-plane kites.

Illustration G shows the construction of a simple triangular box kite made from three 26″ strips of 1/4″ by 1/4″ wood, six 15″ strips of the same wood with tapered ends, and two pieces of paper 8″ wide and 47″ long. Several other shapes are suggested in drawings on these pages and on the cover of this issue. Perhaps you can figure out the construction of some of them from these directions. Or, if you need help, there are excellent library books on kites with very specific directions.

Now let me tell you about a kite I once bought from its inventor; it caused quite a stir because it made a whirring noise as it flew and sounded like it had a small motor in it. I haven’t seen one in many years, and now all I can do is tell you what it was like and you can experiment with it as I do.

It was made from two pieces of paper, one being about poster paper weight cut into a circle with an S-shaped slit in it, and the other a long, oval piece of lighter weight (picture post card) paper reinforced by two strips of lightweight wood glued down the center lengthwise and exactly opposite each other on the two sides. The long oval is forced up to its center in the slit in the circle. Then pivots are made of pins in the wood and a loop of wire at the ends of the two harness strings so that the entire paper structure is free to spin with the wind. (See illustration H to J.) Good luck—it’s really fun to fly this one. People will come running from a mile around to see what you’re flying.

Got any bridges to build? Get your group together and get started. Building a kite is great sport and it yields terrific feelings of accomplishment, plus the exhilaration of flying your own creations.

Illustrated by Ralph H. Reynolds