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Colorful Aircrafts: Kites

At some point in life, most every one has run across a park or a field holding a kite by its string as it flew high in the sky. This is a fun memory that can cause people to just view kites as recreational toys for children. But kites are, and have always been, so much more than the brightly colored and cute contraptions that are commonly seen today. They have a long and interesting history, and their creation has led to findings that have played an important part in the advancement of modern technology. A thorough understanding about kites, from how they work to the roles that they've played in the past, can further one's appreciation of their purpose and ultimately their enjoyment of them.

Many believe that the first kites came from China more than 2,000 years ago. While it is a popular belief that kites originated in China, it is not shared by everyone. Some believe that kites may have also been used in Indonesia or Malaysia. Although it is unclear exactly when kites were used in these areas, records indicate that their purpose was for fishing. This was done by attaching bait and a net to the kite's tail to catch and hold fish. The earliest documentation supports China as the place that first created kites. Somewhere between 468 and 376 B.C., a philosopher named Mo Di or Mo-tse lived on Mount Lu, where he created a wooden eagle that he was able to make fly for a day. His design was later improved by Gongshu Ban, his student, who created a bamboo and silk magpie. Gongshu Ban was able to fly his kite continuously for three days.

Early kites were large and used for military purposes. Some were used for spreading propaganda, while others were able to carry individuals to observe enemy movements or act as snipers. Some kites were famous, even ones that failed to achieve the desired results. For example, in Nanjing, Emperor Wu Di once attempted unsuccessfully to send an SOS via kite. Another example of a kite's military use was when Gen. Han Hsin flew a kite over his enemy's castle and later used the length of string as a measurement for digging a tunnel. The Chinese call kites "fengzheng," which can be translated to mean "wind harp." This name comes from a time when kites were fitted with bamboo pieces that would vibrate and make a sound when stirred by a breeze.

Kites eventually made their way from Asia to other parts of the world, namely Europe, courtesy of Marco Polo. From Europe, the kite would eventually make its way to America. They were used for not only military purposes but scientific ones as well. Back in 1749, Alexander Wilson, a Scottish astronomer and meteorologist, made his first attempt at using kites to measure air temperature. Some of the other past scientific uses of kites included Benjamin Franklin flying a kite into a thundercloud in the mid-1700s.

Early kites were at times used to carry men for military purposes, and as such, they could be considered an early form of air travel. This was more seriously explored in 1894 when Lawrence Hargrave connected four cellular kites and with the addition of a sling seat was able to fly roughly 16 feet. As a result, his use of kites was a successfully step toward the creation of manned aircraft. During World War II, kites were used for anti-aircraft target practice.

A kite requires wind, which creates pressure that lifts or pushes the kite. Without wind, there is no lift and the kite would fall. There must be enough lift to combat the downward pull of gravity and wind resistance on the tail and surface of the kite that's known as drag. To create lift, the air pressure below the kite must be higher than the air pressure above. This can be achieved by fast winds or when the kite moves at a sufficiently high speed. The latter can be achieved by biking or running and pulling the kite along.

For more information about kites, their history, and how they fly, click any of the links below:

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