Catching the Wind and the History of Kites
Spend a breezy afternoon outdoors watching a kite brush up against the clouds, and it’s easy to understand why the allure of kite flying has been around for thousands of years.
Kite flying took-off in China about 2,000 years ago, where it was common practise to build kites using bamboo, silk fabric, and string. The fascination quickly spread to Japan, Korea, India and then finally made its way over to Europe and North America by the 16th and 17th century.
Kites have been used recreationally for centuries but they have also made important contributions to science. Benjamin Franklin used a kite to prove the electric nature of lightning and the Wright brothers used kites to flight test some of their ideas that precluded their pioneering work in aviation. Lesser well known is the story of Holman Walsh, a young American boy who flew his kite across the Niagara gorge and helped build the world’s first railway suspension bridge.
In 1848, engineers set out to build a bridge that would allow Canadians and Americans to travel across the Niagara gorge. The first step to building a suspension bridge is to stretch a wire or line across the length of the stream. The turbulent waters made this task too difficult and dangerous to complete by boat. So, engineers put forth the challenge to avid kite-flyers – a $10-dollar cash prize for the first person that could successfully tie a line to their kite and fly it across the stream to the opposite bank!
The successful kite flyer was Holman Walsh. Walsh was able to fly his kite all the way across the gorge, stretching his kite string from what is now known as Niagara Falls, Ontario to Niagara Falls, New York. Once across, engineers tied a stronger line to the end of the kite string and pulled it across, followed by rope and finally cable wire. Homan Walsh was awarded the cash prize, helped build the world’s first suspension bridge, and made kite history.
Flying a kite is an excellent way to gain a feel for aerodynamic forces! Kites can fly because of the forces acting on the parts of the kite.
To get your kite in the air, the forces pushing up must be greater than the forces pulling down.
Stability is also important and this is why tails are added. They keep kites from flapping, twisting, and rotating in the wind. Ask your child to consider what would happen if the kite had a short tail? Longer tails? One vs. many tails?
Types of Kites
If you have ever attended a kite festival, you will notice many different styles of kites. Diamond kites, Delta kites, Rokkakus, Stunt, Foil, Cellular, Traction, and Sled kites. All vary in popularity and complexity. To get you started, print our SLED KITE resource. When in flight, the kite looks like a sled when it catches the air, hence its name.
Sled Kites are a great choice for beginners. They are simple, convenient and can be built with common household items. Lightweight plastic is the most popular material for making sled kites. You can also use lightweight fabric or newspaper. Gravity is always trying to pull your kite back to the ground and so a kite must be made of very light materials to counteract the pull of gravity. Ask your child what materials they think will be good for building a kite? What if a kite was made out of metal, or heavy fabric?
Once you have built your kite, find a large open field, away from power lines, roads and trees. The more space you have the more line you will be able to let out. Choose a day with a light breeze, a day where leaves and bushes are gently swaying. Never fly in rain or lightning.
Enhance the Learning and Spread Your Wings
Enhance the learning of flying kites by participating in our community workshop, Spread Your Wings, a virtual hands-on workshop that explores the fascinating principles behind flight. Birds and how they fly are also explored. Kids make a birdfeeder, fly a glider, and investigate how a taketombo works.