Kites are known for their use in festivities and celebrations all around the world. They have been around since circa 200 B.C. Back then, they were used for signaling at a distance. From that, kite flying and the use of kites have evolved drastically.

Today, kites are used for a lot of purposes and hold a great significance even in the area of science. Many scientists and engineers drew their inspiration from kites that led them to make exceptional discoveries and inventions. Don’t believe me? Check out these great scientific discoveries that were made all thanks to kites!

Benjamin Franklin, lightning and electricity!

We all know that Thomas Alva Edison was the first scientist to invent electric bulbs. And most of you may also believe that Benjamin Franklin was the first man to discover electricity. This however is not entirely true.

Benjamin Franklin’s aim was to demonstrate the electrical nature of lightning, since lightning was not known to have electrical properties back then, let alone be a pure discharge of electricity. For this, he needed lightening, of course.

He chose a stormy day on a June afternoon in 1752, to conduct an experiment he had been planning for a long time, with his son William. He originally wanted to conduct it atop a Philadelphia church spire, but realized that he could achieve the same using a kite.

He chose common materials such as a simple kite made out of a large silk handkerchief, a hemp string, a silk string, his house key, a Leyden jar – a device that was used to store an electrical charge for later use – and a sharp length of wire.

By conducting the kite experiment Franklin was able to prove that lightning is an electrical discharge. This became one of the most famous experiments; going by the name ‘kite experiment’

This is a scientific experiment in which a kite with a pointed, conductive wire at its apex is flown near thunder clouds. It is used to collect electricity from the air and conduct it down the wet kite string to the ground.

How the Wright Brothers got it right!

The concept of airplanes can be dated back to era of Leonardo Da Vinci, who was amongst the first ones to sketch an aerial vehicle. The groundbreaking invention, though, happened much later, by the Wright brothers.

Wilbur and Orville Wright conceptualized an airplane with the help of kites.

They developed a concept of wing-warping so as to have a lateral control on the direction of movement. Wilbur used an open-ended box kite with unbraced front and rear struts. He used four lines running from the top to bottom of the front outer struts so as to have a control. He pressed the corners together such that the upper and lower surfaces had a spiral twist. This way, tilting the sticks caused changes in the wing structure validating their wing-warping idea!

The brothers then built a biplane kite to test this idea. They combined their wing-warping concept and built a 5-foot wingspan biplane in July 1899.

Wilbur flew the biplane kite as a field experiment. The kite responded quite precisely to Wilbur’s commands, thus proving their wing-warping control system.

After many more such kite experiments, the Wright brothers began designing a full-size piloted glider.

Military Kites (soaring in the winds of war)

Most of us associate kites with celebrations, however, they are known to be used as tools of war since the earliest times! 

In Japan, noise makers such as bells and gongs were hung from kites which were flown over the enemy camp sites during nights. They used it for psychological warfare, so as to scare away the soldiers, making them believe it was an attack from evil spirits!

In Korea kites were used for the purpose to coordinate during medieval battles. These were called signal kites, which basically transmitted orders between the various troops.

The Europeans, around the same time, used kites as range finders. They would fly a kite to the target and then allow it to crash. They would then measure the length of the string so as to get an accurate measurement of how far to fire their siege catapults in order to hit the target.

In the early 20th century, Samuel Franklin Cody developed his “Man Lifting System” It is called the Mankite, and allowed a man to be lifted into the air. The man would be a forward observer and spy on the enemies and know their positions. Variants of this kite were still used during the World War 1. Apparently, the existence and use of Mankites can be dated back to the Warring Empires of China (475 to 221 BC)

In around 200 BCE, the Chinese General Han Hsin used a kite to measure the distance to the attack city. He would then dig a tunnel into the city, bypassing the city’s defenses!

Large kites have also been used to carry armed warriors with bows and arrows during wars.

Power generation with kites!

Today, clean energy is one of the biggest sought after resource. A kite capable of generating power is the perfect solution to this!

Italian researchers have come up with a brilliant idea of a kite wind generator, commonly known as the KiteGen. It basically looks like a merry-go-round, just made up of kites.

Large kites are attached to a rotary core with the help of funnels at the ends of the poles. The kites twirl around, setting the rotation in motion, which in turn activates alternators that produce current. A radar system can be incorporated so as to avoid any obstacles. With advanced technology, the flight pattern can be optimized to obtain maximum current.

The kites are in motion 24/7 and with proper research and development can produce about as much energy as a nuclear power plant!

The world’s first commercial-scale, kite-driven power station is to be created in Scotland. They firmly believe that their system could cut the price of offshore wind energy by half. It is expected to be cheap, and would not require any Government subsidy.

You can also make a small-scale kite power generator, by using a regular kite and some turbines (or propellers) and generators (or motors). You can attach the turbine and generators in an electrical circuit, connecting it to the kite with the help of carbon fiber rods (or other conductive rods). You can complete the circuit with some batteries, and fly the kite to generate small-scale power.

The discoveries doesn’t end here, there are many more discoveries to cover. Just so you do not get overwhelmed with the information, we will continue the remaining ‘kito-vations’ in a separate article.

Check out the Second Part of Scientific Discoveries Using Kites.