Kite Science

In the United States, perhaps the one universal “kite fact” is that Benjamin Franklin flew a kite in 1752 to prove that lightning was “electrical matter.” Speculation that the experiment never happened is immaterial, Franklin and his experiment are commemorated on coins, postage stamps, beer mugs, lithographs, and paintings.

From the mid-1890s kites began an important role in early meteorology. Dines, DeBort, Assmann, and Rotch all played roles in using kites for atmospheric research. The US Weather Bureau had 17 kite stations in the early 1900s and weather data from kite ascents was shared worldwide.

Kites have been used recently for environmental air sampling, bat research, and environmental aerial photography. There is a recent move to harness the power- generation potential of high-flying kites, in which kites flown as high as the jet stream could generate power onboard and transmit it to ground stations, or kite systems’ tethers would generate power on the ground.

“Fascination with kites in the days before the mastery of the skies through powered flight is understandable. It was an opportunity for communication with the broad firmament of heaven, even as the fowls. But when shining ships pass every hour, high above the limits of any kite, and manned flight to the moon appear on television, why do mankind’s first experiments in aerodonetics yet arouse our curiosity and excite our imagination? - Neil Thorburn, Super Kites III