Go fly a kite

A look through his­tory tells us that the kite is more than just a toy, writes CATHY WIL­LIAMS

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - JELLYBEAN JOURNAL -

KITES have been flown for thou­sands of years for art, sport, war and sci­ence, as well as just good fun. And al­though it is not known ex­actly when and where kites were first flown, one of the first times kites were writ­ten about is 2 200 years ago. A Chi­nese gen­eral used a kite to mea­sure how long a tun­nel his army needed to se­cretly reach in­side a walled city.

Cave paint­ings in In­done­sia sug­gest that thou­sands of years ago lo­cal peo­ple were us­ing leaf kites, pos­si­bly for fish­ing.

The ear­li­est Chi­nese kites were usu­ally box-shaped and flat. From China kite-fly­ing even­tu­ally spread to Korea, across Asia to In­dia.

Kite fight­ing be­came pop­u­lar in many coun­tries, in­clud­ing Afghanistan. Al­though the rules and kites dif­fered, the idea was usu­ally to cut your op­po­nent’s line so that his kite would fall out of the sky.

The ex­plorer Marco Polo car­ried sto­ries of kites to Europe more than 700 years ago, but it took sev­eral hun­dred years be­fore kites re­ally took off in Europe.

There are many records of kites be­ing used for sci­en­tific re­search. Ben­jamin Franklin used kites to test if light­ning was elec­tric­ity. The Wright Broth­ers ex­per­i­mented with kites in their quest to in­vent the aero­plane.

The US weather ser­vice flew kites to raise me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal in­stru­ments. Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell, the in­ven­tor of the tele­phone, built gi­gan­tic man-car­ry­ing kites in the 19th cen­tury. One was made of 3 393 te­tra­he­dron-shaped cells locked to­gether.

Dur­ing World War I the Bri­tish, French, Ital­ian and Rus­sian armies all used kites for en­emy ob­ser­va­tion and sig­nalling. Dur­ing World War II the Amer­i­can army used a spe­cially de­signed kite – the Gar­ber Tar­get Kite – for tar­get prac­tice.

In the past 50 years there has been a re­newed in­ter­est in kit­ing. New ma­te­ri­als like rip­stop, ny­lon, fi­bre­glass and car­bon graphite have made kites stronger, lighter, more colour­ful and durable.

Peter Lynn of New Zealand de­vel­oped a stain­less steel kite buggy and it has be­come pop­u­lar to use kites on snow, wa­ter and ice – you’ve prob­a­bly seen kite surfers at Muizen­berg or Mil­ner­ton beach. It’s a good sport for a city that has sea and lots of wind.

In 1999 a team used kite power to pull sleds to the North Pole.

Kite fes­ti­vals are pop­u­lar around the world. They in­clude small lo­cal events, tra­di­tional festi- vals which have been held for hun­dreds of years and ma­jor in­ter­na­tional fes­ti­vals which bring in kite fly­ers from over­seas to show off their kites and demon­strate the lat­est tech­ni­cal kites.

Kit­ing in­for­ma­tion cour­tesy of www.gombergkites.com and www.wikipedia.org.

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