Written by: on December 14, 2020 @ 8:00 am

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First in Flight
December 17, 2020

Image Source: Pixabay.com

What comes to mind when you hear this phrase? Orville & Wilbur Wright? The State of North Carolina’s motto and bragging rights? The movie Top Gun? We are taking this theme quite literally, trying to discover the actual first in flight. The answer is the kite!  They are certainly little flying machines that have astounded Man for centuries. There are millions of people around the world, that look up to the skies to watch or fly a kite. “What easier way to get from the ground to the sky”, said Benjamin Franklin when he was trying to figure out the nature of lightning. Kites set people’s imaginations wild.

The earliest written account of kite flying was about 200 B.C. when the Chinese General Han Hsin of the Han Dynasty flew a kite over the walls of a city he was attacking to measure how far his army would have to tunnel to reach past the defenses. Knowing this distance his troops reached the inside of the city, surprised their enemy, and were victorious. How clever?

Kite flying was eventually spread by traders from China to Korea, and across Asia to India. Each area developed a distinctive style of kite and cultural purpose for flying them.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Marco Polo

Marco Polo carried stories of kites to Europe around the end of the 13th century. Illustrations of the period show non-flying dragon kites on military banners. Sailors also brought kites back from Japan and Malaysia in the 16th and 17th centuries. Kites were regarded as curiosities at first and had little impact on European culture.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Benjamin Franklin

Meanwhile back in the Americas, men like Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Wilson used their knowledge of kite flying to learn more about the wind and weather. Sir George Caley, a very important figure in aeronautics, who quite fancied aviation himself, Samuel Langley, an astronomer, Lawrence Hargrave, an engineer and explorer, Alexander Graham Bell, an inventor and scientist, and the Wright Brothers, the aviation pioneers! All of these people have experimented with kites and contributed to the development of the airplane, and our understanding of flight. They have all contributed to man’s desire to reach for the skies, and ultimately the stars.

Since its invention, there have been many adaptations to the kite by various cultures around the world. The kite you probably flew as a kid looks a bit different to the original Chinese kites and even the kites of modern China. 

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Chinese Dragon Kite

A Chinese kite in ancient times would have used simple materials such as wood and cloth. They were often made to resemble the shapes of birds. Today, elaborate and large designs can be seen flying above parks in China. They will often resemble real animals and members of the Chinese Zodiac. Some kites will have LED lights attached to allow for night flights and fun light shows. There is even a kite museum where you can view designs and learn more about the history of kites through the ages!

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Weifang Kite Museum, China

But how do kites actually fly? What is the science behind them?

First let’s talk about airplanes.  An airplane flies because the wings create lift. The air going over the wing is moving faster than the air going under the wing, and this creates a low-pressure causing lift.

In terms of kites, lift is generated by differences in air pressure, which are created by air in motion over the body of the kite. Kites are shaped and angled so that the air moving over the top moves faster than the air moving along the bottom. To launch a kite into the air the force of lift must be greater than the force of gravity, just like airplanes!

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Who’s ready to fly a kite? If you’re ready, check out our at-home experiment: Chinese Kite! Grab your materials and follow along with the lesson plan to make your very own kite!

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Catogories: HTHT, It's National ________ Day!, Science, Uncategorized

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