During the early days of aviation the use of radio communication, also in its infancy, was dependent upon ideal conditions to get radio signals from the flying craft to land stations.
On August 27, 1910 Douglas McCurdy, flying an early Curtiss airplane, received what has been cited as the first wireless message sent to an aeroplane in flight, over Sheepshead Bay race track, New York1. Early wireless radio transmissions were of the Morse code variety adding to the complexity of the task of communicating between an airplane and the ground stations.
By 1917, the first air-to-ground and ground-to-air audio radio communications were accomplished by AT&T engineers working with the United States Army at Langley Field in Virginia. The experiments started on July 2nd and two way communication success was achieved by August 20, 1917.2
In all of the radio transmissions of this early era, lengthy aerials were trailed from the airplne in flight. These were spooled out after takeoff and wound in prior to landing. Later, by the early-1930's aerial wires were tautly strung from the fuselage behind the cockpit to the front of the rudder upright at the rear of the aircraft. Advances in wireless communication led to short mast aerials by late 1930.
During the 1920's seaplanes and 'flying boats'3 were often used for coastal patrols and other flights that took them over long stretches of water. Whenever a seaplane ran into engine trouble over water it could easily glide to a landing and very often there was no damage to the aircraft and no injury to the pilot and others aboard.
However, the prevalent radio communication of the day which employed the use of long trailing aerials was now useless with the seaplane on the surface of the water. This rendered radio communication impossible and left the downed pilots at the mercy of visual sightings by either search boats or rescue seaplanes.
To counter this loss of traditional radio contact by a downed seaplane, technical staff at the United States Navy Air Station Radio Laboratory in Anacostia D.C. came up with a pragmatic solution to the situation.
Commander Taylor and Lieutenant C.D. Palmer experimented with raising an antenna from the downed aircraft with a Conyne kite and attaching it to the seaplane's radio system. With the elevation of the kite to 200-300 feet using a light wire flying line which served as the aerial, they were able to establish radio communications over long distances.4
Simple kits, weighing only a few ponds, were developed for all seaplanes to equip them with these emergency aerials. In each kit were 350 feet or aerial wire/flying line and two kites. The largest kite was seven feet tall for light winds and a slightly smaller kite was six feet tall for stronger winds.
This use of kites to raise aerials when downed airmen were in distress was a precursor to the later Gibson Girl radio rescue system. Developed in 1932 in Great Britain, the Gibson Girl array used an aerial raised by a box kite. It was deployed throughout the Second World War and beyond.
The above uses of kites as rescue devices were not the only types of kite rescue systems. In 1859 an Irish priest, Fr. E.J. Corner designed a kite rescue system to lift sailors to safety from vessels wrecked along the rocky coast of Ireland.
Even today, kites are still carried by people on expeditions and at sea as a system for attracting attention and facilitating a rescue. The latest such system is the Skystreme radar reflective location marker kite available from Skystreme UK Ltd, Middlesex, UK. This kite is Airtight and waterproof and constructed of metallised Mylar laminate. Light in weight, the Skystreme kite flies, floats and can self launch in winds as light as 4 mph. Requiring no power supply of any description, it is able to lift devices such as compatible high visibilty strobe lights and windsocks.
1. Douglas McCurdy, one of the members of Alexander Graham Bell's Aerial Experiment Association, went on to work as a pilot for Curtiss Aircraft in 1910. Prior to that he had been the lead engineer on the Aerodrome #4 project, the Silver Dart, and the pilot of the first aircraft to fly in the British Empire (The Silver Dart, Feb. 23, 1909 at Baddeck, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. McCurdy and a partner Casey Baldwin, also a member of the AEA, formed the Canadian Aerodrome Company in late 1909. When the Canadian government chose not to buy any of the early aircraft models produced by that company, McCurdy went to work for Glenn H. Curtiss at the Curtiss Aircraft Company in Hammondsport, NY.
3. Airplanes using floats were first developed in the United States by Glenn H. Curtiss of the Aerial Experiment Association (the "Loon", September 1908) and by engineer Henri Fabre ("Le Canard" March 1910).
4. "Disabled Planes Send 'SOS' With Kite Antenna." Popular Science Monthly, August 1922, page 40.
5. Image of twin engine flying boat deploying Conyne kite with aerial. Source: US Naval Institue Archives.
Scottish TV has reported that Scot soldiers on duty in Afghanistan have been handing out kites to the Afghan youth as a gift of friendship.
Kite flying is a well established cultural tradition in Afghanistan and the soldiers of the Second Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland working near the Afghan village of Popalzai in the Lashkar Gah area of the country have gained popularity with the local youth through the gift of kites.
Reporter Cara Sulieman of stv writes that:
"Now they are concentrating on building relationships with the local community and have found the kites have gone down a storm.
Children in the area were not allowed to play with the popular toys when the insurgents ruled the village. With the help of soldiers from The Royal Highland Fusiliers, they are now building and flying the kites.
Colour Sergeant Roddy Weir said: “Before long the soldiers were sharing a laugh and a joke with the local children. The kids were thrilled to receive the kites and almost overwhelmed the soldiers who were showing them how to put them together.
“It was a strange experience for most of the young soldiers - it's not often you deploy on a foot patrol only to find yourself playing with kites and entertaining the local children.”
When on joint patrol, British and Afghan troops usually hand out notebooks, pens and Afghan flags as they build up links in the community.
The kite kits are a new addition to the presents and dozens were handed out on Wednesday.
Lieutenant Erik Smith added: “This was a fantastic sight and real evidence of progress in Helmand province."
The kites are not of the traditional Afghan kite variety but, nevertheless, they are a real hit with the youngsters.
Kite flyers all know the peaceful effects of kite flying as an expression of joy and appreciation of the outdoors, so it is no surprise that these gifts would have a positive effect on the young people of the area.
To celebrate the 2010 Winter Holiday Season the Starbucks Corporation of Seattle, Washington created a visually impressive holiday commercial message using specially crafted, unique snowflake kites.
The commercial has received a good amount of air time on television and through viral messaging from social media sources. Although many will have seen this commercial, it deserves to be documented one more time along with the very interesting story behind the making of the one minute long video.
As any kiter knows, the placement of numerous kites in the sky for a special event is not just a random happening. There was a lot of work, planning, and skill that went into the creation of this visual promotion.
The critical element of flying the snowflake kites required the crack, expert kite team of dean jordan, Blake Pelton, Craig Wilson, Tim Elverston and Ruth Whiting to make all the exciting kite shots possible. The kites were created by dean, Blake, Mike Dennis, and Pam Kirk, along with some custom work from New Tech Kites.
dean was in New York for two weeks preparing for the shoot and carrying out the filming of the project. He spent a week location scouting, and then Blake arrived to do all of the technical scouting before doing the three days of shooting on the 18th, 19th, and 20th of October.
Again, kite fliers know that flying kites in downtown Manhattan or even in Liberty State Park, New Jersey, where some additional scenes were shot, is not an easy task. So, some movie magic was required to pull it all off.
Thanks to Blake Pelton and dean jordan, the making of the commercial was recorded and shared on YouTube. It is well worth while watching this video to see the work and the magic that went into the creation of the Starbucks commercial.
Once you watch the video on the making of the commercial, it is fun to return to the commercial to see how it all comes together for maximum visual effect and feeling.
Special appreciation goes to dean jordan, one of the true Jedi Knights of Kiting for providing me with details about the project.
For those of you interested in the terrific background music, it is entitled "Snow Day" by Matt Pond. The full version can be enjoyed, along with some of his unique song stylings on YouTube as well.
- Special thanks to Gary Mark of Blue Sky Kites for alerting me to this story and to dean jordan who generously posted on Facebook and provided me with details about his exploits in this project.
- The copyright for the commercial resides with Starbucks and the makers of the video. Generously shared via YouTube.com
- Music rights reside with the talented musician, Matt Pond.
- dean jordan (sic) will likely star at a major kite festival near you some time. His kites and personality on the field are always appreciated at any festival that he attends.
England will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of a famous early aircraft at the upcoming Bristol International Kite Festival at the end of July, 2010. Part of the celebration features a launch of one hundred small, replica box kites constructed by students in Bristol area schools.
The story of the students building kites and some information on the celebrated aircraft, the Bristol Box Kite, is featured in a BBC story entitled “Replica Boxkites celebrate aviation history with ascent”.
The Bristol Box Kite (the actual name of the early English airplane) flew for the first time on July 29, 1910 in Bristol, England.
Based on a successful design by Henri Farman, a French aviation pioneer, the Bristol Box Kite airplane was the first production airplane in the world with 76 units built by the Colonial Airplane Company in Bristol before a major design upgrade. The design was so similar to the original Farman airplane that Farman threatened legal action. Although no documents attest to this, it is rumoured that the manufacturer paid a license fee for each plane produced to Farman.
Sixty of the 76 production units were produced for the British War Ministry while the remaining twelve units went to the armed forces of Australia, Bulgaria, Russia, South Africa, and Spain. In spite of their fragile appearance, so typical of early aircraft, small numbers of the Bristol Box Kite remained in service with the England’s RAF as two-seat training aircraft during the early part of WWI.
The airplane is very famous and was featured in the 1965 movie “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines”. A successful flying replica built for the movie by 20th Century Fox was later sold to the British Aircraft Corporation at Filton, Bristol, England. The corporation presented the plane to Bristol's City Museum & Art Gallery in 1965 where it has been on display ever since.
The fact that this airplane was created and flown seven years after the flight of the Wright Flyer and two years later than the Aerial Experiment Association’s five pioneering aerodromes: the Cygnet (giant tetrahedral kite), the Red Wing, the White Wing, the June Bug, and the Silver Dart attests to the slow, measured progress in the development of early aircraft.
Steps in getting people successfully and safely into the air were very slow in the early stages. The principles of flight had been discovered and detailed by Sir George Cayley in 1799. Often named as the first person to understand the underlying principles and forces of flight, Cayley built a pioneering model glider in 1804 that successfully demonstrated that a device could be constructed to master the four aerodynamic forces of flight—weight, lift, drag, and thrust. Cayley’s glider used “push” as the source of thrust since no light weight power sources that could propel a structure aloft carrying a person were available until the early 1900’s. Once light weight engines were developed and supporting fuselage and wing structures were advanced enough, the Wrights, the AEA, and French and Brazilian aviation pioneers began building actual powered airplanes.
It is great to see the young students building box kites to fly at the Bristol International Kite Festival later this month. This is a great way to draw another generation of kiters into the wonder of tethered flight. Another 100th anniversary milestone of flight that links back to kites!
Webb Taylor of Portsmouth Virginia is an accomplished kite maker of small kites that are really creative and interesting.
Coming from a background in aeronautics, the retired Mr. Taylor took up the making of small kites as a hobby. Webb has crafted some terrific small kites as he progresses in skill with this type of kite making.
Webb's work with kites and photos of his kites are found in a HamptonRoads.com on-line newspaper article by Cindy Clayton published in The Virginian-Pilot on July 11, 2010. The article is entitled "Hooked on Kite Making". The excellent photos that accoompany the article are by Steve Early of The Virginian-Pilot.
I found the article to be interesting for several reasons:
- Webb's kite designs are truly high quality small kites.
- Good photos of some of the steps that Webb uses to fashion his kites (these photos could be a guide to anyone wanting to get started in this type of kite making).
- A description of the type of bamboo that he uses for the framing materials (Webb splits ordinary bamboo food skewers to get the thin bendable strips of bamboo necessary for this type of kite construction).
- The article is more in depth than most standard newspaper articles about kites.
Journalist Cindy Clayton has done a great job in covering this story and showing the fine craftsmanship of Webb Taylor.
Perhaps this article about Webb Taylor's kite making will encourage you to start some kite making on a smaller scale.
For Additional Reading:
One of the finest miniature kite makers is Glenn Davison, a New England kite artist of world renown from Massachusetts. Glenn's web site, miniaturekitingusa.com, includes galleries of his amazing kites, plans and building tips to get you started or raise your skill with this fascinating aspect of kite building.