The Cygnet - A Monster Tetrahedral Kite

The Cygnet was a large tetrahedral structured kite-like device (based on Bell's earlier "Frost King" tetrahedral kite of 1905).

In the Cygnet, there were 3393 tetrahedral cells each measuring 25 cm along the four dimensions. The cell bank configuration was 52 x 12 x 12. The overall span was 13 m (42.5 feet) and the chord 3 m (9.84 feet).

The entire device was fitted with pontoon type floats to support it on water, which was to be the launching surface. The cell structure of this aerodrome was 47.052 kg (104.5 pounds). With floats, the device weighed 94.5 kg (208 pounds).

Several tests were run by towing the Cygnet behind some boats on Little Bras d'Or Lake in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

On December 3, 1907, the Cygnet flew briefly as an unmanned kite. Some modest damage happened on landing and the craft was repaired for a December 6, 1907, manned flight trial.

Thomas Selfridge was in the flight seat on this occasion. The Cygnet, with Selfridge moving his body around in the space designed for the flier, gained an altitude of 168 feet until the wind dropped and the machine began to descend after seven minutes in the air.

The tow boat's line was not cut immediately upon the craft's contact with the water surface and the Cygnet nosed over with Selfridge still in it. The force created by briefly towing the kite in this attitude on the water led to it beginning to submerge and ultimately breaking in two.

Selfridge was rescued from the very cold waters and the remainder of the parts of the Cygnet were pulled on to the attending boats. Although the Cygnet was beyond repair, Bell felt that she had "fullfiled her function" and had "demonstrated the important fact that the tetrahedral system can be utilized in structures intended for aerial locomotion." (1)



1.  Parkin, J. H. Bell and Baldwin, 48.