Kites – so much more than child’s play !
Ah, the old-fashioned charm of flying kites on the beach! To celebrate the arrival of summer, let’s take a closer look at an object we’re all familiar with, although we may not know all its uses; an object that’s appreciated as much for its beauty as for its aerodynamic performance.
Kiting: a Worldwide Tradition
Originating in China around 2500 BC, kites are one of the oldest toys in the world. The first kites were shaped like dragons or snakes, and were primarily used for military purposes, to give signals, send messages, ward off enemies, or assess distances. They were also used as oracles and weather instruments. Marco Polo imported the kite to the West at the end of the XIII century. They exist in many cultures across the five continents and often have a mystical significance. In Polynesia, the Maori consider them a link between heaven and earth. In the Far East, they are sometimes equipped with whistles and candles to attract the attention of spirits, while in Guatemala kites are flown on All Saints’ Day to enable the souls of the departed wandering around Earth to reach the sky.
A Poetic Sport
For some, a childhood summer pastime develops into a real passion later as adults. The growing number of international kite gatherings bears testament to this. For others, it’s even a high-flying sport discipline with rules, federations and competition circuits. The World Sport Kite Championships are organised in April every other year in Berck-sur-Mer in the north of France, as part of the International Kite Festival, an unmissable event for kite-lovers from around the globe. Other prestigious international gatherings are held in Bali, China, Japan, Guatemala, the United States and Australia, among others.
A Scientific Tool
It’s a lesser known fact that the scientific community has long been interested in kites. In 1752, Benjamin Franklin used a kite to explain the phenomenon of lightning and invented the lightning rod. Kites have also played a major role in the history of aviation. Before our time, Chinese pioneers built kites big enough to lift a passenger and the very first known aircraft was no more than a kite equipped with an engine.
With climate change, the kite is returning to the forefront of innovation as a motive power. For the first time, an Antarctic expedition in December 2018 and January 2019 used a giant 120-metre square kite to pull a truck-sized sledge loaded with over 2 tonnes of material. This zero-emission vehicle called “Inuit Windsled” was designed by the Spanish polar explorer Ramón Larramendi, who led the expedition. This extraordinary mission enabled ten scientific experiments to be conducted in the fields of climate change, meteorology and astrobiology.
“This marks the first time we’ve climbed the Fuji Dome in a vehicle driven by the wind. (…) this is also the first time we’ve travelled more than 2,400 km with more than 2,000 kg of cargo using a vehicle that does not pollute the Antarctic continent,” enthused the explorer.
With its finesse, resistance and lightness, the aerodynamic virtues of the kite, known to us for millennia, are continuing to inspire science and enchant children and adults alike.
The first known aircraft were no more than kites equipped with engines.
In January 2019, a scientific expedition transported 2 tonnes of cargo across 2,400 km of the Antarctic continent using a giant kite.
This Summer’s Kite Destinations
Portsmouth Kite Festival (England) : 10–11 July, 2019
Berkeley Kite Festival 2019 (San Francisco district, USA) : 27–28 July, 2019
Bali International Kite Festival 2019 : 15–18 August, 2019
Festival of the Winds (Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia) : 8 September, 2019