The Box Kite: History, How they Work, Spectacular Designs

A simple Box Kite
A simple Box Kite

Box kites haven't been around for as long as many people think, The Chinese were using single sail kites 2.800 years ago. The box kite though, was only invented about one hundred years ago by an Australian called Lawrence Hargrave. He wanted to use them for manned flight.and managed to get about 16 feet into the air by using a series of linked kites.

The Wright Brothers were also influenced by the box kite in their design of the first manned plane, The way that box kites are made means they can be very light, rigid and strong. They also give more lift than a single sail kite and most altitude flying records are held by box kites

A kind of box kite called the Cody Kite was used for observation of enemy positions in The Boer War. Box kites were given to pilots in World War 2 who were at risk of ditching in the ocean. They could run up the kite and use the cable as a radio aerial to transmit a distress call.

Collecting Weather Data

The kite below was designed by H.H. Clayton, of the Blue Hill Observatory, Boston, USA in the 1890's.

It could carry weather instruments to a height of 9,200 feet which is nearly two miles!

Such successful, easy-to-fly designs, caught the public imagination and made box kites one of the sensations of the age.

H.H. Clayton's, box kite from late 1800's.
H.H. Clayton's, box kite from late 1800's.

Box Kites for Fun

Although the box kite was originally developed for serious purposes, it soon became a favorite of children and grown ups around the world.

By the late 19th Century, designs were appearing in books aimed at families who like to build their own playthings.

Below is an illustration from a woodworking manual in a series called the 'Children's Library' of the late Victorian era. It shows how to make a box kite according to the latest 'scientific design'.

You can find the book by a simple search of Project Gutenberg.

A box kite design from The Children's Library
A box kite design from The Children's Library
Different air speed above and below a wing or kite surface means lift.
Different air speed above and below a wing or kite surface means lift.
The Wright Biplane. A box kite with an engine!
The Wright Biplane. A box kite with an engine!

How does a Kite Work?


The kite flies in amost exactly the same way that an aircraft flies. The difference is that an aircraft's engines force it through the air but a kite is tied and held still while air (wind) rushes over it.

When air flows over an aircraft wing or a kite surface, it will flow more quickly over one surface then the other.The difference in air speed between the upper and lower surface means there will be a pressure difference and this means lift. The picture explains it better than words!

If you want to understand how all the forces in a kite work, this page from NASA will tell you: http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/airplane/kitefor.html


How do You Make a Box Kite?

You need light, rigid struts and a material that won't stretch too much even if it gets wet. This meant bamboo and silk for early Chinese single surface kites.

Nowadays, there are space age materials that are super strong and light like Dacron and carbon fiber struts. This means ever better performances from all kinds of kites. There are even radio controlled kites available!

The video below shows you how to assemble one kind of box kite.

Different kinds of Box Kite


It is posssible to design all kinds of kites with the basic box kite structure. The video below shows a twisted box kite which has a spectacluar appearance in the air. Equally spectacular are some of the designs on the Rei camping and hiking site- like the one to the right

Kite Fairs Conventions and Meetings.


One of the biggest kite fairs in the world is held every year at Long Beach in Washington State

http://www.2camels.com/international-kite-festival.php

Lincoln City Kite Festival

The Pacific Coast also offers the Lincoln City Kite Festical, Why is the Pacific coast so blessed with festivals? The wind off the pacific is usually steady and true as well as strong enough to make it one of the best areas to fly a kite in the world.

Interactive Kite Modeller Program

NASA offer a page where you can design your own kite and see how it performs http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/airplane/kiteprog.html

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