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The Soaring History of Kites

Updated on October 25, 2016
Docmo profile image

Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.

The Kite Fights

There was a boy who lived in the street next to us where I grew up and he was a kite flyer. He was a good flyer and he participated in kite fights. He handmade his own kites and I used to go and watch him. He would use thin bamboo sticks for the spars and used silk or thin paper for the material. His kites were usually brightly coloured and had dramatic tail designs.

It was what he did to the twine that was fascinating – he would use an odd and smelly mixture of resin, glue and crushed glass called ‘Maanjaa’ and apply them throughout the length of the twine. This way when he is up in the air and he duels with another kite, his twine will prevail by cutting the enemies loose. I loved this idea of the duel in the sky and as most houses in India have flat roofs with terraces, we would all go up to the terrace and watch the kite fights in the evening sky.

The winners would dance triumphantly in the updraft, wagging their tails and strutting while the losers helplessly drifted in the wind, disappearing into the distant sky as tiny diamond silhouettes.

I’ll never forget those evenings.

It was this that made me think of where Kites really come from and who first had this thought of sending these tethered aircraft into the air and controlling them from the Ground.

The History of Kites

That honour goes to the Chinese. They have a long and ancient history of Kite flying going back nearly 3000 years of history. The Chinese were master kite makers, they used silk and bamboo to craft kites in various shapes and forms and flew them to the delight of children and adults. They experimented with shapes, coming up with box kites and even floating Chinese lanterns that were sometimes tethered. They used mythological figures on their kite fabric and revered kite flying as an art form and revered religion.

The Chinese didn’t just use the Kites for gaming and pleasure; they conducted experiments, measured distances and wind speed, spied on enemies, and even attempted to deliver armed men in large kites to scare the enemies during warfare.

From the Chinese travellers who visited ancient India, the Kite soon travelled to India and the long tradition of paper kite flying is still maintained to this day in India.

Chinese kite flying festival
Chinese kite flying festival

Around the World

The Kite spread to Malaysia and Japan and soon trickled into Europe via the voyages of Marco Polo. The sailors brought back this curiosity to Europe and tried to fly it with varying success. It wasn’t until the 18th and 19th century that kites, quite literally, took off in Europe as a way of recreation but also scientific experimentation.

The apocryphal story of Ben Franklin’s kite experiment is from 1750 in his attempts to prove that lightning was indeed, electric charge. The European experimentation with lightning and kites was demonstrated in 1752 by Thomas Francois Dalibard.

Soon Kites 'soared' as recreational objects across the countries, along the beaches in summer, giving pleasure to children and adults everywhere. Once the further uses of Kites became apparent they have enjoyed a renaissance as sports enthusiasts took them and made them their own.

The Kite flying festivals across the world now illustrate the widespread adoption of Kite flying and the enthusiastic kite flyers that flock to them in thousands.

Careful Ben!
Careful Ben!

International Kite Festivals

Kite Festivals
Gudiparan Bazi
Coolum Kite Festival, Queensland
During Mahr Sankranti ( Sun festival) in Ahmedabad and all over the country. ( Patang)
During Republic Day and other national festivals
Jashn-e-bahaaran ( spring festival)
Weifang ( oldest Kite Museum) Kite Festival
Clean Monday ( First day of Lent)
Independence Day
Dieppe Kite Festival ( 2 yearly)
Pasir Gudang
Bristol Kite Festival
Niagara Kite Festival

The Structure of a Kite

Paper and Silk were the mainstay for the kite fabric and bamboo and other flexible wood were used as spars. Increasingly modern materials such as nylon, Dacron and polystyrene have taken over as suitable material for kites.

The kites can come in simple two dimensional of three dimensional shapes. Nowadays it seems only the imagination is the limit as competing kite-flyers defy aerodynamics to fly bizarre shapes into the sky.

A combination of a kite and a balloon is also known as a kytoon. This is usually a closed shape filled with some gas such as helium or hydrogen.

A standard Kite has the following parts:

A Spine: that runs from top to bottom vertically- flexible wood, bamboo etc.

A Spar: that runs across - flexible wood, bamboo

A Frame : That runs around the margins- some kites just use the spar/spine as frame and rely on the material to give the framework

A Bridle: this is how the flying line is attached to the Kite with a view ot provide a balanced tethering

A Flying Line and a reel: usually made of thread or twine and sometimes nylon or silk threads

The science of Kites
The science of Kites
Icarus and Daedalus: Go on son!
Icarus and Daedalus: Go on son!
The theory of the towline
The theory of the towline

How do Kites Fly?

Kites fly relying on the same principle that work for birds and planes. The laws of aerodynamics have been the preoccupation of man since his dream to fly like a bird. The ancient legend of Icarus and Daedalus demonstrates that the desire to fly using winglike contraptions stemmed from ancient times. Polymaths like Da Vinci & Newton both contemplated flights and Da Vinci’s diagrams of ornithopters and primeval helicopters represent the early scientific principles of thrust, drag, wind resistance etc.

The science of Kite flying is fascinating. When the Kite confronts an airflow it splits the oncoming airstream into two by creating an obstacle. The airstream flows over and under the Kite differentially. While the stream over the kite flows faster and one under flows slower. The pressure created by the air varies based on its speed. Thus the Kite is pushed higher creating the LIFT.

The two streams that vault over the Kite also don’t meet right away due to differential speeds creating what is called the DRAG as the Kite is dragged back into an area of low pressure in its wake. Lift and Drag are vital to the Kite’s flight and should be directly countered by the Pull exhibited by the tow line thus making the Kite fly with stability in a calm sky.

Military uses
Military uses
Military uses
Military uses
Hoisting human cargo
Hoisting human cargo
Harnessing Energy
Harnessing Energy

Kites and their Uses

I am pretty astounded to see the sheer variety of uses Kites have provided since their inception. Even in ancient times the Chinese had adapted the Kites for uses beyond the recreational. There are recorded attempts in Military warfare, Distance Measurement, Meteorology, Leisure, Communication and Transportation.


During wars as far back as 600 AD in the far east, Kites have been sued to strike fear in the hearts of enemies. A Korean General has been known to lift a burning straw man into the sky with a kite creating a burning ball of fire and rallying his troops. Their have been instances where Kites have hoisted human like figures to make the enemy think they were being invaded by air.

In the World Wars Kites have been used to hoist lookouts, radio antennae, signal to the troops using lights and even to hoist a human lookout. Using principles of paragliding, human soldiers have been hoisted off the ground to case the enemy.

Scientific experiments

Since Benjamin Franklin’s lightning experiments Kites have been used to test scientific principles, they were of use to test the atmosphere at a height and for meteorological analysis.

Radio and Communications

Although Balloons and Kytoons are in favour for hoisting UHF antenna and radio transmission, Kites were originally tried by the likes of Marconi and Graham Bell.

Traction and Sports

Large Kites have been used to create a lateral force on the ground and to move humans and objects. Over the past few years, Kite-surfing, Kite –buggying and Kite- snowboarding have become popular for extreme sport enthusiasts.

Hoisting humans & Cargo

Kites can be tethered to Boats moving at high speed to hoist up humans for leisure and also to give the initial boost for para-gliding.

Transport/ Assisting Ships

A German company has been working on huge kites to assist the movement of yachts and baots on the sea and harnessing the wind energy to assist speed and conserving energy. It has proven that Skysails can save up to 30% fuel in used in shipping. This obviously depends of the atmospheric conditions and wind speed/direction.


There are experiments to enhance energy production using Kites at high altitude. The high speed, high altitude wind energy can be used to generate electricity and prototype Kites are being built.


But as always, above all else Kites have been giving pure pleasure to children and adults as could be seen by the various Kite festivals around the world.

Have you ever flown a Kite?

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'Lets go fly a kite' from Mary Poppins!

© 2011 Mohan Kumar


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    • Mansi Narain profile image


      14 months ago from Gwalior

      A complete Wikipedia site for kites!!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      What an amazing history of kites, I don't think you've left anything out. Having read "Kite Runner" I knew about the mixture of glass in the twine used to fly kites. So much interesting stuff to learn about the humble kite. All I ever knew was I couldn't keep my kites up in the air for very long.

      As usual your pictures are perfect showing us exactly what you're talking about. Great job on a subject everyone loves.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

    • KrisL profile image


      6 years ago from S. Florida

      I hugely enjoyed this hub! It makes me want to get out the beach and fly a kite as soon as I can. Thanks, Docmo.

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      6 years ago from UK

      @Daisy: Thanks for resurrecting this hub for more readers... appreciate it.

      @Marcy: thank you very much, I'm glad you found this enjoyable and hopefully instructive. And yes, The Charlie Brown tree thing is such an enduring image!

      @Purvisbobbi44: thank you very much. I too am fond of kites and kite flying and dont often get much of a chance to do that now as I used to in my childhood. It's a great image of a warm summers day.

    • PurvisBobbi44 profile image


      6 years ago from Florida

      Hi Docmo,

      This was a great experience reading your hub. I love kites and flying them on a lonely beach is the greatest adventure one could have with flying kites.


      Bobbi Purvis

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      6 years ago from Planet Earth

      What a cool topic! Clever - and something we have all always wondered about, I think. Kites are such sources of joy and beauty. Oh, and the occasional Charlie Brown tree thing, of course!

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 

      6 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      Mohan (Docmo),

      Thanks for publishing this excellent article. It's obvious that you spent many hours researching the subject.

      Who will not want to go kite flying after reading your Hub? You've brought back happy memories for your readers. We have a kite stored in our garage. I'm going to look for it later today!

    • vespawoolf profile image

      Vespa Woolf 

      7 years ago from Peru, South America

      I've always been fascinated by the history of kites and their use around the world. As a little girl, I also flew kites. My grandfather made a beautiful kite for me of thick, white paper and lightweight balsa wood. I used to watch it fly and imagined flying in the sky with it. Thanks for a thorough hub on this subject. Voted up!

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 

      7 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      You brought back so many memories of my childhood. Thanks for the nostalgic hub.

    • MyCrazyLife101 profile image


      7 years ago from Bird City, KS

      I met my soul mate while flying a kite. The kite is a symbol of love to me. I own some of the books you referenced. Excellent research and writing.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This is an incredibly beautiful hub! The work and effort you put into this is simply amazing. Time to go fly a kite! Voted up and sharing!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      What a fascinating read Docmo! I read the Kite Runner and we try but usually fail at flying kites here but after reading this I now have the history behind kite flying. This was so well-written and informative I'm voting up and more, sharing everywhere! Take care, Kelley

    • ishwaryaa22 profile image

      Ishwaryaa Dhandapani 

      7 years ago from Chennai, India

      An extremely informative, knowledgeable and enjoyable hub on kites! You did meticulous research on this engaging invention - its history, its numerous uses, it's main importance in case of leisure and festivals and all. I remember that as a child, I bought a kite at Marina beach and flew it happily. Hats off to you for creating a wonderful hub! With each and every hub of yours, you always come out with flying colors! Well-done!

      Thanks for SHARING. Useful, Awesome & Interesting. Voted up & Socially Shared.

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      What an informative and entertaining hub! "Kytoon" is a new one to me--a much more descriptive and creative name than "tethered inflatable." And thanks for the interesting history facts. I had no idea kites were "engines of war" in ancient times. Voted up and very interesting!

    • Suelynn profile image


      7 years ago from Manitoba, Canada

      Voted: Interesting, useful and awesome, Docmo. LOVED this hub and everything one ever wants to know about kites. I loved your description of building the kite - my brothers used to do so and I would watch but never tried it myself. The science of kite flying is useful too... wish I had known all that when I took my son and nephews to fly kites... didn't have too much luck back then! Voted up and sharing...

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 

      7 years ago from UK

      I loved flying kites as a kid and still do and my husband never leaves home without one. Okay, I exaggerate a little, but they do come on holiday with us. The kids love flying them too, and have done since they were little and flew Thomas the Tank engine high in the air!

      It was really interesting to read about the history of kite flying - there’s a lot I didn’t know.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      7 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I'm so ready to go fly a kite! Thank you Docmo!:)

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      8 years ago from UK

      @Katiem, thank you very much.. I agree it is a great experience..!

    • katiem2 profile image

      Katie McMurray 

      8 years ago from Westerville

      I love kites, I fly them every chance I get with my two daughters. Its such a beautiful experience and great movement of mind, body and soul. The fresh air and sunshine do a body good as well when flying a kite.

      Kites are a great learning experience and one I feel every child should experience.

      I love your history of the soaring kites, its wonderful and much appreciated.

      Thanks, Katie

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      8 years ago from UK

      Susan, that sounds like a great day out. The sensation of holding that kite that stays up in the air is awesome. Thanks for your comments and votes, much appreciated. You give without even 'just asking'...very generous.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Excellent job! Voted up and awesome! oh and useful too. I always used to try to fly a kite as a child but could just never quite get the hang of until one day I was at a company picnic and we were flying kites and finally after years of trying to get the kites to stay up in the air I finally did it. I remember how proud I was of myself.

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      8 years ago from UK

      @Fossillady.. thank you!

    • Fossillady profile image


      8 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      we used to fly kites when my boys were little but haven't flown it in a while! this spring i'll have to break out my trusty kite with moon and star design made of sturdy nylon. another interesting and inspiring hub, thank for sharing!

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      8 years ago from UK

      Ahh, the fumbles and foibles of kite flying experience. We've all been there. I too remember the nosediving nuisances that plagued my impatience. I just wished there was kind mentor who expertly guided my attempts to fly a Kite. A Mr Miyagi figure, who may have go' wax on, wax off' and hey presto!

    • Amy Becherer profile image

      Amy Becherer 

      8 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Who would think that kite flying is based on scientific principles? Well, at least not in childhood. I had to laugh, as I recall my own experience with kites. It was not idyllic. My sister, who gave up trying and my brother and I looked like three, pissed, little Germans having no fun at all, with kites either stuck in a tree or unable to get the kite to take flight at all, bouncing up and off the ground only to end up entangled in each other. We had the equipment, but our impatience and blockheads defeated the possibility of those beautiful, but unfortunate kites from seeing anything but our petulant faces and the ground where they laid. Beautiful, colorful, informative piece. I decline to "thank you for the memories"! Up, up and away!!!

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      8 years ago from UK

      @Troy M- Thanks!

      @chspublish - I think the festivals are organised on days which have statistically good weather! however we don't need a blustery day to fly a kite. the normal static air currents are enough although a bit of breeze will help much more. thanks for your comments!

      @Prasetio.. thanks for dropping by, yes it is a great hobby and gets the children and adults outdoors having fun!

      @drbj, I always knew you were wise enough to be an ancient entity that straddles eons! I was going to include the tips and tricks for making it fly but the hub would've been even longer.. perhaps a sequel is warranted!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      Long, long ago when the earth was just beginning to cool, I flew a kite and it was a wonderful experience. While it was aloft, that is. My kites never stayed up too long. But this hub is. Up, that is.

    • prasetio30 profile image


      8 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I liked playing kite when I was kid. I really enjoy the history of kite. I thought this game wasn't belong to kid but adult also have a big role and made kite as the most interesting hobby. Keep on hubbing. Vote up!


    • chspublish profile image


      8 years ago from Ireland

      I think your hub could really take off here of it own accord. Good hub, well done. In these festivals I wonder how can the wind be guaranteed?

    • TroyM profile image


      8 years ago

      Interesting photos of kites... Thanks!

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      8 years ago from UK

      Thank you suziecat, appreciate your visit & comments. I am glad you enjoyed this.

    • suziecat7 profile image


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      What a wonderful Hub. Rated up and awesome.

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      8 years ago from UK

      @ everyone, thanks a bunch for your comments. It's amazing how many kite-fans are out there. Glad I could compile this hub as part of the hubmob weekly topic.. I really enjoyed doing this and looks like y'all enjoyed reading this too.

    • marshacanada profile image


      8 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Thanks for the info and great pictures.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      You struck a chord with me with this terrific hub. My folks taught me kite flying when I was only seven, and it became a wondrous obsession with me. Spring was eagerly awaited each year, and still is. These photos are beautiful…thank you for sharing!

    • tedcampbell2792 profile image


      8 years ago from NY

      It's almost that time of year! Thanks for a great, informative hub!

    • daydreamer13 profile image


      8 years ago

      This is so cool! I've always been a big fan of kites! Something that most people I know could care less about. I'm so glad I had the honor of reading this! Thank you!

    • gypsumgirl profile image


      8 years ago from Vail Valley, Colorado

      How very interesting! You shared a lot of information. Thank you, I truly enjoyed learning more about kites.


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