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War Kites

Updated on April 23, 2016
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Robert writes eclectic and informative articles about a variety of historical subjects including unusual events and people.

A Picture of Samuel Cody's Manlifting Kite
A Picture of Samuel Cody's Manlifting Kite

This article discusses how war kites have been used for observation, heavy lifting and psychological warfare.

Kites are not just toys or for recreation. From the earliest times kites have been used as weapons and tools of war.

In ancient Japan, kites were used for psychological warfare. Noise makers such as bells and gongs were hung from the kite which was then flown over an enemy encampment at night, frightening the soldiers who thought that they were being attacked by invisible evil spirits. There are also records of giant kites being used to lift archers into the air, to fire at enemy troops on the ground.

In Korea, medieval battles were coordinated with signal kites, which transmitted orders to the troops on the ground.

In Europe during the same period, kites were used as range finders during sieges. The kite would be flown to the target, perhaps a tower or battlement, and then allowed to crash. The length of the string was then measured and this gave the besiegers an accurate measurement of how far their siege catapults had to fire in order to hit their target.

Kites in Modern Warfare

At the beginning of the 20th century, the American inventor Samuel Franklin Cody developed his "Man Lifting System" - and in 1903 he obtained a patent on Cody's Mankite. The kite allowed a man to be lifted into the air to act as a forward observer and reconnoiter enemy positions. It was a very valuable tool before the invention of the airplane and was adopted for use by the British army. Variants of this kite were still in use at the beginning of World War 1. The Cody Mankite may have been a reinvention of manlifting kites used in ancient China. Like the Cody Kite, these ancient Chinese equivalents had been capable of lifting a man into the air who could then survey a wide area from high above.

An Early War Kite
An Early War Kite
A Gibson Girl Rescue Kite Used by Downed Airmen During World War 2
A Gibson Girl Rescue Kite Used by Downed Airmen During World War 2

A Man Lifting Kite Used for Observation and Recon

Kites in World War 1 and 2

During the both world wars, kites were used mainly in the areas of surveillance and as target drones for antiaircraft crews. Kites were also used as an air defence weapon by Nazi Germany: large kites would be flown into the path of oncoming bombers and essentially act as a flying obstacle. Some kites carried mines or explosives which would detonate if an airplane collided with them.

The Allies also flew kites during World War 2. In addition to using kites as target practice, the Allies relied on the Gibson Girl which was part of the survival equipment that every bomber crew carried in the event that they went down at sea. The Gibson Girl was a distinctive looking survival radio which had an hourglass figure, and was nicknamed after the personification of feminine beauty, the Gibson Girl, created by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. The radio generated an automatic distress signal in morse code when the operator turned a crank. In order to increase the range of the transmission, the radio was equipped with a long antenna connected to a kite. The kite would raise the antenna high into the sky, allowing the downed bomber crew to call for help.

World War 2 Target Kite Used For Gun Crew Training
World War 2 Target Kite Used For Gun Crew Training

A Demonstration of Kite Aerial Photography


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    • profile image


      9 years ago

      wow, this has just about done my homework ;)

    • suziecat7 profile image


      10 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Interesting - I never knew this - thanks.

    • jim10 profile image


      10 years ago from ma

      I would have an awesome time on the beach playing with a manlifting kite.


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