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A kite is a tethered aircraft. The necessary lift that makes the kite wing fly is generated when air flows over and under the kite's wing, producing low pressure above the wing and high pressure below it. This deflection also generates horizontal drag along the direction of the wind. The resultant force vector from the lift and drag force components is opposed by the tension of the one or more lines or tethers. The anchor point of the kite line may be static or moving (e.g., the towing of a kite by a running person, boat, free-falling anchors as in paragliders and fugitive parakites or vehicle).
Kites may be flown for recreation, art or other practical uses. Sport kites can be flown in aerial ballet, sometimes as part of a competition. Power kites are multi-line steerable kites designed to generate large forces which can be used to power activities such as kite surfing, kite landboarding, kite fishing, kite buggying and a new trend snow kiting. Kites towed behind boats can lift passengers which has had useful military applications in the past.
It is generally accepted that kites were first developed approximately 2,800 years ago in China, where materials ideal for kite building were readily available: silk fabric for sail material; fine, high-tensile-strength silk for flying line; and resilient bamboo for a strong, lightweight framework.
The kite was said to be the invention of the famous 5th-century BC Chinese philosophers Mozi and Lu Ban. By at least 549 AD paper kites were being flown, as it was recorded in that year a paper kite was used as a message for a rescue mission. Ancient and medieval Chinese sources list other uses of kites for measuring distances, testing the wind, lifting men, signaling, and communication for military operations. The earliest known Chinese kites were flat (not bowed) and often rectangular. Later, tailless kites incorporated a stabilizing bowline. Kites were decorated with mythological motifs and legendary figures; some were fitted with strings and whistles to make musical sounds while flying.
Kites were known throughout Polynesia, as far as New Zealand, with the assumption being that the knowledge diffused from China along with the people. Anthropomorphic kites made from cloth and wood were used in religious ceremonies to send prayers to the gods. Polynesian kite traditions are used by anthropologists get an idea of early "primitive" Asian traditions that are believed to have at one time existed in Asia.
Kites were late to arrive in Europe, although windsock-like banners were known and used by the Romans. Stories of kites were first brought to Europe by Marco Polo towards the end of the 13th century, and kites were brought back by sailors from Japan and Malaysia in the 16th and 17th centuries. Although they were initially regarded as mere curiosities, by the 18th and 19th centuries kites were being used as vehicles for scientific research.
In 1750, Benjamin Franklin published a proposal for an experiment to prove that lightning is electricity by flying a kite in a storm that appeared capable of becoming a lightning storm. It is not known whether Franklin ever performed his experiment, but on May 10, 1752, Thomas-François Dalibard of France conducted a similar experiment (using a 40-foot (12 m) iron rod instead of a kite) and extracted electrical sparks from a cloud.
Kites were also instrumental in the research and development of the Wright brothers when building the first airplane in the late 1800s. Over the next 70 years, many new kite designs were developed, and often patented. These included Eddy's tail-less diamond kite, the tetrahedral kite, the flexible kite, the sled kite, and the parafoil kite, which helped to develop the modern hang-gliders. In fact, the period from 1860 to about 1910 became the "golden age of kiting". Kites started to be used for scientific purposes, especially in meteorology, aeronautics, wireless communications and photography; many different designs of man-lifting kite were developed as well as power kites.
The development of powered airplane diminished interest in kites. World War II saw a limited use of kites for military purposes (see Focke Achgelis Fa 330 for example) but since then they are used mainly for recreation.
Designs often emulate flying insects, birds, and other beasts, both real and mythical. The finest Chinese kites are made from split bamboo (usually golden bamboo), covered with silk, and hand painted. On larger kites, clever hinges and latches allow the kite to be disassembled and compactly folded for storage or transport. Cheaper mass-produced kites are often made from printed polyester rather than silk.
Tails are used for some single-line kite designs to keep the kite's nose pointing into the wind. Spinners and spinsocks can be attached to the flying line for visual effect. There are rotating wind socks which spin like a turbine. On large display kites these tails, spinners and spinsocks can be 50 feet (15 m) long or more.
Modern acrobatic kites use two or four lines to allow fine control of the kite's angle to the wind. Traction kites may have an additional line to de-power the kite and quick-release mechanisms to disengage flyer and kite in an emergency.
Kites have been used for military uses in the past for signaling, for delivery of munitions, and for observation, by lifting an observer above the field of battle, and by using kite aerial photography.
Russian chronicles mention prince Oleg of Novgorod use kites during the siege of Constantinople in 906: "and he crafted horses and men of paper, armed and gilded, and lifted them into the air over the city; the Greeks saw them and feared".
Kites were also used by Admiral Yi of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) of Korea. During the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–1598), Admiral Yi commanded his navy with kites. His kites had specific markings directing his fleet to perform his order. The war eventually resulted in a Korean victory; the kites played a minor role in the war's conclusion.
In more modern times the British Army used kites to haul human lookouts high into the air for observation purposes, using the kites developed by Samuel Franklin Cody. Barrage kites were used to protect shipping during the last Second World War. Kites were also used for anti-aircraft target practice. Kites and kytoons were used for lofting communications antenna. Submarines lofted observers in rotary kites. The Rogallo parawing kite and the Jalbert parafoil kite were used for governable parachutes (free-flying kites) to deliver troops and supplies.
Kites have been used for scientific purposes, such as Benjamin Franklin's famous experiment proving that lightning is electricity. Kites were the precursors to the traditional aircraft, and were instrumental in the development of early flying craft. Alexander Graham Bell experimented with very large man-lifting kites, as did the Wright brothers and Lawrence Hargrave. Kites had a historical role in lifting scientific instruments to measure atmospheric conditions for weather forecasting.
Kites can be used for radio purposes, by kites carrying antennas for MF, LF or VLF-transmitters. This method was used for the reception station of the first transatlantic transmission by Marconi. Captive balloons may be more convenient for such experiments, because kite-carried antennas require a lot of wind, which may be not always possible with heavy equipment and a ground conductor. It must be taken into account during experiments, that a conductor carried by a kite can lead to a high voltage toward ground, which can endanger people and equipment, if suitable precautions (grounding through resistors or a parallel resonant-circuit tuned to transmission frequency) are not taken.
Kites can be used to carry light effects such as lightsticks or battery powered lights.
Kites can be used to pull people and vehicles downwind. Efficient foil-type kites such as power kites can also be used to sail upwind under the same principles as used by other sailing craft, provided that lateral forces on the ground or in the water are redirected as with the keels, center boards, wheels and ice blades of traditional sailing craft. In the last two decades several kite sailing sports have become popular, such as kite buggying, kite landboarding, kite boating and kite surfing. Snow kiting has also become popular in recent years.
Kite sailing opens several possibilities not available in traditional sailing:
Kite festivals are a popular form of entertainment throughout the world. They include large local events, traditional festivals which have been held for hundreds[clarification needed] of years and major international festivals which bring in kite flyers from Britain to display their unique art kites and demonstrate the latest technical kites.
Kite flying is popular in many Asian countries, where it often takes the form of 'kite fighting', in which participants try to snag each other's kites or cut other kites down. Fighter kites are usually small, flat, flattened diamond-shaped kites made of paper and bamboo. Tails are not used on fighter kites so that agility and maneuverability are not compromised.
In Afghanistan, kite flying is a popular game, and is known in Dari as Gudiparan Bazi. Some kite fighters pass their strings through a mixture of ground glass powder and glue, which is legal. The resulting strings are very abrasive and can sever the competitor's strings more easily. The abrasive strings can also injure people. During the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, kite flying was banned, among various other recreations.
In Pakistan, kite flying is often known as Gudi-Bazi or Patang-bazi. Although kite flying is a popular ritual for the celebration of spring festival known as Jashn-e-Baharaan (lit. Spring Festival) or Basant, kites are flown throughout the year. Kite fighting is a very popular all around Pakistan, but centered in urban centers across the country especially Lahore. The kite fights are at their maximum during the spring celebrations and the fighters enjoy competing with rivals in which one have to cut-loose the string of the kite of other, this is popularly called as "Paecha". During the spring festival, kite flying competitions are held across the country and the skies are colored with kites. As people cut-loose an opponents kites, shouts of 'wo kata' ring through the air. Reclaiming the kites, after they have been cut-loose by running after them, is a popular ritual especially among the youth (similar to scenes depicted in the Kite Runner which is based in neighboring Afghanistan). Kites and strings are a big business in the country and many types of strings are used: glass-coated strings, metal strings and tandi. However, kite flying was recently banned in Punjab due to recent motorcyclist deaths caused by glass-coated or metal kite-strings. Kup, Patang, Guda, and Nakhlaoo are some of the kites used. They vary in balance, weight and speed through the air.
In Vietnam, kites are flown without tails. Instead small flutes are attached allowing the wind to "hum" a musical tune. There are other forms of sound-making kites. In Bali, large bows are attached to the front of the kites to make a deep throbbing vibration, and in Malaysia row of gourds with sound-slots are used to create a whistle as the kite flies.
Kites are very popular in India, with the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Gujarat, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Punjab notable for their kite fighting festivals. Highly maneuverable single-string paper and bamboo kites are flown from the rooftops while using line friction in an attempt to cut each other's kite lines, either by letting the cutting line loose at high speed or by pulling the line in a fast and repeated manner. During the Indian spring festival of Makar Sankranti, near the middle of January, millions of people fly kites all over northern India. Kite flying in Hyderabad starts a month before this, but kite flying/fighting is an important part of other celebrations, including Republic Day, Independence Day, Raksha Bandhan, Viswakarma Puja day in late September and Janmashtami. An international kite festival is held every year before Uttarayan for three days in Vadodara, Surat and Ahmedabad.
Weifang, Shandong, China is the kite capital of the world. China is the oldest place, probably with India where kites have been flown since antiquities. It is home to the largest kite museum in the world, the thousands of kites here have a display area of 8100 m2. Weifang hosts an annual international kite festival on the large salt flats south of the city. There are several kite museums in Japan, UK, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand and the USA.
In Greece and Cyprus, flying kites is a tradition for Clean Monday, the first day of Lent. In the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, traditional Bermuda kites are made and flown at Easter, to symbolise Christ's ascent. Bermuda kites hold the world records for altitude and duration. In Fuerteventura a kite festival is usually held on the weekend nearest to 8 November lasting for 3 days.
Polynesian traditional kites are sometimes used at ceremonies and variants of traditional kites for amusement. Older pieces are kept in museums.
In Chile, kites are very popular, especially during Independence Day festivities (September 18).
In Colombia, kites can be seen flown in parks and recreation areas during August which is known to be windy. It is during this month that most people, especially the young ones would fly kites.
In Guyana, kites are flown at Easter and is an activity participated in by all ethnic and religious groups. Kites are generally not flown at any other time of year. Kites start appearing in the sky in the weeks leading up to Easter and school children are taken to parks for the activity. It all culminates in a massive airborne celebration on Easter Monday especially in Georgetown, the capital, and other coastal areas. The history of the practice is not entirely clear but given that Easter is a Christian festival, it is said that the flying kite is symbolic of the Risen Lord. Moore describes the phenomenon in the 19th century as follows:
A very popular Creole pastime was the flying of kites. Easter Monday, a public holiday, was the great kite-flying day on the sea wall in Georgetown and on open lands in villages. Young and old alike, male and female, appeared to be seized by kite-flying mania. Easter 1885 serves as a good example. “The appearance of the sky all over Georgetown, but especially towards the Sea Wall, was very striking, the air being thick with kites of all shapes and sizes, covered with gaily coloured paper, all riding bravely on the strong wind"
(His quotation is from a letter to The Creole newspaper of December 29, 1858). The exact origins of the practice of kite flying (exclusively) at Easter are unclear. Brereton and Yelvington speculate that kite flying was introduced by Chinese indentured immigrants to the then colony of British Guyana in the mid 19th century. The author of an article in the Guyana Chronicle newspaper of May 6, 2007 is more certain:
Kite flying originated as a Chinese tradition to mark the beginning of spring. However, because the plantation owners were suspicious of the plantation workers, the Chinese claimed that it represented the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was a clever argument, as at that time, Christians celebrated Easter to the glory of the risen Christ.
In Brazil, flying a kite is almost a religion to many children from North to South of the Country. For the Brazilian children, boys mainly, flying a kite is a big competition and sometimes even young adults and adults become involved. In São Paulo, for example, many children wake up early to fly their kites before and after school time. The goal of the game for them is to cut their opponent's kite and for this they use a special substance, which they make themselves and apply to the string of their kites. This substance, called in Portuguese 'cortante' or cerolis very sharp and it is a mixture of glue and tiny pieces of glass, mixed together. Although it is against the law to use 'cerol' most children make and use it, causing serious and sometimes fatal accidents with motobikers, ciclists, etc. Motobikes sometimes have an antenna to protect the motobikers.
There are safety issues involved in kite-flying, more so with power kites. Kite lines can strike and tangle on electrical power lines, causing power blackouts and running the risk of electrocuting the kite flier. Wet kite lines or wire can act as a conductor for static electricity and lightning when the weather is stormy. Kites with large surface area or powerful lift can lift kite fliers off the ground or drag them into other objects. In urban areas there is usually a ceiling on how high a kite can be flown, to prevent the kite and line infringing on the airspace of helicopters and light aircraft.
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