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A Brief History Of Kites. Part 4

Through the 'nineties and into the dawn of the twentieth century, enthusiasts in various parts of the world were making hazardous experiments with kites and kite-like machines. They were persistent and courageous in their attempts to conquer the air. By their devotion to a great idea they blazed a trail which leads to the aeroplane of today. Passengers in the great flying machines of the modern world owe a great debt to the kite and to those who realized and worked out its inherent possibilities. It may not be easy at first to discern any connexion between the kite and the aeroplane. It is to be hoped that this brief history will make this connexion a little more obvious, and will help the reader to understand what Captain Ferber meant when he declared that the kite was only an anchored aeroplane.

It is true that he was referring to the aeroplanes of his own day, that is to say, the experimental period which has been under review. During this time many of the machines, as we have seen, showed the influence of the kite very plainly in their design. As a result of this likeness between the two, people then may indeed have regarded the kite as an anchored aeroplane, and to put it the other way round, the aeroplane as an unanchored kite. But the meaning of Ferber's statement goes deeper than a passing likeness. In other words, the statement says that the forces which operate in flying a kite also operate in the flight of an aeroplane. Therefore, though the aeroplane of today may, in some respects, seem far removed from the earlier machines, and even farther from the kite, the connexion between the kite and the aeroplane remains. In flight both are subject to the influence of resistance; propulsion; lift and weight. In the course of its history the kite has been linked to other great names and events. In order to show this, the eighteenth century is taken for the starting point.

In 1706 Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts. This great American statesman was an authority on meteorology. In 1746 he began to study the problems of electricity. In 1752 he carried out a demonstration to prove that lightning is electrical energy. He flew a kite in a thunderstorm in order to draw electricity from the clouds. He fastened a key to the kite wire-line, to which he also attached a silk ribbon. The ribbon was to prevent the lightning from passing through his body. The lightning travelled down the line and was conducted to earth. When he announced to the Royal Society that his kite had drawn lightning from the clouds, he was laughed at; but later it had to be admitted that what he said was true. As a result of his experiment, he invented his lightning conductor in 1753. When it is recorded that the Empire State Building in New York was struck by lightning sixty-three times in three years it proves the importance of efficient conductors, and therefore proves the importance of Franklin's discovery. It is interesting to note that a kite played a part in the invention of this safety device. Incidentally, when he was a boy, Franklin used a kite to draw him across a lake when bathing. He declared that the English Channel could be crossed by the same means.

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