Did you know that kites originated in China as military signaling devices. Around 1200 B.C., a Chinese kite’s colour, its painted pattern, and particularly the air movements it was forced to execute communicated coded messages between camps.
The ancient Chinese became so proficient in constructing huge, lightweight kites that they attempted, with marginal success, to employ them as one-man aircraft. The flier, spread-eagled upon the upper surface of a bamboo-and-paper construction, held hand grips and hoped for a strong and steady wind. Ancient Chinese silk prints and woodcuts show children flying small kites of ingenious design, whose variety of weighted tails indicates that the aerodynamic importance of tails was appreciated early in kite construction.
From China, kites traveled to India, then to Europe, and in each new land their initial application was in military communications, where they complemented older signaling devices such as hillside beacon fires and coded bursts of smoke. By the twelfth century, European children were flying “singing” kites, which whistled by means of small holes in the kite’s body and the use of multiple vibrating cords. Kites carrying atmospheric measuring equipment played a vital role in the science of meteorology, and knowledge gleaned from centuries of kite construction helped establish the field of aerodynamics. Today the kite survives in all cultures as a toy.