Drawing of the Wright brothers' kite

Did you know kite flying was instrumental in the development of human flight?

The image of founding father Ben Franklin flying his kite is quite familiar. But Ben wasn’t the only inventor who learned a thing or two from a kite. The fathers of flight, the Wright brothers, spent a fair amount of time building, flying and learning from kites too. The kite was invented in ancient times in Weifang, China, a city that celebrates annually with an international kite festival.

The Wrights started with a biplane kite built to test the idea of warped wing lateral control. Conceptualizing, illustrating, constructing and testing the kite were significant accomplishments. Wilbur had previously used an open-ended pasteboard box kite and pressed the corners together so that the upper and lower surfaces were given a spiral twist, presenting the top and bottom surfaces of the box at different angles on the right and left sides. Such successful kite experiments encouraged the Wrights to proceed with the building of a man-piloted glider.

Wilbur flew the biplane kite in July 1899. The only other witnesses to this field experiment were a group of school children. They must have been puzzled by the man in business attire toying with a large, strange looking kite. The biplane kite responded quickly and precisely to Wilbur’s commands. Having proven the soundness of their wing-warping control system, the Wrights began designing a full-size, piloted glider.

The expression “go fly a kite” is used dismissively, but if you can think like Orville and Wilbur did, who knows what you might learn while toying with a kite of your own. And if nothing else, watching a kite soar above you is a great way to unwind. And here’s an idea: Perhaps Weifang and Dayton, Ohio, the hometown of the Wright brothers, are naturals as sister cities!

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