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High altitude kite flying history
In the period 1880 to 1930, the majority of high altitude kite flying was conducted at weather stations in Europe and the United States. Single kites were used at first but with the line and kite materials of the day it became necessary to fly multiple kites on one line to provide the lift for long line lengths and instrument weights. The "enemy" of high altitude flight is aerodynamic line drag. In the 1890s, Australian, Laurence Hargraves, invented the box kite which provided the platform to lift instruments to much higher altitudes with stability. Modified versions such as the Blue Hill Box Kite and the kites of the Lindenberg observatory in Germany were the standout metereological platforms that resulted in record altitudes.
After a break of nearly 40 years, recreational kites, including the delta became more readily available and cheaper and by 1965 there were dozens of plastic kite designs including the "bat kite" and other delta derivities. These new light weight kites and and the advent of synthetic materials enabled any child to afford a kite and some would let all their string out to soar their kites to 300 or 400 ft above the ground and sometimes higher. Their are always those amongst us who want to push the limits and are facinated by reaching the boundaries of their physical world. In 1969, a team of Gary Indiana highschool students, with support from the Gayla Kite company, flew a train of 19 plastic delta kites on nylon fishing line. They claim over 35,000 ft above ground level was reached and they maintain line out and a catenary equation were good enough to support their claim for record altitude. I doubt very much that they achieved this height however they had fun.
Above: Are the types of kites that were used in Germany for high altitude flights during routine atmospheric soundings in the first quarter of the 20th century. This is at Lindenberg, site of the absolute world altitude record set at 31,955 ft in 1919. The line broke on retrieval but luckily they recovered the instrument otherwise they had no evidence. Still a dubious claim IMO if they did not wind the kites in.
Right: Richard Synergy of Toronto, Canada claimed he flew a 270 sq meter Delta to 14,509 ft above ground level on the 14th of August 2000 near Kincardine Canada.
Image: Richard Synergy and Drachen foundation
Altitude record attempts are not part of mainstream kiting as it is a very difficult task and is also a narrow field of interest. People ask me why I do this? What is the point. Is there any money in it? Is it a competition? Other "get it" entirely and don't need to ask any of these questions. It doesn't seem like an exciting activity, the kite is out of sight for most of the day, there are no roaring engines, no sweating steads, no throngs of screaming fans. There is a lot of underlying tension (no pun intended) as the line may break at any time with an unexpected increase in wind. It is a mental challenge against the self and the elements, an intellectual challenge to discover the facts about our atmosphere, to tame the immense forces, to build things from metal, to make machines that squeek, rattle and do work, spinning pulleys, capstan, shafts and bearings. Things I dreamt up with my brain. Things I constructed and assembled with my hands all working together in harmony. It's man against the forces of the wind, the freezing atmosphere. To do which hasn't been done before. A sense of accomplishment, of personal achievement. I'ts an example for others, for my children and grand children, a demonstration of determination, of sticking to a task, of applying all your knowledge and skills, of learning new skills and knowledge.
Some boys and men (I never heard of women flying kites really high, but they may) are encouraged by their flights to 700 - 800 ft, make claims that they will break the world kite altitude record. They soon find out it's not just a matter of buying big spools of fishing line or string, joining them together and flying the kite out of sight. I hear of more serious attempts such as Richard Crawford's in Wyoming but it seems he has given up at a relatively low altitude of 6,500 ft. It is a very difficult project and the biggest barrier is suitable wind. It requires a great deal of patience once the equipment and techniques are refined. There are 2 records.One is the single kite record and the other is the kite train or multiple kites on one main line. For all the budding high flyers out there, you must have rock solid evidence. Use GPS at least, not some guess, estimate or inaccurate method such as a hiking watch with altimeter function. Line out and kite angle can never be used nor can catenary equations as the line's sag doesn't represent a gravitational catenary. For very long line lengths not only does the wind add to the sag but it actually exceeds the contribution to sag that gravity makes. Also due to changes in wind direction as the kite rises, the line usually describes a curve to the left or right and sometimes an ess shape or even a spiral. Line out may be 15,000 ft but the direct distance to the kite may only be 10,000 feet and altitude 7,000 ft. The trigonometric calculation may give 10,605 ft, an error of 34%. High altitude kite flying techniques may have some benifit for airborn wind generators which are being evaluated by several teams currently. There may be a long way to go before this form of energy generation become a reality but our achievements could have some great benefit in the future and has not just been an advanced hobby with no practical use.
Left: The Gayla kite company provided the kites and line, Gary Indiana high school provided the students and a math teacher performed the catenary calculations. Still fatally flawed assumptions IMO with no direct measurement of the top kite's altutude with a recording barometric altimeter. but it is possible that they reached their claimed altitude. The critical flaw IMO is they did not retrieve the kites and also deliberately cut the line, releasing over 55,000 ft of fishing line into the environment.
image: Gayla Kite Company via Kitelife magazine
Images: Lindenberg Museum
Late in the 19th century, a US weather station box kite, a derivative of The Hargraves Box Kite. A meteorograph is between the cells, top centre and it measures and records barometric pressure then transfers to a rolling graph paper with ink pens. Trains of these kites regularly flew over 10,000 ft.
Image: Drachen Foundation
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Image: Lindenberg Museum
The Lindenberg weather station's kite round house showing control switches and line tension dynamometer