PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 February, 2010, 12:00am

Aircraft on a string

You can think of a kite as a kind of aircraft on the end of a string. They were probably invented in China a very long time ago. We don't have very good evidence for it. But people who have studied the history of kites think that China had kites made of silk and bamboo nearly 3,000 years ago.

Kites in ancient China were probably not used for fun. Historians think they used them to test the strength of the wind and for communicating during battles. They were also used by people who wanted to signal that they needed help.

Fighter kites

Kites became popular as a kind of recreation in Asia though fighter kites. Fighter kites have to be small so that they are easy to control - or manoeuvre. The idea of kite fighting is to control your kite and swoop and break the line of the other person's kite. In such fights, the line has to be covered with a rough substance and the people controlling the kites have to be careful not to cut their hands.

Another kind of kite fighting is when you try to bring the other person's kite to the ground. This is called a grounding competition. These competitions involved kite runners - as in the recent book and movie. The kite runner works with the person who controls the kite. If they manage to bring someone else's kite down, the kite runner has to capture it on the ground before someone else does.

Putting them to use

When the Japanese invaded Korea in the late 1500s, the admiral of the Japanese navy used kites to send signals to his ships. Marks on the kites gave information to all the ships about which direction to go. In more modern times, kites were even used by armies to put men up in the air so they could see long distances and give information about what enemy troops were doing.

Probably the most famous practical use a kite has been put to was when American inventor Benjamin Franklin proved that lightning is electricity. Franklin realised that if you send a kite up into the air during a storm, the wet string can carry electricity. Nobody is really sure whether he actually did it. Some people say he did, in June of 1852. The question is how he avoided being electrocuted.

In the news ...

In mid-January this year, environmentalists in the Indian city of Surat held a funeral procession for birds killed in an annual kite flying festival. The festival features fighter kites with strings covered with broken glass. The problem is that birds get entangled in the strings and die. The bird lovers took the fallen birds to a crematorium and burned them in a ceremony.

now do this

1 The earliest kites were ...

a. fighter kites

b. made of silk and bamboo

c. used for communication in battle

2 The most famous practical application of a kite was ...

a. during the Japanese invasion of Korea.

b. by the British in the second world war

c. by the American inventor who proved that lightning was electricity

3 Environmentalists in India held a procession recently ...

a. to protest kite festivals

b. to commemorate birds killed in a kite festival

c. to call for environmentally friendly kites.


January 27

1. c, 2. b, 3. a