That's the translation of the heading of an article published in the magazine Revista Aeroespacio of August, 1967, in which its author, Don Antonio Biedma Recalde, makes a short review of the scientific and research activities in which kites were used, in Argentina and other countries. Here it follows..
From time to time, seasonally, as if responding to a sportive calendar rather than the almanac, we see the sky getting crowded with kites. This millenary toy, which with its preserved legendary forms has never lost popularity neither among children nor among men, even though its aspect now is not exactly the same, in construction or use. We once read in a well-known newspaper from the Capital that the local police, in 1857, categorically prohibited its use in the city because it caused accidents and prejudices, and that, some years later, the municipal authorities instigated the same restriction.
But time is constantly changing, and while a couple of years ago "Kite's Day" was established by a group of neighbors from Rosario -with the general applause-, the Municipality of Buenos Aires City itself convoked at Plaza Urquiza to the largest tournament ever held, and, moreover, we have recently attended to the spectacular and attractive exhibitions on flying aquatic ski, in which the sportsman hang from a kite dragged by modern and swift "mojaras". And, what here happens every now and then, in China and Japan constitutes the most popular game or entertainment; to put it more precisely, it's "a national passion".
Kite's invention is generally attributed to Arquitas de Tarento (490-384 A.C.) and to the Chinese General Han-Sin its practical application as a communication tool, at a besieged capital, in year 206 B.C. Before continuing, it's worth mentioning that in Spanish, barrilete (kite) -academically called cometa- is also known as birlocha, papagayo, volantín or pandorga, while its use in scientific research -as vulgarized in France- and its use, afterwards, in crewed ascension, universally spread the term cerf-volant.
After General Han-Sin's experience, many centuries passed until kites were employed for practical uses. It was in 1749 when doctor Alejandro Wilson, from Edinburgh, and Tomas Melville, from Glasgow, used them for measuring the atmospheric pressure, humidity and temperature, as kites allowed them to elevate suitable instruments to different heights; and in 1752, Benjamin Franklin, the well-known North American discoverer, from Philadelphia, used them to demonstrate the identity of beam and electric material by the ascension at high height and during a storm, of an iron tied to a key at hand by the hemp rope, probably conductive. As from the key to the hand of the child that steers the kite, the rope was covered by an insulating material.
One hundred and one years later -in 1896, to be more precise- Lawrence Roth, from Blue-Hill Observatory (U.S.A.) and Don León Teisserenc de Bort, director of that from Paris, started studying the atmospheric dynamics by using similar methods. By then, big progress had been made in the elevation and steering technique of the universally converted "cerf-volant".
But mankind, always dominated by an inner ambition of becoming the master of the air, soon took notice of kites to make an attempt to satisfy this dream. It was Jean Marie Le Bris, domestic sailor captain, who -in 1856- built a model of his own with which he reached 100 meters height at Tréfeunctec, towed by a horse-cart. It was from that height -as he lacked velocity- that he fell to the ground and broke one of his legs. Le Bris gave in some time later, after having tried to fly with a glider.
M. Maillot, in 1886, repeated Le Bris' experiences, but, again, he was just about to suffer the consequences of a steep fall due to lack of velocity. Both cases evidenced, then, the risk of entrusting life to a single kite, which, considering the weight it had to lift, required huge sizes, creating serious difficulties for steering it.
Lawrence Hargrave, from Australia, with the purpose of conducting meteorological investigation, also paid special attention to kites and, in 1894, he created his famous cellular type, which he flew combining three and obtained good elevation, significant ascending force, structural solidity and safety, as they were tied to each other, in the same cable.
The solution was given. The British E.F.S.Baden-Powell, in 1896, and Hugo Wise, almost immediately afterwards; later on, Samuel F.Cody and, finally, the French J. Scconey, either with flat designs or with cellular ones, they perfected the system making it possible, simple and safe the intention of the unlucky -then martyr- Jean Marie Le Bris: to use the kite as an air observatory. Military surveillance, that was its most habitual application; others used it for towing launches; nowadays, launches tow them to lift water skiers, and some even used kites for distant fishing.
Yet, we do not intend to follow the development of kites, or "cerf-volant", whatever you may call them, but would rather refer to the cases we've learnt that happened in our country. What for? Just to establish its industry, trying to foster its use by the army for air surveillance; by the Meteorological Office to probe with instruments; by private companies, for advertising; by sportsmen in general and photography enthusiasts, in particular.
The oldest of those cases occurred in 1899 -when some people believed it was the last day of the century and others didn't- and the protagonists were the engineers Heynemann and Haak, who introduced themselves as inventors of a device made up of several kites that, as they expressed, "when combined they spurred each other to go upwards, and by an ingenuous correlation of promptings, their different energies gather to trigger a considerable lifting power -not properly estimated yet- but quite effective to raise a balloon basket with a crew member". They added that, with standard winds, they would certainly reach 50 meters height, and even higher, if winds blew at higher speed. They fulfilled their preliminary financial arrangements before the Ministry of War, which the previous year had supported -through the General Staff- the aerostatic activity conducted by the Italian captain Cetti. In order to back their request, they remarked that although a captive balloon could be shoot down by a cannon shot, this could not happen with the device invented by them, as by destroying one, two or even three kites, it would still be in a condition to fulfill the assignment.
The device was made up of five or more separate kites, which were flown one after the other and at equivalent distances. Each kite, of flat design, built with a wooden framework covered with fabric and canvas that gave it a 12 m2 supporting area, was preceded in the launch by another one proportionally very small, called guider, and which had the mission of dragging it behind and thus facilitate its rise. In this way, once in the air, the sustaining kites formed a real cluster, and their respective threads, forming a bundle, converged in a rope of 400 m long, which had at the fastening point, the hook for the balloon basket.
The General Staff appointed a committee of officials led by commander Dellepiane to attend the tests that would be performed with good success at La Tablada, Barrancas al Sur, on April 29, in the above mentioned questionable "end of century". How those experiences concluded, as well as the aiding requests for perfecting the device, by improving the constructions, is something we have not inquired. The silence covering those days make us suppose that neither pain nor glory came out.
And with neither pain nor glory -at least, to the extent we know- might have ended the meritorious and brilliant tests conducted throughout 1912 by Don Enrique Cetrán, who on May 26, in that same year, at Olivera's country house and using a cellular type "cerfs-volants" train, reached 55 meters height over the perpendicular, with two persons in the balloon basket and soft wind.
The characteristics of each "cerf-volant" were as follows: length, 3.22 m; sustaining area, 10 m2; weight, 11.200 kg; balloon basket, 15 kg. Flying power with 55-km/h wind, 35 kg. 4 mm steel cable and 1,300 kg resistance.
The flight started by raising the first train of 4 "cerf-volants", separated 10 m from each other, but perfectly tied together with a 100 m long cable, with a lathe that kept it winded. Then, another similar train, and finally, a third one. After the last it came the balloon basket, and close to the basket, a supplementary "cerf-volant" to make the fall less hard in case of breakage, as well as a proper tool for guiding and steering. The pilot, in turn, could lift or pull down that basket independently, by using the ropes and pulleys.
In 1913, during weeks, we had the opportunity of watching one of those "cerf-volant" permanently in the air, tightly fastened to one of the banisters that fixed the boundaries in the flight field at the School of Military Aviation, El Palomar (Buenos Aires). One night, the wind became hurricane. With the first lights of the morning, two solely posts revealed, strangely recalling a hitching post. Nobody ever saw again that "cerf-volant" neither the piece of banister to which it was fastened.
Now then, they have also been used in the country for studying purposes. We believe that the magnetic station at Pilar (Córdoba), from the Argentine Meteorological Office, is the oldest record we have; there, in August 1910, it starts the systematic research on the atmosphere strata, following the recommendations from the International Aeronautic Committee, in 1898, after an experimental period that began in 1894. In order to send the meteorologists up, to automatically record the temperature, pressure, relative humidity and the wind velocity, kites of different designs were used in Pilar, always on days with winds exceeding the 30 km/hour, occasionally reaching the 4,500 meters height.
BIEDMA RECALDE, Antonio M., "... y porqué no hablar de barriletes?" (... Why not talk about kites?), Aerospacio magazine, August 1967, pp. 52-54.