Let’s go fly some kites, a sport every Scout can enjoy even though there are always strings attached.
Kites can be the focus of STEM activities featuring the science of weather, technology of flight, engineering of aeronautical design, and math for figuring angles and lengths. There are Scouting skills, too, including knot-tying, pocketknife use and making a strong square lashing. Flying kites can build teamwork and fulfill requirements for Cub Scouts pursuing the Air of the Wolf adventure.
Or maybe it’s enough to sit back on a breezy spring day and watch kites hoisted into the sky.
You won’t be the first. Kites floated above Egypt and China 2,000 years ago. Benjamin Franklin tested his theory that lightning is a form of electricity by launching a kite into a thunderstorm and drawing a high-voltage current down the wet string. He was delighted to be proven right and fortunate not to blow himself up.
So great was interest among early Scouts that the BSA published Kites and Kite Flying by Paul Garber in 1931. Garber would go on to design a highly maneuverable kite that was flown during World War II from the decks of naval vessels and used for target practice by ship gunners.
An early director of the National Air and Space Museum, Garber helped establish what is now the Blossom Kite Festival held each spring in Washington, D.C. It is one of many colorful events across the country celebrating kites.
But your Scouts don’t have to wait for a festival. Hobby stores carry inexpensive kite kits and spools of string. Some also offer acrobatic kites that can climb, dive, swoop and soar.
For the greatest satisfaction and most learning, though, guide Scouts in building kites from scratch. There’s a reliable diamond-shaped model featured on the Scout Life website.
Two-page spread of newspaper, plus an extra page for kite tails
Long sticks, bamboo plant rods or 1⁄4-inch wooden dowels
1. Using a marker, draw the shape of a kite on a double-page spread of newspaper. Cut it out using the scissors.
2. Lay two sticks across the diamond-shaped newspaper in the shape of a cross. Tape the two sticks together in the center of the cross or use string to tie the two sticks together in the center tightly. Cut the sticks to fit the ends of each corner of the diamond. For extra stability, make a notch in the end of each stick and run a string around the perimeter of the kite.
3. Make a small cut at each of the four corners of the newspaper. Fold the edge of the newspaper over the string and tape all around the outside border of the newspaper to keep the outside edge from tearing in the wind. Tape the wooden cross sticks tightly and securely to the newspaper.
4. Tie a long string onto the middle of the frame and make paper strips for the kite tail. The kite is ready to fly.
Instructions to build a box kite and a tetrahedral kite can also be found here.
With the wind behind them, Scouts can unspool 50 feet of kite string and, with no slack in the string, have a friend toss the kite overhead. A good breeze should lift it into the sky.
Make adjustments between flights by sliding the string along the stick frame to alter the angle at which the kite catches the wind. Don’t overlook the last instruction about a tail: If your kite still seems unstable, create one and secure it to the bottom of the kite to add stability.
Fly kites only in open areas free of trees, power lines and other obstructions.
When bad weather threatens, keep kites on the ground.
If a kite tangles in a power line or the branches of a tree, leave it. It’s better to construct a new kite than risk injury trying to retrieve the old one from a potentially dangerous location.
Robert Baden-Powell’s youngest brother, B.F.S. Baden-Powell, designed one of the first modern heavy-lift kites, strong enough to hoist a man 100 feet into the air for military reconnaissance. Although the kites were not used in war, they were later used by Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi to wirelessly transmit radio signals across the Atlantic Ocean.
B.F.S. Baden-Powell encouraged kite and model airplane building in Scouting. Air Scouts, now an international Scouting program, became a reality a few years after his death in 1937. Aviation was one of the BSA’s original 57 merit badges. During World War II, an Air Scouting program took off in America and later evolved into part of Exploring.
Here’s an anecdote — when my brother and his Navy barracks buddy decided to build a box kite back in 1968 at Patuxent River NAS, all they could find was a sheet of Mylar for the kite fabric. A couple days later they received a visit from the Air Force and Project Blue Book. It seemss their kite was picked up on radar and was categorized as a UFO hovering near Washington, D.C. You can look it up – it’s in the Blue Book records. Moral: Don’t use Mylar!