Kites fly

From a scientific instrument to a toy

From a scientific instrument to a toy

The kite, perhaps the simplest and most popular flying device among children and adults, seems today relegated to a mere toy when, in fact, for centuries it has been a scientific instrument of the first order that has decisively helped the advancement of many and varied fields of to know.

This is one of the main conclusions of an original and pioneering doctoral thesis on the scientific trajectory of the comets of the Alicante industrial engineer Juan Miguel Suay Belenguer, at the Faculty of Philosophy of the UNED.

Throughout 224 pages under the direction of the philosopher David Teira and with an outstanding note in 2013, Suay Belenguer has reviewed for ten years the role of this device as a technological element since it was invented in China around 2000 BC.

It is a long story that has as a milestone the year 1752 when Benjamin Franklin, one of the ‘fathers’ of the United States, made his famous experiment with a kite to create the lightning rod.

The researcher and author of the study has explained to Efe that the fundamental objective of his work has been to analyze why at one time he considered both its usefulness for science and not today.

They have been hoisted to measure the temperatures and the pressure of the air, for electrical tests, to the development of the aviation for the first airplanes, the taking of images and, even, during the I World War as much by the French as the Germans to know the enemy positions.

The famous eighteenth-century humanist Jorge Juan has a study on the flight of kites to investigate the resistance of the fluids and apply it to the efficiency in the construction of the sails of the ships.

Among other reasons, its usefulness lies in that it flies from “the same principles as an airplane”, which has led mathematicians of several generations to investigate their mechanics carefully.

For this reason, Suay Belenguer has vindicated the scientific trajectory of the kites in front of the exclusively ludic vision, as he has lamented that it only reflects the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) in its dictionary, where it states that it has “a tail of ribbons or pieces of paper “and that serves for” boys’ fun “.

“The kite is a flying machine captive by a thread”, according to this specialist, who has pointed out that currently there are very few who use it as a support for aerial photography although there are cases of modern oil tankers that deploy kite-like sails to drag the helmets in their journeys and, in this way, save fuel.

Also called kite, cachirulo, serpent, papaventos, tambourine, kite, abilucho or estel, among other names, the kite was replaced at first in Science by the balloons and, in turn, the same thing happened to them for the airplanes, satellites and lately the popular drones.

“The conclusion is that the kite has passed into oblivion, that it is a failed scientific instrument” to the point that there are hardly any old units, according to Suay Belenguer, born in València 58 years ago, although he has lived since he was a child in Alicante.

He decided to study the kites because of the long tradition that exists in the Comunitat Valenciana, where they are specially flown every Resurrection Sunday and the ‘day of Mona’ either with rectangular, hexagonal, delta or pear-shaped units, star, diamond or snake, among other figures.

“Today everyone immediately thinks of a toy for vacations or the beach,” complained aloud the expert, who has opted for a new use: the didactic, since its construction and flight can help in the classroom with the geometry, mathematics, skills with hands and “to repeat experiments of the past”.

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