The Aviation Project - Kites used in Scientific Research

Legends and stories surrounding kites
What is the difference between man carrying kites and man lifting kites?
Applications of the kite
Kites used for scientific research
Activities and tasks in connection to kites and electricity
Aeronautics and the first model glider
Vehicles pulled by Kites
War Kites and S.F.Cody


In 1749 Alexander Wilson used a kite for a meteorological experiments in Scotland. Wilson attached thermometers to a number of kites in a train flown from a common line. He was able to detect variations of temperature at different altitudes. He flew his kites as high as 3,000 feet.

Benjamin Franklin

In June 1752 Benjamin Franklin flew a kite in order to prove that lightning was the same 'electrical matter' as generated electricity. Franklin made a kite from silk with a cedar structure in the shape of a cross. He realised that the kite would need to be made from silk instead of paper in order to resist the rain and wind. The kite had a tail, loop and string.

It also had a very sharp pointed wire, of a foot in length, rising from the front of the kite. At the end of the twine next to the handle Franklin attached a piece of silk, which was tied to a metal key.

In his instructions on how to repeat the experiment Franklin states that the person holding the handle must stand underneath shelter to protect the piece of silk from the rain. He even suggested that it was important that the twine does not touch the frame of the shelter.

Franklin explained how the experiment should work. He understood that the electrical charge, striking the wire sent a current down the twine making it electrically charged. The loose filaments of twine would stand out all along the length and could be attracted towards a finger if placed near it. Once the rain wet the kite and the line, electrical current flowed freely. The proof of this was in the key. Franklin suggested that the electrical current could be felt if a knuckle of a hand was placed near it.

The key could be used to light kindling as it generated heat. Electrical experiments could be experimented using the electrically charged key. These experiments were usually conducted with a rubbed glass globe or tube.

Other people attempted the experiment but because they used paper kites and heavy wires they were only able to gain heights of a 1000 feet.

The illustration below shows Benjamin Franklin carrying out his electrical experiment in 1752. His son helps him.