The Chinese used them for communication, taking measurements, and commanding troops. The Wright brothers used them to test their theories about flight. And Ben Franklin famously (and possibly apocryphally) flew them during a thunderstorm in an attempt to prove that lightning is really just a gigantic electrical spark.
But nowadays there are kites out there that would make old Ben drop his string, polish his glasses, and do history's biggest double-take. Next time you go fly a kite, take one of these along -- and the sky will really be the limit.
A kite, or a plane? This high-tech recreation of America's national bird is a little of both.
Radio-controlled kites are a comparatively new development in kite-flying, and promise both the smoothness of a kite and the stunting potential of a RC aircraft. This particular example has a nine-foot wingspan, a space-age carbon frame, and a powerful electric motor that'll propel it to swoops, loops, rolls, and all manner of other aerial hijinks.
When they say "Giant," they really mean "Giant."
This monster is 34 feet long by six feet wide and requires a 500lb test line to keep it tethered. Brightly colored, bristling with spines, and likely to terrify any small children who see it up close, it's bound to make you the life and soul of any outdoor event with sufficient wind.
Just hold on: let go of the line to this kite, and you'll be watching a cool $1,500 drift away in the breeze.
Named the "F-Stop" for its close resemblance to the aperture mechanism of a camera, this kite might be smaller than the Giant Dragon, but it's almost as eye-catching.
Blazing with color and nearly seven feet across, its unique design makes it spin gently in the wind, creating an optical illusion that will dazzle spectators. And probably make them dizzy, too.
Great as kites are, their lightweight construction all too often makes them fragile. Absent-mindedly drop something heavy on a rolled-up favorite flyer, and crack -- there goes a stick, and there goes the fun with it.
If that sounds familiar, check out the Skyfoil, a kite that has no sticks at all, relying on simple wind pressure to inflate its nylon body. Once you're done flying, you just roll it up into the included pouch, throw it in the back of the car, and forget about it: it'll be there, safe and sound, next time you're at the park on a windy day.
Sure, delta-shaped kites are a dime a dozen, but have you ever seen one that's 19 feet across? Didn't think so. This monster will fly in winds of up to 18 miles per hour...if you can hold on.
All that surface area gives it serious lift, so it's the perfect platform for budding aerial photographers: strap on a little GoPro video camera and go to town.
It might not look as fancy as some of the others, but this hexagonal kite is optimized for a very specific purpose. Or perhaps we should say very specific sport-- it's a Japanese fighting kite, or "rokkaku dako."
Practiced widely across Asia, kite-fighting uses simple kites flying from single, abrasive strings, and the goal is simple: use the string to cut the line of your opponent's kite before he can do the same thing to yours.