Klondyke Nugget poster
Samuel Cody, wearing the broad brimmed hat, overseas a launch of his man-lifting kite, circa 1906.
Sappers of the Balloon Section prepare a kite for launching
Replica Cody Kite being flown at Farnborough, July 1955
Despite proving to be a useful tool in reconnaissance the limitations in balloon deployment led to experimentation with other airborne vehicles.
Experiments with man-lifting kites were conducted by Captain B.F.S. Baden-Powell (brother of Lord Baden-Powell, the scout movement founder) from 1893. As a result of this a kite section within the Royal Engineers was formed the following year.
The kite had certain advantages over the balloon. It could fly in winds of up to 50mph. It also did not rely on gas and the associated gas generating equipment. It consequently required less of a wagon train to operate in the field.
Man-lifting kites were soon championed by the flamboyant American showman Mr Samuel Franklin Cody who would become a prominent pioneer in early British aviation. Cody had made his name appearing in Wild West shows in America. He arrived in Britain in 1890 with his show 'The Klondyke Nugget'. It was toward the end of the decade that Cody started experimenting with kites. By 1901 he was sufficiently confident to approach the War Office but he was met with little interest.
The Admiralty however were intrigued by the kite's potential for reconnaissance. During a trial, Cody was flying at 800 feet from the rear of HMS Seahorse when the ship turned down wind. The kite collapsed and Cody had to be rescued from the sea. Undeterred the Admiralty proceeded with its order for kites.
In June 1904 Cody was invited to demonstrate his man-lifting 'war kite' to the Army at Aldershot.The series of demonstrations were so successful in winds exceeding 40 mph that Colonel John E. Capper, Officer Commanding the Balloon Section, Royal Engineers wrote in his report to the War Office that
'I cannot speak too strongly as to the excellence of these kites as regards their design and ability to perform what Mr Cody claims for them. The man-lifting kites will take a man into the air to practically any required height, and will keep him steady there so that he can observe. No other kites that I have read or heard of can approach them in sturdiness and security combined with lifting power'
In response the Army placed an order for three kites for observations and signals. Cody was also appointed Chief Instructor in Kiting.
Cody's kite worked on a series of lifter kites, the number dependent on the wind strength, until the operating officer felt that there was enough pull on the winch to raise a man in the passenger-carrying basket.The basket could then be moved up and down the line by altering the angle of the kite.
Despite never being used operationally kites remained in use with both the Navy and Army up until the beginning of the First World War. The Army List of August 1914 includes a Kite Section of the RFC stationed at South Farnborough. The Section however was disbanded shortly afterwards.