Traction Kiting

Eden Maxwell
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Samoans and other island sailors of Polynesia used kites to propel their canoes throughout the vast Pacific. (Although I have it on good authority that using kites in this manner by Polynesian sailors is a fact, I haven't seen the documentation. Grist for one's own mill and, perhaps, another article.) Because he wrote about it (we'll take him at his word), we do know that in the early 1700's, a young Benjamin Franklin, while floating on his back, employed a kite to pull himself across a pond. During the winter Franklin also used kites to pull his inventive and revolutionary self along while ice-skating.

A century later, in 1826, George Pocock of England patented a kite traction system to power a "horseless" carriage or buggy of his own design that carried up to five passengers. The American aviation pioneer Samuel Franklin Cody crossed the English Channel in 1903 from Calais to Dover on a kite-drawn canoe. Over the decades and well into the 1980s, daring souls experimented with kite traction power (stacks of Flexifoil kites were a particular favorite) to propel innovative craft over water, land, ice, and snow. These sporadic and sometimes impressive accomplishments remained, for the most part, eccentric and isolated events. The evolution, however, toward reliable kite traction systems was in motion and inevitable.

Like one of Leonardo da Vinci's flying machines-unrealized during the Renaissance because the materials to build it did not yet exist-kite traction has become an increasingly practical matter during the past 10 years and is still in the exciting stage of development. Innovations in aerodynamics, fabrics, and flying line have spawned an emerging generation of powerful maneuverable traction kite "engines" flown for sport and pleasure. Kite traction, as previously mentioned, had most probably been known since antiquity and certainly among extreme action sport do-it-yourselfers in modern times. It was, however, kite evangelist and innovator Peter Lynn of New Zealand who, in 1990, first established the commercial feasibility of kite traction. When Lynn married off a suitably maneuverable kite design (the Peel) to a hand-made three-wheeled foot-steerable buggy, a new sport was born.

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