Drachen Foundation Newsletter: May 2006

Featured Archive Item: Roch Donzella “Monobloc” Replica

What Richard Hallion has called the “aeronautical ferment” that swept France during the final quarter of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries encompassed the world of kiting as well. France was home not only to the French Aerial Navigation Society but also to the French League of Kites, developed to provide federal support for experimental studies with kites. The journal Le Cerf-Volant detailed the discoveries and disputes of kite innovators, among them Le Cornu, Saconney, and Houard.

Roch Donzella was a member of this group, and published in Le Cerf-Volant an article about his 1911 “Monobloc” kite, entitled “Monocellulaire et décentré.” In it he discusses questions raised by Pujo about the stability in heavy winds of a single-celled “apparatus” [appareil]. He points to Hargrave’s experiments with winged box kites and explains his own devotion to triangular wings.

Roch Donzella then sets himself the challenge of “constructing an apparatus uniting at the same time the qualities of the ‘décentré’ (stability, solidity, traction) and those of the ‘monocellulaire’ (simplicity, lightness, good angle).” He reasons, “One cell may be stable; it thus stands to reason that two [cells] will surely be so.” The two rectangular cells will be set one above the other, without any “thickening” or “spreading” between them, but not on the same axis (thus off-center), to take best advantage of the “nets of air” [filets d’air]. Smaller triangular wings will reduce the weight of the apparatus without “injuring” its “solidity.” He expresses full confidence that “all kite fliers” will be able to construct a similar apparatus based on these principles, according to his drawings and dimensions.

He then describes in great detail his test flight at Dunkerque, on February 19 th, in a field 200 x 75 meters, surrounded by grand houses and trees, which create a “veritable basin [cuvette] where vortexes [tourbillons] were followed by ‘pockets of air’ [‘trous d’air’].” In fact, he says, the wind smashed some “very stable Hargraves” into the ground “more than once.” His kite, on the other hand, mounted rapidly, at an angle of 45 to 50 degrees. When it came to landing, the kite was caught by a gust of air, barely cleared the tops of the trees some thirty meters away, and fell to the ground with the “speed of a stone.” But, he declares, it broke only one “croisillon” in the process.

Roch Donzella concludes from this test that “the apparatus has thus proved its admirable characteristics, withstanding without weakening a tempest-like wind and a return to earth under the very worst conditions with minimal damage.” Bridle adjusted on the following day, the kite achieves even better results, despite a lessening of the wind. Roch Donzella decides to name it (if Pujo consents) the “monobloc” because of its “slightly massive shape” [sa forme un peu massive]. The article ends with his speculations that the apparatus could be even further improved by constructing it “obliquely” or by diminishing its “density” through a Cody “assembly” or the use of different materials. Three cells and two pairs of wings might have suc h s tability and “elegant allure” as to “seduce” even more kite makers into experimenting with the form.

Based on this single article, German kite maker Falk Hilsenbeck drew up meticulous plans and “seduced” fifteen students into recreating this historic kite at his 2006 Fort Worden Kitemakers Conference workshop. As participant (and DF Executive Director) Ali Fujino explains, “Historical kites are difficult because of the unfamiliar materials and techniques for fabrication that aren’t common at our level of skill. The magic in this workshop was Falk’s ability to patiently break down eac h s tep of production and take us through those steps, at a thoughtful, ‘address-one-thing-at-a-time” pace. For most of us this was a big step forward in kite fabrication. Sewing cotton instead of ripstop had its challenges. Working with wood—sanding, fitting, and hammering—was a new experience. Finally, attaching and tying the bridle lines at more than one point, and tensioning them, required more skill than with any modern kite. But Falk’s dissection of eac h s tep made it easy for us to begin and complete. After eight hours of intensive work, every participant had either completed a Roch Donzella that could fly—or was within easy reach of the finish.” Falk also included flying tips (perhaps keeping in mind Roch Donzella’s precarious test landing): participants were advised not to “be a hero: if the wind is stronger than four Beaufort take away the wings. If not, the kite would become very nervous and could break one of the wooden parts or could crash.”

The Roch Donzella “Monobloc” constructed by Fujino and DF staff member Renea Nielsen, working as a team, is a happy addition to the DF archive. Scott Skinner, DF Board president, explains why the archive wants to hold this kind of replica in the absence of an original. “B uilding any turn-of-the-twentieth-century cellular kite is a real challenge. Doing so requires using unfamiliar materials, inferring oft-missing construction details, and thinking in three dimensions. Falk demystified this process and enabled us to succeed; this kite, along with his instruction manual, will document his achievement. In building kites like this, we are reminded of the ingenuity of kite fliers trying to solve the mystery of manned flight. We also see that materials of the time are ideally suited to the designs, and in making these kites with modern materials (carbon-fiber, ripstop), we change their very nature.”

If you are intrigued by the subject of historical kites, plan to join historical kite specialists at a sixth annual workshop in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, on November 10-12, 2006 . Participants will hear presentations by Jan Desimpelaere of Belgium about Russian meteorological and military kites and by Hans-Ullrich Draheim of Germany about his collection of World War II kites and memorabilia. They will also construct a turn-of-the-last-century children’s kite from the Roach catalogue. The Drachen Foundation is helping to organize the workshop. For further information, contact Douwe Jan Joustra at d.j.joustra@chello.nl.

To learn more about Falk Hilsenbek, please see Ben Ruhe’s interesting interview with the kite maker in the Spring 2006 issue of the DF Kite Journal.


Gray Whale KAP Project 

Team Drachen (Skinner, Fujino, DF board member Sainz, and videographer Stubbs) joined 2006 DF grantee Oscar Frey at San Ignacio Lagoon, Baja Mexico for Phase III of a project using KAP to document whale behavior. Attend the KAPiCA/06 conference in Pacific Grove, CA, where Oscar Frey will present the results of his research.


News for Educators 

Three new “critter” kites by designer Greg Kono—the Kono Beetle, the Kono Butterfly, and the Kono Salmon—are now available in ten-pack kits, complete with bamboo spars, line, and winders. Easy to make and fly; perfect for spring school projects. Also online: lesson plan, with three readings for students, to “Learn About Japan Through Its Kites” (grades 3-5). The plan accompanies the Yoshizumi Fish Kite Kit


New at the DF Online Store 

The journal Hand Papermaking celebrates its twentieth anniversary with a special issue, Paper in Flight. The publication includes Scott Skinner’s article, Waves to Washi to Wings, and a miniature, flyable version of Lesley Dill’s Divide Light kite—available only in this issue. Special alert for DF newsletter readers: order a copy through the DF Online Store before May 26th and shipping is free. Limited number of copies. Don’t miss out!