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Fascination with kites dates back many centuries. The first reference to kites and kite flying was in a Japanese dictionary around 900 AD, and the heavier-than-air devices were referred to as “paper hawks.” Other information suggests that a Greek scientist, Archytas, first invented kites in the 5th century BC.

The Chinese and the Japanese cultures have always been the most enthusiastic kite fliers. Both countries have the perfect material for kites: bamboo to make the frame and silk for the sail and the bridle. Kites also have had more of a religious significance in the Orient and have been raised in hopes of guaranteeing a good harvest. Many times, stalks of rice were tied to the tail as an offering to the gods. Kites were sold during religious festivals or were used as charms against illness and bad luck.

Leonardo da Vinci displayed an ongoing interest in kites. He developed a way to span a river using one. His idea was later tested successfully during the construction of the first suspension bridge that was built across Niagara Falls. Leonardo’s continued interest in kites also prompted him to draw many flying machine designs including those for a rudimentary helicopter and a parachute.

By the 1700s, kites were viewed mostly as a children’s toy. It wasn’t until 1752 that Benjamin Franklin rediscovered the simple kite’s various uses. His most famous test is, of course, flying a kite during a thunderstorm and proving that lightning’s properties are the same as electricity created in a lab.

Earlier aviators and students of aerodynamics also used kite technology in their efforts to put man into the sky. Military observers were routinely strapped to kites and raised into the air to spy on the enemy. And in WWII, kites were widely used as gunnery targets.

In Asia, kite flying has become a competitive sport. Kites are elaborately decorated and take on all sorts of shapes and sizes. Bells, whistles, and pipes are added so that when the wind passes through these devices, they make distinctive noises.

In China and Korea they’ve taken kite flying to an even higher level, that of "kite fighting." These are festivals where one or more battling kites are pitted against each other until a winner is declared or they crash.

Kite flying is also a great way to spend an afternoon with your kids, your family, or your friends. All that’s needed is a little wind and a few hours practice. When buying a kite for the first time, check out hobby shops or kite shops and speak to someone familiar with the sport. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a kite, but do remember to buy one that suits your first time needs and your local wind conditions. A flimsy or poorly designed kite will be torn to shreds in minutes if the wind is too strong.

Once you’ve mastered simple kite flying, you may want to try "stunt" kiting. Stunt kites are more expensive and harder to control, but once you get the hang of flying one, you’ll soon discover they maneuver and respond much more readily to your slightest hand movements.

Some die-hard enthusiasts even build their own kites. Hobby shops, kite shops, your local library or bookstore, or the Internet offer a wealth of information about building the perfect kite or getting in touch with other kite hobbyists.

Tips to remember while you’re out flying your kite:

1) Don’t fly near people, particularly children.

2) Stay away from roads. Your kite may crash and cause a serious accident.

3) Avoid overhead power lines and NEVER fly a kite during an electrical storm the way Ben Franklin did.

4) Stay away from airports while kite flying.

5) Monitor wind conditions: winds that are too strong for the type of kite you’re flying will tear it within minutes.

6) Birds and pets are generally afraid of kites, so keep them in mind while you’re out flying.

7) Have fun, but play safe!