Kites & Combat: Aviation Surprises Revealed

By Scott Spangler on August 17th, 2011

kite-GarberSurprises are delightful, especially when they reveal innovative and economical ways aviation solves a problem in a unique way. The latest example is the maneuverable kite Paul Garber (yeah, that one, the father of the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum) designed during World War II  to train shipboard anti-aircraft gunners.

Rather than a dangly tail the kites, which spanned five feet or more, had a rudder that enabled the maneuvers shown below. The kites came in a crate of 25, with repair kits, if crews were able to recover them after the crews on .50 caliber machine guns and 20 mm and 40 mm Bofors gun mounts finished with them. According to the World War II training film, the kite fliers needed at least a 10-knot breeze to fly.

kiteThe complete history of the kites, made by Spalding and Comet Models, is available on its website.  I spent an enjoyable and educational afternoon there, reading everything about the kites instead of researching the topic that led me to them.

Established shortly after Pearl Harbor, the WAVES opened a number of aviation jobs, such as aviation machinist mate, aviation metal smith, aerographer, and parachute rigger, to women. They also served in specialist positions such as air traffic controller and aerial gunnery instructors. The last is where I learned about the kites. In the Navy, aerial gunners are those who shoot at airplanes with small caliber weapons. Those who pulled the trigger on bigger guns, the three, five, eight, and 16-inchers, were referred to as naval gunners.

My afternoon ended in a wave of nostalgic longing. After the war, the Office of Aircraft Disposal had to sell 130,000 surplus kites, along with all those unneeded airplanes whose value then was often measured by the amount of fuel in their tanks. They went for $2.65 each, in lots of 7,500 or $2.79 in smaller lots, with all purchases in multiples of 10 or 25. Hmmm, I wonder what today’s targets cost. – Scott Spangler

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One Response to “Kites & Combat: Aviation Surprises Revealed”

  1. Kites & Combat: Aviation Surprises Revealed – Jetwhine: Aviation … « Kites MAX Says:

    […] kites came in a crate of 25, with repair kits, if crews were able to recover them after the … Kites & Combat: Aviation Surprises Revealed – Jetwhine: Aviation … Posted in Kite […]

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