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Experiments with War Kites

Contributed by Michael A. Cavanaugh

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The following account describes experiments with war kites which were being done over David Island's Fort Slocum and Glen  Island, New York.

The Account:

Demonstrations Showing How an
Enemy Could Be Destroyed
by Dynamite.

The value of scientific kite flying in time of war was demonstrated at Glen Island yesterday.  Dozens of airships were sent 2000 feet high and dropped packages of rice on the soldiers at Fort Slocum, on Davids Island.   Had Glen Island been occupied by the Spanish forces and the rice been dynamite, Fort Slocum would have been completely demolished.  For over a week a number of scientific men have devoted a few hours each afternoon to experiments in kite flying, the results of which have opened the eyes of the commandant and soldiers at Fort Slocum.

The first kite sent up from Glen Island was an ordinary Malay.  Following this was a box kite.  It contained a camera, and on its journey of a couple of miles took negatives of the surrounding country, which were later developed by Prof. L. M. McCormick, curator of the Glen Island Museum of Natural History.  Crowds of people and the soldiers at Fort Slocum watched this experiment with interest.  Suddenly the Stars and Stripes was unfurled a thousand feet in the air, evoking wild enthusiasm.  Cheer after cheer went up as the flag unfurled against a background of sky.  Then the United States pennant, some sixty feet long, was unfurled.  The streamer was caught by the wind and shaken out to its entire length.   Following this came a series of small flags, which read, “Remember the Maine.”

The big box kite was at that moment immediately over Fort Slocum, at a height beyond the range of a bullet.  The kite seemed to struggle for an instant, then righted itself.  Those who had watched its manoeuvring through glasses observed several small packages dropped which flew through the air at a terrific speed.  A moment later they landed on the military fortifications and burst.  The soldiers picked grains of rice from their clothing.  The experiment showed that dynamite could have taken the place of rice, in which case Davids Island with its fortifications and soldiers would have been removed from the map of Long Island Sound.

The second test was successful, and thoroughly demonstrated how light machinery can be operated a thousand or more feet above the ground.  A model of the United States monitor Puritan was carried up.  From the revolving turrets rockets were fired, representing the ship in action.  The ship was allowed to attain a greater height, and copies of the New York papers were distributed from the clouds.  Rolls of tape were dropped next.  Each was of a different color, and as they descended they unrolled.   The wind carried them in all directions.   At one elevation a current of air would carry them eastward, and fifty feet further down another current would endeavor to draw them in another direction.  They became intertwined and sank slowly into the water, resembling two aerial creatures, with huge tendrils, fighting for the mastery.

Then Schley’s signals when he discovered Cervera’s fleet attempting to escape were seen.  The little flags fluttering in the breeze spelled out the sentence, “The enemy is coming out.” The various signals from the acting flagship to the Texas and other ships before Santiago were displayed, and the experiment was brought to an end.

Some miles away on the Long Island shore observers were placed with glasses.  They reported each signal displayed accurately.    The tests, as a whole, were thoroughly satisfactory and demonstrated that in time of war kites would prove of great value.  It is claimed that the kites can carry life lines to ships in distress, providing the wind is in the proper direction.  This week efforts will be made to have them carry a life line to Fort Slocum, just a mile across the water from Glen Island.


"War Kites at Glen Island," New York Times. August 1, 1898, p. 2

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