Cellular (Box) Kites

Hargrave’s stature in the aeronautical world was growing exponentially internationally, especially in the USA. Octave Chanute, in his book, Progress in Flying Machines of 1894, stated that Lawrence Hargrave was the man most likely to fly first. Chanute was both an aeronautical pioneer and a clearing house for assembling and disseminating ideas from the international aeronautical community. He was very instrumental in the USA aeronautical community taking over the running in the development of the airplane in the late 1890s, and had a guiding influence on the Wright Brothers.
Hargrave had yet to demonstrate his greatest triumph when Chanute accorded him the premier status among aeronautical pioneers. After his flirtation with gliding, the ever-practical father of five decided this was not the way to go.
‘The feat of making a flying or soaring machine steady with one pair of curved wings is about as difficult as making a dead man stand on his feet.’
In a sense he was right – it was as much Wilbur Wright’s gymnastic ability at balancing his aircraft, as his aeronautical engineering ability, which caused him to successfully remain airborne in 1903. How to attain stability?
In 1893 Lawrence was experimenting with kites of 3 dimensions’, box or cellular kites:
‘I am using kites, and find perfect stability can be got by making them of three dimensions instead of two.
You will see that this will be of use to flying machine men as it will enable them to ascend safely in a breeze to try their engines, and have the requisite floating surfaces in a very compact and strong form.’
‘Stability…cellular kites do not confine their surface to one plane, but distribute it in various portions, forming cells through which the wind blows.’

On the morning of 12 November, 1894, a southerly buster came up at Stanwell Park. Hargrave launched four cellular kites on the beach and were soon riding steadily, vertical and horizontal surfaces balancing thrusts of the wind. Hargrave climbed into a sling seat attached to the lowest kite, carrying instruments to measure wind speed and altitude:
A long and strong puff then sent me up like a shot and I got a wind reading of 21 mph. Swaine (his assistant) read the spring balance 240 lbs. Angle of kite string with the horizon about 60 degrees my height above ground 16 feet. Wind fell lighter and I and kites came down with the purchase just able to haul myself and kites to the mooring.’ 





Left: Mock-up of the Kite-lift November 1894, below ‘Hillcrest’, with Jim Swaine assisting Hargrave.
Right: Re-enactment of the Kite-lift 100 years later, using reproductions of Hargrave’s cellular kites.






He showed that these kites had lifted the weight of a man 16 feet into the air. He claimed that:
The particular steps gained are the demonstration that an extremely simple apparatus can be made, carried about, and flown by one man; and that a safe means of making an ascent with a flying machine, of trying the same without any risk of accident, and descending, is now at the service of any experimenter who wishes to use it.’ (Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, vol. 29).


Because Hargrave disseminated this astounding feat gratuitously it was not long before others were patenting the Box Kite, and that Chanute reported the skies of eastern USA were ‘red with Hargrave kites’. Many American enthusiasts dubbed themselves ‘Hargrave Disciples’. Box kites revolutionalised aerial photography and meteorology, allowing apparatus to be sent twice as high as before, with absolute stability. The aeronautical world knew that two of the crucial components for safe flight, stability and lift, had been achieved.


The principle was applied to gliders, in particular those developed by Chanute and adapted by the Wright Brothers. That the brothers never directly acknowledged Hargrave’s input into their work was due largely to the fact that Chanute borrowed heavily from Hargrave, and the Wright brothers were more inclined to give credit to Chanute. But Hargrave gliders took to the air in France.

Voisin/Archdeacon towed glider on the Seine, 1905, the progenitor of the first European aeroplanes. Note the configuration of Hargrave cellular kites. The Europeans were able to achieve powered flight independent of the Wright brothers or the Americans.






Our aim is to draw attention to the pioneering contribution that
Lawrence Hargrave made to the development of human flight,
as well as championing his interest in the natural heritage
and cultural development of Stanwell Park.

We are available for exhibitions, displays of Lawrence Hargrave models and educational activities.
Contact the Secretary, Michael Adams
info [at] lawrencehargravecentre [dot] com for details.