MUSINGS 2009   2007 2008

Below is something from an informal e-mail I had with Canadian kite historian, organizer and avid flyer - Bob White.  It was in response to ongoing discussions we have been having regarding Dr Alexander Graham Bell's work with kites.  This was not written for publication so Bob of course would probably want to work with it more, and no doubt he will in future work.  But for now, is serves to prepare the appetite.

Here is Bob:
In addition, Bell was involved with Samuel Langley, the founder  of the Smithsonian Institution's Astrophysical lab and was influenced by him on matters aeronautical.

Langley was quite a scientist. Incidentally he made infrared temperature observations of the upper atmosphere in 1890 that were the basis for the first paper in the world (by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius in

1900) to identify the potential for a phenomenon known as the "greenhouse effect": -how's that for being on the leading edge of science!

Langley's secondary passion was in aeronautics. He began working diligently on practical aviation research in 1887 with the goal of developing a powered aerodrome.

Langley was quite advanced in his work and was convinced that building models of his concepts was the path to success. He was well ahead of the Wrights in his thinking and designs at one point.

Langley spoke and visited frequently with Bell during the winters in Washington. Mabel and Alex had him visit Beinn Bhreagh in the summer of 1894 and again in 1901. During both visits extensive time was spent on discussing the emerging principles and issues of controlled flight. 

These discussions and the sharing of knowledge on the emerging science of aeronautics greatly added to Bell's knowledge and commitment to understand flight. 

Many of Langleys' models were rubber band powered, but the larger ones ran on captive steam.

Among the many issues that Langley and his staff worked on was the matter of propeller design (pitch, radius, materials, etc.) as that area was a great unknown and was of ultimate importance to successful flight as well. 

Finally, after many successes with small models,  a large model (No.5) was put to the test on May 6, 1896. Flying under steam power, launched from a small catapult on a boat the device was a huge success and flew for a distance of 3/4 mile. In November his model aerodrome #6 flew successfully for 5000 feet over the Potomac.  

Bell was called upon to witness, photograph and document by writing about the tests, which he did. Bell's international stature as a man of science was important to Langley.

Langley had been heavily funded in his work by men of science in Washington. Bell himself provided $5000 in 1891 as part of Langely's fund raising efforts.

As a result of the successful flight of his large model, photographed for documentation by Bell, the US War Department granted him $50,000 and the Smithsonian provided $20,000 to have him develop piloted versions of his flying machines. In all, Langley had over $85,000 for his aerial work, a huge sum in that era.

Two attempts were made with full scale piloted version of Langley's designs. Both were witnessed by Bell. Both failed, likely due to faults with the catapult launch system. These two attempts were made on Oct. 7th and Dec. 8th 1903.

Langley's pilot, Charles Manly, escaped both crashes due to "soft" landings in the water of the Potomac River. This had a huge impact on Bell's view regarding the safety of pilots. 

The newspapers lambasted Langley's folly on Dec. 9 and 10, 1908 decrying the excessive waste of government funds and ridiculing Langley. This too had a huge impression on Bell when he saw the press shape public opinion to damage, almost irreparably, the reputation of a solid man of science.

Ironically, nine days after Manly splashed into the water on board Langley's ill-fated aerodrome, the Wright brothers catapulted their airplane to successful powered flights at Kill Devil Hill, North Carolina on Dec. 17, 1908.

Now, for your second question: how and when did Bell become interested in flight?

Bell stated in a paper in 1914 that his interest in flight began in 1874. He would have been 27 at the time.

In Mabel's writings about her courtship and again during their honeymoon, she noted that Alex would marvel at the flight of gulls and that he would talk to her about their wings and his observations of their flight. She also remarked that he sometimes jotted notes about his observations.

Watson, Bell's associate on the telephone work recounted that from the very beginning of their association Bell would discuss the possibility of constructing a machine to fly like a bird and that once his work would allow it, he would focus on that project. Watson also noted that Bell studied birds to gain insight into flight and tha one one occasion when they were walking Bell picked up a dead bird to take wing measurements and make note of them.

I will date the Mabel Bell and Watson comments when I get back to my library on Sunday.

Best regards - always great fun!
Sincerely, Bob White


Quote of the Day - "To have more - desire less."
May - Started off the month with a delightful visit to a home school in London where we reviewed kite history and then had a kite fly.
That weekend, thanks to Bruce Crozier, MPP, Ontario's Minister of Culture was kind enough to share Opening Day for the second season. 
Proudly added more South American kites this year, and still looking for more. 
We are working on arrangements for the Pelee Island Monarch ButterFLY A KITE Weekend, September 12. 

Quote of the Day: A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.
Jean de La Fontaine, Famous French Poet

NEW EXHIBIT for 2009
Josť Teixeira Fraga's
(well known as Zeca das Pipas) pictured below.

2009 will feature more than a dozen handcrafted Brazilian kites by a man known the world over as "Zeca", who very generously donated examples of the design and skill of himself and his beautiful country of Brazil.
Since the early 70's Zeca das Pipas has been promoting events trying to rescue one of the most popular Brazilian's entertainment form.
The partnership with mayors, shopping centers and culture foundations, helps him to carry workshops and kite flying for many cities in Brazil.
It's very grateful see people's integration. Children and adults looking to so many wonderful coloured forms at the sky: butterflies, boats, fishes, stars... Sometimes made by themselves.
Please visit him at:

Feel free to email us if you have questions.

Thank you.

Copyright: 2008-09