April 15, 2011

Collection Name: Drachen Foundation Collection

Collection Number: 59

Post Type: Document

This item was entered by Katie. They assume full responsibility for all content.

Artist or Author: Nikolay Danilevsky

Creation Year: 1910


Before the project known as 'The Russian Articles,' kite flying, to me, evoked thoughts of festivals on the beach: hundreds and even thousands of people from all over the world gather to share and foster their common passion. Many there use their kites as a means to express their cultural identity. Or perhaps I saw kite flying as a symbol of childhood, innocence, and fun. Memories of flying a kite with my father on the beach or at the park on a warm blustery day. The Russians changed that.

The Drachen Foundation acquired a collection of old Russian books, articles, journals, and pamphlets compiled by Jan Desimpelaere of Belgium, dating from 1898 to the 1940s. All of these focus on either kite flying or kite construction in Russia. Ali Fujino recruited me, a recent college graduate and Russian Studies major, to sift through these documents. This collection includes books outlining the basic guidelines to make and fly a simple box kite. Some articles are more detailed as Shestakov wrote about a number of his conducted experiments that explored the different weight, size, and shape of kites and different kinds of wind. The most interesting article I came across, however, was Danilevsky's 'The Aerial Kites of Captain Ulyanin.'

Sergei Ulyanin was a Russian engineer, balloonist, and military pilot; he was also the creator of the collapsible aircraft and the initiator of aerial photography in the military. He did so using kites. Before the development and perfection of the aircraft, most militaries used hot air balloons to gain an aerial advantage and spy on their opponents. But launching and flying an air balloon near enemy lines without being noticed was essentially impossible, and Ulyanin recognized this. Although he was not the first, he used a number of kites to lift an observer two hundred meters off the ground, high enough to scout as far as four to seven kilometers away. Before Ulyanin, Lieutenant Schreiber of the Imperial Russian Navy developed a man-lifting system using a Hargrave double box kite in 1903, but abandoned the idea after several fatalities. Ulyanin altered the design by using a train of double Conyne kites that achieved the lift and stability the military was looking for.

Danilevsky wrote this article in 1910 after collaborating with Ulyanin himself on the military application of aerial kites, which included reconnaissance, correction of artillery fire, photography and so on. He outlines his instructions and advice on how to make and launch Ulyanin's observation kites. He explains that "kite lifts are fairly safe" and they are ideal for observation. If flown in steady moderate winds, the basket is almost motionless so the observer could notice details through binoculars that would not be possible to detect from the rocking basket of an air balloon. And most importantly, "kites can be brought much closer to the enemy's positions than an air balloon since it is much harder to destroy them. Bullets cannot harm kites and it is very difficult to hit the rope or the observer." Danilevsky was an adamant supporter of these observation kites and encouraged their immediate application in each aerial unit.

Unfortunately, the perfection and increasing popularity of the aircraft halted further development of Ulyanin's observation kites in the military. Nevertheless, Ulyanin helped the Russian military gain an edge over their opponents before the use of airplanes became widespread.

Figure 1. The Ulyanin Kite:

Figure 2. The launching of the kites - a graph:

The Drachen Foundation has a copy of Danilevsky's article in our archive in Seattle, including an English translation. See catalog record 2010-07-L-1485 to access the article online.

Geographic: Russia

Significance: Historical, Scientific