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26 July 2007

Let’s go fly a kite…

As the summer is full upon us, and we occasionally find our counterparts escaping the vault to the beaches and parks (at least in the nicer geographies of community assignments), we would reflect on a fine old intelligence tradition, the use of the humble kite for intelligence and reconnaissance applications. Unlike its more well known cousins in the balloon corps, the kite’s role is usually given short shrift in most intelligence histories.

From the humble hobbyist origins (like much of the intelligence field), the kite would become an occasional player in the early acquisition of military photographic intelligence (as it was called in the day). Frankly, the kites were probably no more or less effective than the other contemporaneous imagery collection platforms: balloons, pigeons, and compressed air or gunpowder rockets. The kite photography apparatus also provided one of the earliest examples of the use of imagery intelligence to support civil disaster response in wake of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Later efforts evolved in which the kite would be used as a type of manned reconnaissance platform, the Bachstelze (in English, "Water Wagtail") –towed by a submarine, no less – certainly testing the mettle of those assigned to such a unique watchstanding position.

Kite photography has returned to its civilian origins, once again a hobbyists activity. However, it is intriguing to speculate on what the history of UAV platforms might have been, had the early kite systems not been abandoned in favour of other systems, but continued to progress during the long years of WWII and the Cold War. Such thoughts are a pleasant diversion for idle summer afternoons.

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