ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL
The early years of the twentieth Century were a golden era of experiments with three-dimensional rigid kites such as the box kite and the Conyne kite. There was a purpose behind this kite-building mania. Most of the experimenters were looking for a design that would be strong enough and light enough to function as a heavier-than-air flying machine. Among the principal researchers was Alexander Graham Bell, already quite famous as the inventor of the telephone, who developed the tetrahedral kite.
The tetrahedron is theoretically the strongest, most rigid symmetrical structure that can exist in nature. Cover any two sides of the tetrahedron with fabric, and you have the basic cellular structure that Bell used in his kites.
Using tetrahedron cells to construct a kite has a number of advantages. The cells are rigid, and don’t need extra bracing to maintain their shape. The kite itself is exceptionally strong and stable. A kite can be built to almost any size simply by connecting several tetrahedron cells together, and you don’t need to use thicker and stronger sticks as the kite grows bigger.
Bell, himself, built gargantuan man-carrying kites made of thousands of interlocking tetrahedron cells. One was made of 3,393 cells! The town near Bell’s laboratory gained a new industry as workmen and seamstresses turned out thousands of silk covers.
Bell was a gentle and humane man who was concerned about the safety of his aeronauts. He chose to make the first man-carrying attempts over the waters of Baddeck Bay in a craft that would float, piloted by a man who could swim. Bell looked for ways to create increased wind pressure by using various forms of ground-power assisted flight. When the winds were light and he needed assistance flying one of his giant kites, he often used galloping horses to tow the kite into the air.