The Ancient Chinese may be the accredited with inventing kites over two thousand years ago assisted by the abundance of silk and bamboo and the Balinese are famed for their winged kites in the shape of exotic birds. But in the beautiful county town of Cheltenham (Gloucestershire, UK) in 1972, former Royal Air Force mechanic, Peter Powell developed a steerable and agile Stunter Kite that had dual control lines – and became a massive success.
In the late 1960’s, frustrated by a young cousin’s attempts to fly a traditional kite Peter became obsessed with the development of a kite that would fly in any wind. A couple of years later he sought his first patent. After further experimentation, Peter’s “eureka!” moment occurred in 1972. He saw the value of stabilising a prototype by the addition of a string to one side of the frame. Later he added a second string to the other side of the frame and removed the centre string. The lines didn’t tangle and the resulting kite gracefully danced and swooped in the sky.
Peter’s marketing plan 1974 was pretty basic. He packed completed kites into the boot of his car and sought an area to fly – like the seafront at Paignton (Devon UK) -using the kites to demonstrate its versatility – selling them to parents and grandparents of fascinated spectators. In 1975, Peter’s kites, initially producing around 300 a week, were featured on the BBC’s Nationwide TV programme. Many orders followed and he open a first factory producing 25,000 a week then two more increasing output to 75,000 a week.
Early kites came with clear plastic sails and their slightly weaker spars were replaced initially with aluminium tubing and later by glass fibre. Coloured sails became available with blue, red and yellow being dominant. The long, hollow polyethylene tail, that inflated with the wind added stability but proved to be a little tricky when there was either insufficient wind to get a clean launch or it tangled with the guide lines.
I am interested by crazes, whether its a Cabbage Patch Doll, Rubik’s Cube – see our earlier post here – Rubik’s Cube, Ty Beanie Baby, Game Boy – see our easier post here – Game Boy by Nintendo or Tamagotchi. In the UK in mid-1970’s the Peter Powell kite was the craze of its day – and I had a beautiful blue one that I flew often.
The kite won its inventor the silver and gold diplomas at the Exhibition of New Inventions and Techniques in Geneva in 1975 and in 1976, it was chosen as “Toy of the Year” by the British Association of Toy Retailers.
By the late 1990’s profits had dwindled but sons Mark and Paul, produced an updated version of the Stunter Kite, called the MKII testing it in temperatures from zero to 30C, in sleet, snow, gales and torrential rain. The results were impressive.
In 2012, on the day that the London Olympic Torch passed through a local village the brothers showed their father the MKIII for the first time. Peter was said to be both astonished and delighted. The MKIII was launched on 14 June 2014 at their first store in Cheltenham and online.
Images by Powell Kites