Sauls' Barrage Kite
The Sauls' Barrage Kite was well known as an
anti-aircraft device flown from merchant ships during World War II, but the kite
began life as an advertising platform, intended to lift banners over public
gatherings. After many experimental attempts and research beginning in 1923
Harry C. Sauls launched finally perfected his kite and banners and began his
advertising business in
Honea “Harry” C Sauls was born and grew up
in a large family in
After his discharge from the Marines in 1920
Harry Sauls settled in
One of Harrys primary goals in the design was to create a kite that could fly satisfactorily in a light wind while being able to self adjust to higher winds. He accomplished this by bridling the kite to the front cell alone. By using a smaller rear cell, unlike the Hargraves’ kite which he based his design off, the back of the kite might drop in light winds increasing the kites’ presented wing surface to the wind creating more lift and rise in higher winds to decrease lift.
After seeing the Navy using balloons flown
off wires to protect ships and ports from low level aircraft attacks he
realized his kite would solve the same problems that balloons have in this
application too with the added benefits of producing less drag on a ship under
sail, requiring less room for storage, no additional cargo of Helium, and a
quicker setup time. In 1940 Sauls contacted the governments of the
Sauls proposal was accepted and ground tests
of the kite began for military use in 1941, receiving a favorable
recommendation along with the suggestion that adding an airfoil shape to the
wing surface might increase lift. Sauls was asked to develop another prototype
to test the airfoil theory along with producing more examples of his current
design for further testing. Upon returning to
The final production version of the Sauls VKS-1 was 10' x 14' x 27" and framed using aero dynamically shaped spruce spars. The sail consisted of 24 yards of 36" waterproofed cotton with wire re-enforcements sewn into the seams and all wire bracing attached. It could be stowed as a 6” x 10’ package and weighed 21 pounds. Since quick deployment was a priority all the longerons were sewn into the sail also thus requiring only the installation of the 24 identical cross braces. Assembly and launch could be accomplished by two trained men in just over 10 minutes. The Barrage kite was normally flown on wire cables capable of clipping the wings or fouling the propeller of a dive bomber, but it could also be flown with explosive charges attached that would be pulled to the airplane if it caught a line thus providing a powerful deterrent to close range attacks. Hence the name “Barrage” which is defined as an ‘artificial obstruction’.
Sadly the airfoil kite design was never finished and Sauls’ design for the smaller folding kite to carry antennas aloft was passed over in favor of a simpler box kite now known as the Gibson Girl.
Harry married Edna May White in 1942 and in
1946 they moved to
In 1983, the Maryland Kite Society awarded Sauls their Honorary Order of the Kite Award for his Naval Barrage Kite, "thought to be one of the most important military uses of a kite".
A resourceful and determined but modest man Harry has been quoted as saying "I've never gone into kites scientifically. I just know I can build a good kite and I do it and that's it." Harry passed away on December 2, 1988 at the age of 90 but his Barrage Kite has remained popular with kite builders and has graced the skies for over 55 years.
H.C. Saul's story of the kite's invention
There are two documents concerning this
famous kite's early history in the Paul Garber Papers at the
On or about April
1923, while residing at
I completed three
kites of the same design, in graduated sizes ranging from 3' to 9' wing span.
The kites were of box type construction built of laminated bamboo and silk
for fabricating. The kites were completed in September, and tested at
of patent searches, I made personal contacts with kite inventors who had
abandoned their search for a low wind kite because of the large size
necessary for a low wind kite, and the expense of such kites. I continued
with my research work which consisted of obtaining weather data over the
In May, 1924, at
In 1938, I began
my advertising business with a few small contract for operating off the beach
In 1941, I vas
invited by the U. S. Signal Corps, Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, and the
Special aircraft Lab. To demonstrate my kites in
In February 1942
1943, I was called back to
1938, to February 1943, all experimental work including all kite constructlon
costs, travelling expenses, etc. was privately financed without any
assistance from any Government. The approximate cost of 5 years work is
approximately $10,000. All costs of kite experimental work since 1923 to
1943, would be approximately $28,000.00. Labor added for actual time for
Documentation of tests of Saul-Vangrow Kite K-1 at HMC Dockyard, Halifax, N.S
The second document, from November 1942,
records the early trials of the kite as an anti-aircraft weapon to be flown
from merchant ships. By this time the name M. Vangrow appears as Saul's
partner. The tests were conducted in
November 10, 1942
Tests of Saul-Vangrow
Kite K-1 at
- - - - - - -
In accordance with
instructions, the undersigned proceeded to
The tests were conducted under the general direction of Lt. Com. A.E. Woodward, R.N. Rtd., Senior D.E.M.S. Staff Officer at the H.M.C. Dockyard. Sub-Lieutenant Kendrick was assigned to make arrangements for and take charge of the tests. The observers of the tests were M. Vangrow and E. E. Martinsky, representing the manufacturer and the U.S. Maritime Commission, respectively.
The kite was
developed by a Mr. Saul and has been and is being used commercially for the
display of aerial advertisement on the
Lt. Com. Woodward pointed out that the kites are deemed useful only as a means of protection against low level bombing attacks. Therefore, the kite would be tested only to elevations not exceeding 1,000 feet.
There were two
size kites designated K1 and
The K1 kite is of the boxtype of construction with four cells forward and two cells aft and a five strand bridle fastened at ends of each bottom longitudinal member. The span is about 13'-6" and length of kite about 10'-3". The cells are all of the same size which makes the diagonal braces interchangeable. The kite when knocked down may be rolled up to about 6" diameter, and to the length of the six longitudinal sticks joining the forward and aft sections of the kite. Short sticks are run longitudinally in way of the outer cells in forward wing. A vertical centerline stabilizing wing is fitted extending from forward end of kite to forward end of aft wing section. All sticks are of long grained spruce, and the diagonal braces are of airfoil shape to increase the lifting power. A stranded wire is sown in the leading and following edge of the canvas kite fabric. Vertical sections of wire are located five locations where there is no canvas to take the tension caused by inserting the diagonal braces.
Director, Technical Division 11/10/42 - Page 2
To assemble the kite the two vertical struts are inserted at the ends of the stabilizer wing. Working out of the centerline, the diagonal braces are sprung into place, the V cut in the end of each fitting snug against the square, longitudinal pieces. A circular section wood rod is lashed to the center of each group of four cell braces to hold them in line. The weight of canvas used is not known at this time.
All the six long and four short longitudinal wood members are secured permanently to the kite fabric. This leaves 24 diagonal braces and 6 auxiliary fore and aft braces which require to be fitted to assemble each kite. During the tests there was no opportunity to ascertain the length of time needed to assemble the kite, and it is hoped to obtain the same during the further experiments being carried out. Mr. Vangrow stated that an experienced crew has assembled a kite in about 8 minutes.
On November 2nd, the first kite flying was attempted on a British Merchant Ship EMPIRE MOON. The vessel proceeded out of the harbor a few miles to obtain maneuvering room, and then swung into the wind of about 4 knots. The vessel was making about six or eight so the relative wind was about 10 to 12 knots. Attempt was made to fly the admiralty type kite carried by the vessel, but without success. The piano wire kite line was lead from a wire drum fitted on the gypsy head of a cargo winch, through lead sheaves and pipe to a flying off block fitted at the top of the mainmast.
The Sauls-Vangrow kite was then assembled by the crew. On launching the kite it turned over and flew upside down. It was hauled in and launched again, flying right side up. About 500 feet of wire was used, but due to the extremely light wind the kite flew well aft with a resultant low cable angle. The flight was very steady and on launching and haul in operations there was no diving or swooping.
Arrangements were made to fly the kite from a mine sweeper (Fort William J113) on November 3, 1942. The vessel proceeded to sea at 7:00 A.M. and all other test work cleared up by about noon time. The kite was then assembled aft under very unfavorable conditions. There was insufficient deck space to accommodate the kite, and the end cells of the forward sections were assembled with the kite held in the air by the ship's crew.
There was about a 15 knot wind and the ship running at about 11 knots was swung to bring the wind over the starboard bow. The piano wire was led from a storage reel, over the gypsy head of the mine sweep winch, the through lead blocks, etc. to the flying off block on mainmast. This block was at about the approximate height of the bridge. The kite was launched from a point about 30 feet aft of the mainmast and immediately assumed heeled position in the air over the starboard quarter instead of the wind over the port quarter. About 100 ft. of line had been unreeled at the launching of the kite and for some reason no more was unreeled at this time. The kite cable angle to the horizontal was very slight, and the kite held steady in its heeled position. Gradually the kite heeled further, at the same time moving into the wind until it turned upside down, and climbed to a very steep cable angle. Apparently the kite was launched in very disturbed air which caused the heel and unusual direction of flight. However, it passed out of the disturbed air stream without diving into the upside down position.
About 1,000 ft. of cable was let out, the kite climbing steadily. When unreeling stopped, the average cable angle as determined by the sextant was over 50°. The ship was then swung to bring the kite over the beam. During this maneuver the kite held its steady flight. On further swinging the ship, bringing the kite cable forward of the beam, the kite lost the wind and started
Director, Technical Division 11/10/42 - Page 3
to fall by swinging slowly side to side like a falling leaf. The kite cable hit the sea, relieving the kite of the motion imparted to it by the ship. The wind caught it and it picked up resuming normal flight, with cable still partially in the sea. The ship changed course again into the wind and the cable cleared the sea, resulting again in normal flight.
The kite was then hauled in and landed on the aft deck by means of a line attached to a small shackle running freely over the kite cable. In both the launching and landing operations there was no diving of the kite, it remaining practically on even keel at all times. The ship returned to the dockyard landing the party at about 5:30 P.M.
The piano wire was weighted and reported to be 21½#s per thousand feet. Its diameter by use of micrometer calipers was .073 inches. The specifications for kite cable set by the British Admiralty give weight 14 # per thousand feet .072" dia. and 1300 # ultimate strength. The difference in weight are still to be explained.
of running further tests was discussed with Lt. Com. Woodward during the
morning of November 4th. There were no ships other than minesweepers
available that day or next for the tests. It was felt that no further useful
data would be obtained by flying the kites from such vessels. Arrangements
were then made to take the kites and fly them from a cargo vessel which was
The Sauls-Vangrow Kite K1 has demonstrated its ability to be successfully assembled, launched, flown and landed from a ship at sea.
The kite is stable, does not dive and can be flown right side up or right side down even when abrupt changes are made in the ship's course.
The kite cable angle attained of over 50° is equal if not in excess of that achieved by the admiralty kite now in use and, therefore, is deemed satisfactory.
The kite can be
flown in a minimum relative wind of about 10 knots. The maximum relative wind
encountered was 27 knots, and from action of the kite it could fly in winds
of higher speed. The tests at
The kite can be easily assembled in a moderate amount of deck space although there are thirty two braces which have to be put into place and twelve lashings to be made. The parts are interchangeable to a high degree, there being only three different length braces, the locations of which are quite obvious.
Stowage of the kite in knockdown condition can be easily found due to its small dimensions. Spare braces will be necessary and can be lashed to kite without material increase of the bulk of same.
No test was made
to determine change in shape or dimensions of kite due to wetting of fabrics.
Should considerable shrinkage occur, the diagonal and vertical braces (26
pieces) would not fit. This might be obviated by waterproofing the fabric
and/or providing an extra set of braces of proper length. The further tests
on the run to
Director, Technical Division 11/10/42 - Page 4
well as other operational problems. The ability of the kite to withstand machine gun fire will also be tested.
Pending receipt of
report of tests held at
E. E. Martinsky
In 1943 Sauls design was recognized by Design Patent No. 136,018
"Barrage Kites" Shield Convoys
Kites now comb the sky above our merchant
ships, trailing in the paths of attackers the same kind of wire that is used
on barrage balloons. The wire is invisible from a plane, but it will rip off
a wing or foul a propeller. Knowing that, enemy airmen keep their distance. A
kite is easier to launch and maneuver in a high wind than a balloon, does not
slow a ship down so much, and costs less -- $108 as compared with $1,200 for
a balloon. The box kites used are of aircraft fabric, with spruce struts and
2,000-foot lines. W/Bsn. H.C. Sauls, of the War Shipping Administration,
experimented 12 years to perfect this type of kite, which was intended
originally for displaying advertising signs. The Navy adopted it in 1941.
Since then, more than 1,000 officers and seamen have been taught its use at
the U.S. Maritime Service Kite and Barrage Balloon School in
Two men can launch an antiplane kite in 10 or 11minutes. The fabric is unfurled (1), and the 20 pieces are put together (2). Sailor puts in struts and the guideline is made fast (3). Men toss assembled kite from deck of the ship (4), and line is paid out from a winch (5) as it rises over the mast (6) to ward off enemy planes with its wing-shearing, propeller fouling cable.
Popular Science, August 1944, page 125
photo from the “Barrage Balloon and
Original Sauls Barrage Kite on display in the World Kite Museum
Above 2 Photos: Mike Hagen – 8/26/2006
Harry Sauls did not stop with the development of kites after the success of the Barrage kite. Although I find no records that he ever again attempted to use the kite for its original purpose of flying advertising banners. He became friends with Ed Graul the founder of the American Kitefliers Association and continued experiments well into the 1960’s and possibly later. He may have even experimented with using kites for traction, to power vehicles. It is recorded that he developed a Sled Kite variant notable for its longer keels and a unique center keel along with two rows of stabilizing vents and small vents in the outer keels. A plan of the Sauls Sled is pictured below.
The Sauls Barrage Kite has continued to be popular with kiting enthusiasts because of its historical & aesthetic values to this day. Some have built reproductions based on Sauls original designs using traditional spruce and canvas but many others have adapted his design using modern materials.
Below are some pictures of a modern interpretation of the Sauls Barrage Kite produced by Dale Vanderhoff of Black Feather Kites. Using Carbon spars, Ripstop Sail Fabric and connectors ingeniously adapted from drip irrigation fittings, he gave it a signal kite flair with the use of the red fabric and the black & white stabilizer section in keeping with its nautical heritage. Dale also slightly curved all the edges of the fabric to give the sail a taughtness not otherwise realized in the design and continued to fly them off 5 long lines just like the original but using Dacron instead of wire for safety.
Another Article from Popular Science – November 1944
MODEL BARRAGE KITE IS LIVELY FLIER
Exciting Fun Is Yours with This Copy of the Kites That Guard Freighters Against Bomber Attack
SHIPS traveling in areas that are subject to enemy air attack often use barrage kites to carry steel cables into the sky. The cables entangle any dive bomber that ventures too close. (See P.S.M., Aug. '44, p. 125.) A full-size kite would be too much for the amateur to build and handle; but here is a model with a four-foot wing spread that has enough lift to provide thrills aplenty.
The frame--that is, the struts, longerons, and tie rods--is made of white pine. The covering material is tissue paper or thin muslin (organdy).
Each wing section consists of four cross struts, four longerons, and one tie rod. Mark the mid-points of these struts and fasten them together in pairs, using small nails and bending the ends over as shown in Fig. 1. Spread these pairs slightly to form X's and fasten the longerons to the notched ends with glue and small nails, as indicated in Fig. 2. An excellent adhesive for this purpose is model-airplane cement, or any similar quick-drying preparation, but you can use casein glue if you allow sufficient time for it to dry. Secure the tie rods in place with cord seizing or heavy rubber bands.
Next make the looped-end cords that hold the struts rigidly in position. Each wing section requires four horizontal, four vertical, and two diagonal lines. Use a light, strong cord. Brown waxed store string is too weak. Lightweight chalk line is acceptable, but 12 to 16-lb. fishing line is ideal. To make all the vertical lines uniform in length, use a jig consisting of two finishing nails and a board. Drive the two nails into the board so they are 11½" apart. Tie a bowline in one end of a piece of cord, leaving a loop about 1" long. Slip this loop over one nail. Pull the cord taut and double it back around the other nail, as in Fig. 3. Holding the doubled portion firmly, slip the cord off the nail and tie a bowline to form a loop like the first one. By varying the distance between the nails, you can similarly form the horizontal and diagonal ties.
Make shallow notches near the ends of the longerons to hold the cords. Slip each cord over the proper longerons, as in Fig. 4, and secure it with a touch of glue. A completed wing section, ready for covering, is shown in Fig. 5.
The two tail sections are assembled in the same manner as the wing sections except that there are no diagonal cords or wooden tie rods. An assembled tail-section frame is shown in Fig. 6.
To tie the wings and the tails together, make a stabilizer section. It consists of two longerons and two vertical struts. Crossed diagonal cords stiffen the frame. Nail a small metal disk to the front end of the upper longeron to keep the wings from moving too far forward and possibly slipping off.
When the wings are put in place, the wing longerons will rest against the stabilizer longerons with the front vertical strut holding them slightly apart. Small brads driven into the stabilizer longerons serve similarly to space the trailing edges of the wings. Additional brads act as stops to prevent the wings from slipping back along the stabilizer.
Cover the top, the bottom, and one end of each wing and each tail, and the portion of the stabilizer between the vertical struts, with paper or muslin. Cut the covering material 1/2" wider than the space it is to occupy. To cover the wings and tails, fold the edges of the covering material around the cords and secure them with glue; then glue the covers to the longerons. To cover the stabilizer, run lengths of reinforcing cord between the two tops and between the two bottoms of the vertical struts; then glue the cover to the cords and to the struts. If you use tissue paper, you can strengthen it now by applying a coat of linoleum lacquer to it. The kite should then look as shown in Fig. 7, and is ready for assembly.
Punch small holes in the covers 1½" from the ends of the wing and tail longerons that butt against the stabilizer and reinforce them with glue or lacquer. Through these holes go 12 cords to bind the kite together. Four are used to fasten the tail sections to each other; four more pass through the same holes and tie the tails to the stabilizer; and the remaining four are used to hold the wings to the stabilizer. The assembled kite will look like Fig. 8. It may be disassembled for storage or transportation by cutting away the 12 cords just mentioned.
Above, how sailors launch a full-size barrage kite from the deck of a ship to ward off enemy bombers.
At the front end of the lower stabilizer longeron and each outer, lower wing longeron attach a small wire or cord loop to take the ends of three bridle lines. These lines come together about 3' in front of the kite, where they are tied to a ring or a loop. The kite line is also tied to this ring or loop, or it may be fastened with a small snap hook.
The kite is now ready to be flown. Wait for a fairly breezy day. Stay well away from woods or other obstacles that might cause gusty air currents. Let out about 50' of cord and have an assistant hold the kite at head level, pointing it upward at an angle of about 45 deg. Hold the line moderately taut. When the breeze is good, take a short run. The kite should rise immediately and continue to climb as you pay out line. If it rides on too even a keel, it may overrun you and go into a dive. To remedy this, add weight to the tail, an ounce at a time, in the form of lead sinkers or blocks of wood that are held in place by string. The kite illus- trated showed a pull estimated at 10 to 15 lb. during the test flight, which was made in a fairly stiff breeze.
It is a good idea on flight expeditions to take along some spare covering material, cord, and quick-drying cement for making emergency repairs.
From Popular Science, Nov. 1944, pages 150-152.
Quote From "KITES" written by David Pelham and published by Penguin Books
Another war-time application of
the kite was as a barrage protection for
Quote from “Kites On The Winds Of War” – by M. Robinson, originally printed in KITING, The Journal of the American Kitefliers Association, Summer 2002, Volume 24, Issue 2
Quote from KiteLines Magazine Summer 1989 (Vol. 7 No. 3)
Empty Places In The Sky
Harry C Sauls
The designer of the Naval Barrage Kite,
Harry C Sauls, died of a heart attack on December 2 1988, at the age of 90 in
He was born and grew up in a large family in
After his discharge from the Marines in
1920, he raised poultry in
The Sauls kite underwent extensive testing
by the Navy before it was adopted in 1941 to fly from ships on cables to ward
off enemy dive bombers. The Sauls Vangrow Company was formed in
In 1942 he married Edna May White and in
1946 they moved to
In 1983, the Maryland Kite Society awarded Sauls their Honorary Order of the Kite Award for his Naval Barrage Kite, "thought to be one of the most important military uses of a kite".
Notes from conversations then show both the achievements and the modesty of Harry Sauls, who said, "I've never gone into kites scientifically. I just know I can build a good kite and I do it and that's it."
Sauls is survived by his wife and by the trees and flowers of the Harry and Edna May Sauls Park a block from his home.
"KITES" by David Pelham published by Penguin Books
KiteLines Magazine Summer 1989 (Vol. 7 No. 3) – Valerie Govig