Kite Carriages or Charvolants

The Kite-Carriage or Charvolant
The Kite-Carriage or Charvolant

George Pocock was an English schoolteacher who became interested in kites and began experimenting with them. His interest gradually progressed to him using kites to lift small items and then light loads. By the 1820s, Pocock was experimenting with kites that could lift people. This resulted in Pocock rigging a chair in 1824 that lifted his daughter into the air, and, later that same year, his son also ascended in a chair above a cliff outside of Bristol.

Having concluded that kites were capable of lifting humans, Pocock then turned his attention to using kites to pull loads. He began attaching a small number of kites to carriages and, in 1826, patented the “Charvolant.”  The Charvolant consisted of two kites on a single line that was 1,500 to 1,800 feet long and was capable of pulling a carriage with several passengers at a fairly fast speed. Thus, the kite carriage was born.

Pocock asserted that the kite-carriage “is the most pleasurable and safe [type of travel] every yet discovered, and with the exception of the steam-engine, the most expeditious.” He also believed that kite carriages could be used for a variety of purposes and wrote that the uses of “kites, or buoyant sails [allow for] … 1st … a variety of naval and maritime purposes. 2d. They may be useful in the military career. 3d. For travelling and for crossing rivers, and other advantages.”

He also defined the types of wind and the pace of these winds, as described in the chart below:

Type of Wind Pace (Miles Per Hour)
A gentle breeze 3 to 5
An active breeze 7 to 12
Pleasant gale 14 to 18
Brisk gale 20 to 26
Wind or strong gale 30 to 38
High wind 40 to 50
Furious wind or storm 55 to 65
Tempest 70 to 80
Hurricane 80 to 100

 

After his creation of the kite-carriage, there were several reports of kite-carriages seen traveling around England. For instance, one newspaper reported that “on Friday, about six in the evening, a carriage drawn by kites, passed through the north gate of Hyde-park, followed by a number of equestrians and carriages, and proceeded toward Uxbridge. The Char-volant (as it is termed), or kite carriage, was steered by a youth, who evinced great dexterity in passing all the usual obstructions which are met with on a crowded road.”

The Kite-Carriage or Charvolant in Motion, Courtesy of Wikipedia
The Kite-Carriage or Charvolant in Motion, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Another Pocock kite carriage flight consisted of twelve individuals with three separate equipages. One carriage was manned by two person, a second larger carriage carried a party of four, and the third charvolant had six persons.

“[The route was] the great western road to London, running over the high grounds of Marshfield Downs, through Chippenham, Calne, and Marlborough Downs … A journey of 113 miles … to be accomplished with no other draught power than the wind, which was … blowing a fine gale of at least five and thirty miles an hour.”

One observance of the kite-carriage involved Pocock himself. In this case it was reported in a newspaper that he “passed through the town of Chippenham in a carriage drawn by two kites, occasionally travelling at the rate of twenty-five miles an hour. Running along the London Road the carriage came up with that of the Duke of Gloucester, who was travelling with two pairs of post-horses. The kite carriage passed him, drew up to let his Royal Highness go by, and then shot past at top speed as if he was standing still.”

The kite carriages attracted considerable attention particular after Pocock wrote a book lauding the kite-carriage’s abilities. Some people agreed. For example, the Liverpool Mercury noted “that they had seldom noticed any invention of more originality and utility.” But not everyone was so smitten. One critical review stated:

“We see no probability that Mr. Pocock’s kites can ever be rendered a useful mechanical agent,’ meaning … not that the kites had not great power, and might not be applied to numerous purposes, but that they would not serve as a regular, steady, and always-available mechanical agents … We remarked that the kites ‘depend on a principle, which has great inherent defects as a mechanical power, and the use of which modern science and art is fast superseding. The wind.‘”

The critics went farther stating that part of the problem with using the wind for travel, was it was “fickle and changeable.” Moreover, other forms of travel — hackney coaches or stagecoaches — did not require wind to operate nor did they require the harnessing of horses at a moment’s notice to take advantage of the wind. Thus, critics concluded, “our opinion remains precisely the same as it was namely, that the inherent defectiveness of that power, and its inferiority to other mechanical powers already known and in use, will prevent the kites from ever being adopted as a regular mechanical agent.”

Another critic agreed. He stated of the kite-carriage:

“Wind and weather would have a great deal to do with the matter, and the prevailing wind, whatever it might be, would only suit those who wanted to go in the direction towards which it was blowing. And … all those who wanted to go towards other points of the compass would be disappointed and probably disgusted … [So,] I am still of opinion that it is far better to stick to bicycles and tricycles which afford practicable means of getting from place to place than to waste time and money over a mode of locomotion which could never be put in operation at any and every time that it might be desired to take a trip.”

References:

  • -, Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties, 9 May 1828
  • Air Navigation; or the Art of Travelling with Paper Kites, in Windsor and Eton Express, 6 October 1827
  • Amateur Work, Illustrated, Vol. IV
  • “The History of the Charvolant, or Kite Carriage; a Treatise on the Aeropleustic Art,” in
    Bell’s New Weekly Messenger, 31 August 1851
  • The Atlas, November 1, 1828

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