Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is a "target kite"?
A. These kites were made during WW2, primarily for the Navy. They were used as anti-aircraft gunner training targets on board ship in lieu of shooting at clouds or sending up a plane to pull a target sleeve.

Q. What made them so special?
A. These kites incorporate a wooden rudder and two control lines by which the operator can make it perform loops, figure-eights, dives and zig-zagging. This May 1945 Popular Science article has a nice diagram of what it could do.

Q. Who invented the target kite?
A. Paul Garber, future head of the Air & Space Museum, was working at the Smithsonian when WW2 began. His first job in the Navy was modelling airplanes in wood and other materials for use as "recognition models". He became involved in gunnery targets by accident when he overheard someone describing the need for them. His imagination and life-long interest in kites took him the rest of the way.

Q. Where can I see one?
A. Not many seem to be on display. The World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame in Long Beach, Washington has one. The Friend of Foe? Museum in Santa Barbara, California has one too.

In December 2011 Kevin Lahey reported that he saw one on display at the MAPS Air Museum at the Akron-Canton airport in Ohio.

If you find one on public display somewhere else please let (email me).

Q. Where can I buy one?
A. They show up quite regularly on eBay, about 8 or 10 times a year. See my eBay notes for more details.

Q. Can I make one myself?
A. Sure. In fact the first edition of the training manual assumed you would have to make your own. It includes complete measurements and instructions. The originals were made of Dacron, with a sky blue color and the plane painted on in black.

Q. Do any modern kites use a rudder?
A. The only other kite I've ever seen that uses a rudder is Wolfgang Schimmelpfennig's Scanner. He's given me permission to include the plans here.

Q. What about the reel?
A. I've only seen one reel, and that was at a Smithsonian storage facility. If you decide to try and make one, the construction plans should get you started. Unfortunately it uses some special metal gears to give the drums a ratchet action. Alternatively, you could fly it like a modern stunt kite, with equal length Kevlar lines and handles, I imagine.

Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration,
and Storage Facility in 2002
Q. Where did you get all this information?
A. Almost any book on kite history will have one photo and a paragraph or two on the target kite. In attempting to find out more I made several false starts. Let me save you time by telling you that the Navy, National Archives, Air & Space Museum Library, Spalding, and the company that bought out Comet models (Testors?) will be of no help to you. Virtually all of my material comes from an examination of the Paul Garber Papers in storage at the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility in Silver Hill, Maryland. You must make prior-arrangements to view the boxes of papers prior to visiting. I spent two days there and I think I've got about 98% of the target kite related information here on the website. At least that's where they kept the papers when I visited in 2002, prior to the opening of the new Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport.

The only other material you might come across outside of the Garber Papers are the two editions of the training manuals. Both the Navy and Air & Space Museum libraries have copies, and others may exist as well.

Q. How about the other kites you mention, the Gibson Girl and Barrage Kite?
A. Original WW2 Gibson Girl kites and radio gear also show up on eBay with some regularity. Similar box kites were used by the Air Force through Vietnam at least, so you can find orange plastic folding box kites on some surplus equipment websites.

The Barrage kite has been reproduced for modern sport fliers. Gomberg Kites sells one for $400. I've never seen an original Barrage kite anywhere, including eBay.