War Kite: The ‘Gibson Girl’ Kites

In looking at Bft4/5 kites I have been reminded of the successful use of the box design as an emergency radio antenna lifter by air forces in WW2.

The most well known is Box Kite M-357-A, made in the thousands by the Bendix Aviation Co. from 1941. The design is of interest as it’s collapsible and ‘idiot proof’. The aluminium frame used an ingenious ‘pop-out spider’ to make assembly easy. It was made to lift 260 feet of stainless steel wire antenna as flying line. So it was a good lifter too.

The instructions are printed on it:The famous emergency radio (from which the ‘Gibson Girl’ nickname is derived- it had an ‘hour glass’ shaped case) and its box kite lifted antenna was developed from a 1941 captured German example which used a winged box (see Louis Meutlstee’s excellent account here). The British adopted the system and it went into mass production in the US.  11,600 sets were ordered to be made as standard issue for all aircraft operating over sea. It was in use as US air force kit up to the 1970s. The complete emergency radio kit included a balloon and hydrogen generator as an alternate to the kite.

A good description of the system is posted on the excellent Carnet deVol website by Patrick and Patricia Mouchague here.

The risks of raising the antenna by hydrogen balloon and kite had to be spelled out in the manual!

It appears that by1943 the RAF antenna raising system was refined further. They seemed happy with the radio but the box kite was superseded by a Conyne design which could be rocket launched from a Very pistol:

I am unsure as to why the RAF went for this, perhaps supply problems with the Bendix kite or a research team gripped by kite fever- who knows? I assume the Very pistol would have been onboard any aircraft so the rocket launched Conyne kite would be less bulky than the box, or perhaps there was a fear of launch failure. Maybe it was felt that downed pilots and crew shouldn’t have to assemble the kite? Here is the kit :Launch procedure was pretty scary but straight forward:

A rocket launched kite seems very appealing, it would be a good method of getting a kite clear of ‘dirty’ airflow at ground level. Mind you I can see some problems,  having to deal with an instant  200′ of line  might create more problems than it solves if the kite swings into the wind and drags the line over the usual obstructions- best used at sea I suppose!

The runner slid along the longeron to position the wing spar: When fully tensioned by the bungee cords the wing spreader was held square to the long spars; a neat way to get a rapid deployment:

I’m left with a few unanswered questions about the use of kites in WW2 as emergency radio antennae:

  • What was the advantage of the rocket launch system?
  • The ‘Rocket’ Conyne  has a full sail, most examples  of the design are open between the cells, why was this?
  • How did the rocket launched Conyne work in practice?
  • The German winged box kite seems to have a central ‘spacer’ spar as part of its ‘pop-up’ assembly mechanism-how did it work?
  • There were 3 kite designs deployed : a winged box, a box and a Conyne: which is best as a Bft4/5 KAP lifter?

I know many examples of the M357A survive (they were a popular post war toy for many!) but info on the British ‘Rocket Conyne’ and the German winged box is scarce, it would be fun to find and fly these warkites, their designs  have the robust utility of working tools that appeals!

At least one example of the ‘Rocket Conye’ survives , see here and  the Imperial War Museum has one listed in its catalogue:

Catalogue number: COM 391 Production date :1939 Materials : metal, wood FULL NAME: Ancillary Equipment, Rocket Kite, British SIMPLE NAME: rocket kite : British Creator : International Marine Radio Co. Category : equipment

B

About billboyheritagesurvey

Heritage worker
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11 Responses to War Kite: The ‘Gibson Girl’ Kites

  1. Keith and Jackie Johnson says:

    An Ex RAF Old Boy has given me an old M-357- A Kite still in it’s origional tube but cord is missing. is it possible to get an origional cord.

    • Hi there. Unless you are able to track down the original emercgency kit (Part mumber BG-155-A ) I doubt you’d be able to find the original line by itself. The kite should fly on any decent modern line with a 20Kg breaking strain.

      Good luck,

      Bill

      • Keith and Jackie Johnson says:

        Keith and Jackie Johnson. Thanks for your reply. We are going to start by contacting RAF reunion sites, someone there might be able to help. might also hopefuly be able to get some other bits of the Gibson Girl Kit.

  2. bob collins says:

    I see a WWII M-357-A Survival Kite for sale on EBAY

  3. Ron says:

    Hello. I have three of the rocket coynes, complete with rockets. I know this sounds like a stupid question but how dangerous are the rockets? I plan to sell the kites and may have to consider shipping the rockets separately or disposing of them some other way if someone outside the US buys them. I can’t imagine shipping flamable material in international mail would be simple or even legal. Thanks.

    • Hi Ron,

      I can’t advise you on this. The rockets may or may not be stable. It’s reasonable to assume they are a serious fire hazard so I’d check you terms of carriage carefully before sending them by mail! Do you have any photos of the equipment; it would be great to see them?

      Bill

      • Ron says:

        Bill,
        I’ll be posting some photos online in advance of selling the kites on eBay. I will advise you when thay are on. I guess I’ll remove the rocket tubes and only offer them to the buyer if I can find a legal way to ship them. UPS will probably ship them in the US but I anticipate that the greatest interest in the kites will be in the UK and I don’t think there will be a practical way to ship them internationally.

        The three kites & rocket assemblies came in a yellow, wooden, military-looking crate about one meter tall. I only recognised them because I had purchased a US military (box kite only) years ago. The rocket tubes are made of wood and one is cracking due to drying out. It would be fun, and probably exceedingly foolish, to fire one off!

        You mention on the site, that the early box kites used a wire tether which served as a radio antenna. My kites, and the US version I owned, have some kind of string tethers. What, then, was the purpose of the kite? Was it used as a rescue signal? Thanks. Ron

  4. Looks like the antenna operation was a separate matter with the rocket Conye set up. The figures from the manual (above) make no mention of how to attach the steel wire. The IWM reference reveals they were supplied by the International Marine Radio Co so I think antenna lifting was the intention. More research needed I think!

    B

    • Ron says:

      Bill, First a correction of something I mentioned earlier. I said the rocket tubes were wood – they are not. The one I had out at my initial examination is actually split lengthwise with splinters within the split exactly like a wooden tube would appear. However, the tube is in fact metal.

      My eBay listing is up and running and ends on Oct. 6, ’13. It is #390668920800 and can be viewed at
      along with many pictures. If you send me your direct email address I will send the original pics directly to you and you may use/publish them, along with my descriptive text from the listing, for reference purposes if you desire. Ron.

  5. Paul Chapman says:

    See the Gibson Girl pages on Facebook. The Conyne is by Wheelwright. He made two different Conynes. We fired the rocket kite a few years ago…exciting! The Wheelwrights are covered by patents and there is quite a lot of technical data regarding them.

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