Kite: a simple airfoil of wood and cloth held in the wind by a tether, and the oldest flying technology in this entire glossary. The Chinese were building elaborate kites 2300 years ago, and it didn’t take them long to launch the first aeronauts. The west didn’t catch up until late in the nineteenth century, with manned kites used for military reconnaissance. With the right design, kite pilots can cut free from their tether to glide to a safe landing, and this can be seen as the origin of hang-gliding.
Tech Level: Low. Within reach of any culture with a tightly woven fabric or membrane. Well suited to Time Travel stories, Alternative History and every sub-genre from stonepunk on up.
Appears In: Waterworld, in the form of a sail. Man-carrying kites play a part in my own SF novel, Avians, now scheduled for release by Five Rivers next year.
For Your Plot: How about a boy-lifting kite in the Age of Sail? The Royal Navy of Hornblower’s time had everything they needed to put a midshipman aloft with a spyglass… except the imagination.