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Parachuting History

Parachuting History

Reference Notes

ca90BC a Chinaman escaped a fire in a tower by jumping with two conical straw-hats as a drag or descent-delay parachute
ca290BC-AD250 numerous instances of "man-lifting" kites bearing an observer aloft for military surveillance; as derived from the 5th Century BC Chinese invention of the kite, called a "flying sail" ... greatly anticipating the modern invention of the airfoil glider and ascending parachute
ca550-577 Chinese archives document winged-flight experiments imitative of birds
ca1000 Chinese officials experimented with parachute designs by compelling condemned prisoners to jump from towers and cliffs, according to archives translated by the French monk Vasson
1192 a Chinese acrobat stole some of the gold ornamentation off the roof of the Islamic minaret in Canton, and escaped by jumping with double umbrellas as a parachute
ca1485/1495 Leonardo daVinci designed a pyramid-shaped "tent" frame-style parachute. In his 1514 sketchbook, he conjectured that it could be used for military deployment if soldiers were launched into the air by cannon
ca1595/1617 Fausto Veranzio (Fouste Veranzino), a Hungarian mathematician, parachuted from a tower in Venice using a "fall breaker" canvas-covered frame
ca1687 Siamese court tumblers used double-umbrellas to descend from a height during their act, as reported by English ambassadors
1783 the Montgolfier brothers of France successfully dropped a sheep from a tower using a seven-foot frame parachute; as a scientific experiment, Joseph Montgolfier may have jumped from a balloon at some later date
1783 Louis Sebastien Lenormand, of France, is generally credited with being the first to successfully demonstrate the parachute principle by descending in such a device from the top of the Montpelier Observatory in Paris. He coined the word 'parachute', as derived from "sustain + fall" (parer + chute) for a "deployable aerodynamic decelerator".
1785 Jean Pierre Blanchard of France successfully dropped a dog from a balloon by parachute. He may have attempted the feat himself, but the act is not documented. He may have designed the first frameless folding-cloth parachute
22 Oct 1797 Andrew/Andre Jacques Garnerin rode suspended in a basket beneath a ribbed parachute canopy, which folded like a sunshade-parasol (10m diameter, with 36 suspension lines) and had been stowed below a balloon, from 700m/2300ft safely to land. A lack of vents caused the canopy to oscillate violently, sickening the parachutist. Vents were inserted into the canopy after his 21 September 1802 jump in England. He made a demonstration jump for the French military on 23 September 1800 at Champs de Mars. His wife, Genevieve LaBrosse, jumped in 1798, becoming the first woman to parachute. His niece, Elisa, made forty jumps between 1815 and 1836.
14 July 1808 first recorded emergency parachute descent was made safely by the Polish aeronaut, Jordaki Kuparento, from his burning balloon, over the city of Warsaw
ca1809-1853 Chinese aeronautical experiments to fly imitative of a "helicopter top" dragonfly; as inspired by 4th Century invention of pinwheels, which "wind wheels" were sometimes attached to kites to increase lift and propulsion
1837 the English artist, Robert Cocking, was killed when his experimental parachute collapsed under excessive weight at an altitude of 1700m. The English scholar, Sir George Cayley, had proposed to remedy the oscillatory problem with a cone-shaped parachute which would be used with the apex pointing downwards. This developed design was used successfully in jumps from 30-120m/98-393ft heights by the German aeronaut, Lorenz Hengler.
30 Jan 1887 Thomas Baldwin, wearing a rope-harness attached to a folded silk arched-canopy, which was collapsed and stowed in a canvas container attached to the side of a balloon basket, jumped from 5000ft to land safely; Samuel and Thomas Baldwin designed this first frameless parachute for their circus act. As with the 1804 French folded-canopy design by Bourget, it was opened by the wind after the jumper's body-weight pulled it free from the container, and air pressure kept the canopy deployed.
1890's German circus performers Kathe/Kaethe Paulus and Paul Letterman/Letteman jumped from a balloon wearing a "bag packed" tandem parachute so they could deploy a second canopy in series after discarding the first. This two 'chute backpack system and "cut-away" technique is still used when a reserve 'chute replaces a defective/malfunctioned main canopy.
1908 Leo Stevens devised the first "ripcord" actuated parachute to be released by the jumper; but this "freefall" system would not be substantially utilized until 1920
1910 Pino, an Italian inventor, devised and patented a backpack parachute which featured a small pilot 'chute, released from the jumper's helmet, which deployed the primary or main canopy from its container; a similar system is still in effect for sport freefalls
1911 Grant Morton makes first freefall jump from an airplane, by exiting a Wright Model B over Venice Beach California, with a collapsed parachute held in his arms (early version of "throw-out" deployment)
28 Feb 1912 Captain Albert Berry made the first container-deployed jump from an airplane at 1500ft near St Louis, Missouri; the dome-shaped metal canopy-container, designed by Leo Stevens, was attached to the airplane's fuselage, and remained after releasing the parachute
1913 Captain M. Douade designed an emergency parachute system to lower an entire airplane; however his plans were cancelled by WWI
1914-1922 Georgia "Tiny" Broadwick, an American balloon-jumper and barnstormer, was the first woman to make an airplane jump, near San Diego, California; subsequently completing over 1100 jumps. Her step-father, Charles Broadwick, developed the first vest-style backpack, called the "parachute coat", which used a breakaway static-line to deploy the canopy.
1919 the "GUARDIAN ANGEL" emergency parachute system was manufactured by E.R. Cathrop Ltd, of London England. This system was used to safely lower the entire airplane, and was credited with saving many lives. In a 1996 prototype made by Ballistic Recovery Systems Inc (BRSI) for Cessna light airplanes, the FAA approved aircraft descent parachutes; and the Cirrus light plane became the first production model to have a built-in ballistic parachute for emergency descent.
28 Apr 1919 Leslie L. "SkyHigh" Irvin developed the first freefall or delayed-opening parachute, which used a small spring-loaded pilot 'chute, and employed an H-harness to connect the jumper's body to the suspension lines (which later became "risers"). This 32-foot backpacked parachute was actuated by the jumper at will with the "ripcord" of steel cable that "locked" the backpack with pins. Irvin made the first military freefall from 1500ft over McCook Field, Ohio, during safety tests to acquire a new parachute for pilots of the U.S. Army Air Service, which experiments were supervised by Floyd Smith and Major W.L./E.L. Hoffman.
24 Sep 1927 first mass military jump by five US Marines and four USN sailors, from 1500ft, at Anacostia Flats, Washington DC
6 Nov 1927 Italian Air Force experiments by parachuting nine aviators, from 1600ft
Oct 1928 Brigadier General William C. "Billy" Mitchell directed that six soldiers exit a Martin bomber airplane by parachute with full-field equipment, land, and set-up a machinegun on the Drop Zone at Kelly Field, Texas; thus becoming the first "paratroopers" (aka: air-infantry, air-grenadiers) in the world. As other countries (ie: France, Russia, Germany) developed "air-delivered forces", General G.C. Marshall directed the Infantry Board to commence training an all-volunteer Parachute Test Platoon during July 1940.
1929 Captain Roscoe Turner landed his airplane with a parachute, before 15,000 spectators in an air-show at Santa Ana, CA; as a result of research on vehicle recovery later begun in 1961, NASA adopts parachutes for the final phase of re-entry in the Gemini space-capsule program
1936 on maneuvers, the U.S.S.R. demonstrated the functional airborne regiment concept to allied observers
1938 successful German paratroop assaults on Norway and Holland, but after the landing on Crete, in which two of every three parachutes was an equipment container and casualties were very high, the elite German Army airborne was grounded
22 Jun 1940 British Army forms paratroops under direction of Sir Winston L.S. Churchill
25 Jun 1940 at GEN G.C. Marshall's direction, a 50-man U.S. Army Parachute Test Platoon was established by the Infantry Board to develop doctrine and techniques for airborne operations, using the 28-foot T-4 static-line parachute, newly developed for low-altitude use by field-equipped soldiers, and the smaller 22-foot back-up "reserve" parachute for emergency deployment in case of malfunction (nb: USA was the first to equip troops with reserve 'chutes, and the only country to do so during WWII); which resulted in five (ie: 11, 13, 17, 82, 101) divisions and six (ie: 503, 509, 517, 550, 551, 555) separate units for WWII. The U.S. Army Parachute Qualification Badge, originally worn only while assigned to an airborne unit, was first awarded 23 March 1941, having been designed by Captain Yarborough and Second Lieutenant Minter. The Army parachute badge acquired a cloth background-oval or wing-trimming, distinctive for each unit, to distinguish between troopers on active jump-status and those who are simply jump qualified. The Army parachute badge was originally worn by Marine parachutists, but the Marine Rigger badge was later modified and adopted as the official Marine badge after WWII. The Rigger badge, for parachute packers and repairers, is a separate non-jump qualification of the quartermaster corps (QMC).
12 July 1940 first operational firefighter jump by Rufus Robinson and Earl Cooley in the Martin Creek area of the Nezperce National Forest, Idaho; following experimental training since Spring 1939
Oct 1940 U.S. Marine Corps establishes airborne training, forming two parachute battalions, later expanded to a regiment authorized four battalions, but never jumped in combat; used as elite infantry until reduced ranks compelled disbandment; remainder assigned with Raider remnants as replacements to 5th Mar Div
1941 Arthur H. Starnes made the first authenticated "high-altitude low-opening" (HALO) controlled freefall with adaptive equipment from 30,800ft to opening at 1500ft; to prove aviators could survive extreme delayed-opening ejections from disabled aircraft
1930's-1950 American skydivers and stunt-jumpers developed more sophisticated methods and controlled freefall techniques for stabilization and "relative work" (RW). Leo "Birdman" Valentin is credited with perfecting freefall aerobatics and sport parachuting [nb: he died in a jump involving equipment failure in 1956]. In 1948, Francis Rogallo patented the flexible "delta wing" steerable airfoil, subsequent to the glider and flight research of pioneer aeronautical engineers Otto Lilienthal, Octave Chanute, Orville & Wilbur Wright.
post-1950 well-organized and regulated sport/military parachuting, including competitions, establishment of rating and certification, advances in training methods and equipment design, improvements in materials, innovations in techniques, and proliferating support groups. A Swiss engineer and physicist, August Pica , lofted a sealed ("air cabin") capsule by balloon to 53,400ft during 1954 in conjunction with work on deep-ocean submersion by "bathoscaf" vehicles. The Parachute Club of America was formed in 1957, later becoming the United States Parachute Association; the unique U.S.P.A. badge was designed and adopted by its membership in September 1961, and trademarked in 1962. Special Operations Forces began formal Military Free Fall (MFF) parachute instruction for both high- and low-altitude insertions in 1964. The 'Rogallo wing', which could be controlled like a glider, led to para-gliding and ascending parachutes in the mid-1960s, to hang-gliding after 1966, to para-skiing from 1971, to ultra-light, autogyro, and other experimental minimal aircraft from 1974. Some senior parachutists formed the Parachutists Over Phorty Society (POPS) in 1966, declaring that "You don't quit skydiving because you got old, you got old because you quit skydiving!" (by Bill Wood); and this association has since extended to Skydivers Over Sixty (SOS), Jumpers Over Seventy (JOS), Jumpers Over Eighty Society (JOES), and Jumpers Over Ninety Society (JONS).