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Tuesday, 20 December 2016


The oldest parachute design appears in an anonymous manuscript from 1470s Renaissance, showing a free-hanging man clutching a cross bar frame attached to a conical canopy.

The oldest known depiction of a parachute, by an anonymous author (Italy, 1470s).

A decade later, a more sophisticated parachute was sketched by Leonardo da Vinci in his Codex Atlanticus. Leonardo's canopy was held open by a square wooden frame, which alters the shape of the parachute from conical to pyramidal. Leonardo said of it "If a man has a tent 12 braccia wide and 12 high covered with cloth, he can throw himself down from any great height without hurting himself."

The feasibility of Leonardo's parachute design was successfully tested in 2000 by Briton Adrian Nicholas and again in 2008 by Luigi Cani.

The modern parachute was invented in the late 18th century by Louis-Sébastien Lenormand. He used his 14-foot contraption with a rigid wooden frame to make the first recorded public parachute jump, when he leaped from the tower of the Montpellier observatory, in France, on December 26, 1783.

Among the crowd that witnessed the feat was ballooning pioneer Joseph Montgolfier. Lenormand's intended use for the parachute was to help entrapped occupants of a burning building to escape unharmed.

Lenormand jumps from the tower of the Montpellier observatory,  Wikipedia

Two years later, in 1785, Lenormand coined the word "parachute" from the Latin prefix para- ‎(“protection against”) (as in parasol) and the French word chute ‎(“fall”).

Also in 1785, balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard (1753-1809) demonstrated the parachute as a means of safely disembarking from a hot-air balloon. Blanchard's first parachute demonstrations were conducted with a dog as the passenger.

Andre-Jacques Garnerin made the first jump from a balloon with a frameless parachute on October 22, 1797. He was dropped from about 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) over Monceau Park in Paris in a 23-ft.-diameter parachute made of white canvas with a basket attached. Garnerin was airsick on the way down as his invention lacked the hole in the top to steady it.

First use of a frameless parachute, by André Garnerin in 1797. Wikipedia

When Jean Genevieve Garnerin jumped from a hot air balloon with a parachute on October 12, 1799, she became the first ever female parachutist.

In 1911, 54-year-old career parachutist Grant Morton made the first parachute jump from an airplane, a Wright Model B piloted by Phil Parmalee, at Venice Beach, California. Morton's device was of the "throw-out" type where he held the parachute in his arms as he left the aircraft.

An article in Air and Space Magazine published on February 29, 2012 made a claim that U.S. Army Captain Albert Berry of the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis was the first to jump from a powered airplane on March 1, 1912 and that Morton made his on April 28, 1912 which would certainly give credit to Berry. Captain Albert Berry jumped from an altitude of 1,500 feet at a speed of 50 mph.

Parachutes at the dawn of the aviation age were bulky and, inconveniently, had to be pre-opened. Among those trying to improve upon their design was French tailor Franz Reichelt. In 1911 a successful test took place with a dummy at the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Picture published in a Dutch magazine De Prins der Geïllustreerde Bladen

Reichelt had no evidence that his parachute would work with a real person when he jumped from the Eiffel Tower on February 4, 1912  before a crowd of spectators and reporters. The chute failed to open, and he plummeted to his death.

Mrs Georgia Thompson Broadwick became the first woman parachutist to jump from an aircraft on June 21, 1913. She jumped from a home-made plane 1,000ft over Los Angeles. Broadwick deployed her chute manually, thus becoming the first person to jump free-fall.

Štefan Banič from Smolenice, Slovakia, patented a parachute with an umbrella-like design in 1913, after seeing a plane crash the previous year. He is said to have tested it by jumping off a tower block in Washington DC. Banič sold (or donated) the patent to the United States military.

The experience with parachutes during the war highlighted the need to develop a design that could be reliably used to exit a disabled airplane. After the war, Major Edward L. Hoffman of the United States Army led an effort to develop an improved parachute. Leslie Irvin of the United States made the first successful voluntary free-fall parachute jump in 1919 using the new kind of self-contained parachute. The Type-A parachute was put into production and over time saved a number of lives.

In 1925, Charles Lindbergh was hired by the Robertson Aircraft Corporation (RAC) for whom he served as chief pilot for the Air Mail Route #2 between St. Louis and Chicago. Because of his reckless flying, Lindbergh was forced to parachute out from crashes.

In the 1940s the Idaho Fish and Game Dept relocated beavers into the wilderness by dropping them out of airplanes with parachutes.

Joseph Kittinger parachuted from a balloon over New Mexico at 102,800 feet (31,330 m) in 1960, setting records for high-altitude jump, free-fall height, and fastest speed by a human without an aircraft.

Jimi Hendrix spent a year as part of the United States Paratrooper Division. He was honorably discharged after breaking his ankle during a parachute jump.

When Phil Smith and Phil Mayfield parachuted off a Houston skyscraper in 1981, they became the first two people to BASE jump from objects in all four categories: buildings, antennae, spans (bridges), and earth (cliffs).

Parachutes are usually made out of light, strong cloth, originally silk, now most commonly nylon. The material was changed after silk became scarce during World War II.

UK charity parachute jumpers injure themselves so frequently that, for every £1 they raise for charity, they cost the public health system £13.75.

The Caterpillar Club consists solely of people who have jumped out of a failing airplane and survived by deploying their parachute. The club was founded by Leslie Irvin, who survived ejecting out of his plane in 1919, and every member is sent a gold caterpillar pin with amethyst eyes.

In Florida it is illegal for single, divorced, or widowed women to parachute on Sunday afternoons.

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