Early Parachutes to Modern Skydiving

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by Pat Works

Early Parachutes to Modern Skydiving

Early Parachutes and ParachutingEarly Parachutes to Modern Skydiving 1

The parachute was invented on paper long before it was used. About 1495, Leonardo da Vinci did a crude sketch of a design in the margin of a notebook, where he wrote, "If a man is provided with a length of gummed linen cloth with a length of 12 yards on each side and 12 yards high, he can jump from any great height whatsoever without injury." The sketch shows the cloth stretched over a rigid, pyramid-shaped framework.

A Croatian living in Venice, Faust Vrancic, developed a simpler design, basically a large square of cloth stretched over a wooden framework. According to some reports, he made a safe jump from a Venice tower in 1617. Other accounts, however, say that the design was never actually tested. (Vrancic is often referred to as Fausto Veranzo, the Italian version of his name.)

There was little practical use for a parachute until the invention of the hot air balloon by the Montgolfier brothers in 1783. Joseph Montgolfier experimented with several parachute designs, first testing them with animals and then trying some jumps himself, from the roof of his house. Another early balloonist, Jean Pierre Blanchard, reportedly parachuted from a balloon that exploded in 1785, but his claim has been doubted.

Early_flight_GarnerinAndre-Jacques Garnerin is considered the first real parachutist. Imprisoned during the French Revolution, he conceived the idea of the parachute as a means of escape. The idea didn't go away after his release, though. Garnerin made his first jump on Oct. 22, 1797. His parachute was attached to a basket that was suspended beneath the gondola of a balloon piloted by his brother. At an altitude of about 2,000 feet above Paris, his brother cut the parachute canopy loose and Garnerin descended safely to the ground.

Unlike earlier models, his parachute didn't have a rigid frame, although Garnerin did use a pole to hold up the center of the canopy, much like a tentpole. There was one major problem with Garnerin's design: the parachute tended to oscillated wildly from side to side, which often caused airsickness. A noted astronomer, Joseph de Lalandes, watched one of Garnerin's jumps and suggested cutting a hole in the top of the canopy to equal air pressure inside it, which cut down considerably on the oscillations.

Garnerin made a living by giving exhibitions of balloon ascents and parachute descents throughout France and England. His wife, Genevieve Labrosse, became the first woman parachutist in 1798 and his niece, Elisa, eventually got into the act, making about 40 parachute jumps from 1815 to 1836.

Thomas Scott Baldwin 3

Thomas Baldwin

The basic problem with all of these early parachutes was that they weren't easily portable. A Frenchman identified only by the last name of Bourget is generally credited with inventing the collapsible parachute in 1804, but no one seems to have followed up on that idea until 1887, when balloonist Thomas Baldwin of the United States developed a self-contained silk parachute. Baldwin wore a harness that could be fastened to the parachute. He would then jump from the balloon's gondola, pulling the canopy and its lines out, and the parachute would fill with air.

Three years later, Paul Letteman and Kaethe Paulus of Germany came up with a parachute packed into a bag for a stunt they did. They both jumped from a balloon with one pre-deployed parachute, then one of them jumped again with a second parachute, which was carried in a bag. (Paulus, by the way, was a woman. She designed the parachute used by German balloonists during World War I.)

Traveling carnivals often included balloon and parachute exhibitions. Typically, the parachutist would hang from a trapeze suspended beneath a parachute, which in turn was suspended beneath a balloon. When the balloon reached a suitable altitude, the parachute would be cut loose. Many parachutists performed circus-like trapeze stunts during the descent. One of these performers, Charles Broadwick, designed a parachute pack early in the 20th century. A tear-off panel on the back of the pack was attached to the trapeze by a line of rope or cable. When Broadwick jumped, the line would pull the panel off the pack, allowing the parachute canopy to deploy and fill with air.

Another performer, Leo Stevens, in 1908 designed a parachute pack that could be manually opened with a ripcord. Using Stevens' design, Arthur Lapham and Frederick Law made many well-publicized jumps from planes, bridges, and even the Statue of Liberty.

Stunt man Grant Morton was probably the first to jump from an airplane, in 1911. In a demonstration over Venice Beach, California, he climbed out onto the wing of the plane, carrying the folded parachute, and then released the canopy. As it filled with air, it pulled Morton off the plane and into his descent.

Captain Albert Berry made a different kind of jump over St. Louis on March 1, 1912. He sat on a trapeze bar between the wheels of the plane, wearing a belt attached to the parachute, which was packed into a cone riding below the plane's fuselage. At 2,500 feet, he dropped from the trapeze, pulling the parachute out of its container, and landed safely. Barry did it again the following day.

A little more than a year later, Tiny Broadwick became the first woman to parachute from a plane. Originally named Early Parachutes to Modern Skydiving 4Georgia Ann Thompson, she was fascinated when, shortly after her 15th birthday in 1908, she saw Charles Broadwick parachute from a balloon during a carnival's visit to Raleigh, North Carolina. With her mother's permission, she joined the act and Broadwick later adopted her. Known as Tiny because she was only 4 feet tall and weighed less than 90 pounds, she made more than 600 jumps from balloons and airplanes from 1908 through 1916. Her first jump from a plane was on June 21, 1913, in Los Angeles. The following year, she demonstrated Broadwick's parachute pack for the U. S. Army's Aviation Bureau. The experts were reportedly impressed by her performance, but they saw little practical value in the parachute.

Tiny Broadwick is also credited with the first free fall, which came about by accident. On one of her jumps, the chute's static line got entangled in the plane's undercarriage. She cut the line free, jumped clear of the plane, and then pulled on the line to open the canopy.

20th-Century Developments

Although parachutes were used extensively by balloonists during World War I, they weren't generally considered practical for saving pilots from moving airplanes until late in the war. Even then, many pilots were reluctant to use them. The static line was very likely to get tangled, preventing the parachute from opening, and crash landing a disabled plane seemed a safer alternative to most pilots.

Soon after the war ended, the U. S. Army began testing various parachute designs at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio. Leslie "Sky-Hi" Irvin, a balloonist, parachutist, and circus high-dive performer, demonstrated a free-fall parachute of his own design. Once the jumper was clear of the plane, he opened the pack containing the parachute by pulling a ripcord. Despite a vent at the top, the parachute oscillated badly and Irvin broke an ankle when he landed. Nevertheless, the demonstration was considered a success. Irvin and Floyd Smith worked together to create a different design with a series of smaller vents arrange in a circle below the large top vent, and that became the Army's standard parachute.

It saved a life for the first time in October of 1922, when test pilot Harold R. Harris had to abandon his uncontrollable plane over Dayton. Jumping from 2,500 feet, he had a problem finding the ripcord. But he finally located it, the chute opened when he was just 500 feet above ground, and he landed safely. Harris went on to become a brigadier general during World War II.

The first deliberate free-fall jump was made in 1924 by Sergeant Randall Bose, who made a bet that he could drop a thousand feet before opening his parachute. He actually dropped 1,800 feet, landed safely, and collected his winnings. However, others who tried free falling discovered the phenomenon known as "opening shock," caused by the sudden deceleration from 120 miles an hour to 10 miles an hour in three seconds or less after the parachute deploys. One jumper who used inferior equipment was killed when his parachute was shredded by opening shock.

The "inventor" of modern skydiving was Spud Manning, who began his career as a barnstorming parachutist in 1928, when he was 18. Manning specialized in long free falls, dropping from as high as 14,000 feet to 500 feet before opening his parachute. He discovered that the spread eagle position would not only slow his descent but also allow him to steer his flight. Other barnstormers also developed techniques for free falling. During the 1930s, they often took part in informal spot landing competitions. Since steering was very primitive, landing within 100 feet of the target was often good enough to win. Manning and his fellow barnstorming parachutists tended to be very secretive about their methods, though, so their knowledge didn't get passed along to others.

Target parachuting had been created in the Soviet Union during the late 1920s because Joseph Stalin saw its military possibilities. Jumping schools were established throughout the country and, at a 1930 sports festival, amateur parachutists competed in attempting to land on a target. Gradually, other nations also realized that the parachute could be used as an offensive weapon, not simply as a life-saving device.

Most of the major combatants during World War II used paratroopers to some extent. Many of the young men trained during the war enjoyed parachuting so much that they kept on doing it for fun after the war, at least in Europe. Five European countries competed in the first World Parachuting Championships, staged in Yugoslavia in 1951. Fred Mason, a U. S. Army sergeant, was the only American competitor at the second World Championships in 1954.

Joseph Crane, who learned parachuting in the Army from 1921 through 1924, became a stunt man with the Burns Flying Circus in 1925. During the 1930s, he organized the National Parachute Jumpers Association (NPJA). Originally, the organization was something like a labor union in that its main purpose was to keep the barnstorming stunt parachutists from being victimized by their employers. The NPJA was renamed National Parachute Jumpers and Riggers (NPJR) in 1946. The following year, the NPJR became an affiliate of the Federation Aeronautique International (FAI), which governs international air sports. At Crane's urging, the FAI formed its International Parachuting Committee to set up guidelines for parachuting records.

Modern Skydiving

The French pioneered modern skydiving after World War II. The leader was Leo Valentin, who had made his first jump before the war, in 1938. During the late 1940s, Valentin re-discovered or re-invented the free fall techniques that had been used by Manning and other stunt parachutists, and carried them even further. Valentin could perform stunts, such as barrel rolls, while in free fall.

A French skydiver, Jacques Andre Istel, came to the United States in 1956 and immediately began promoting the sport. Istel trained a team to compete in the third World Championships, held in Moscow that year. Ten nations entered the event; the U. S. finished sixth.

After hearing talks by Istel, five Eastern colleges, Harvard, Yale, Bates, Princeton and Williams, formed parachuting clubs in 1957. Istel also patented a parachute intended primarily for sport jumping. His design used a sleeve, originally invented in Germany, to slow deployment and therefore reduce opening shock. In 1958, Istel opened the first private sport parachuting school at Orange, Mass. Joint U. S. and Canadian national championships were conducted in British Columbia that year.

The NJPR became the Parachute Club of America in 1957 and the United States Parachute Association (USPA) in 1967. Mainly because of Istel's proselytizing, the number of parachute clubs in the organization grew from four in 1956 to to 150 in 1960.

The first parachute made primarily for skydiving was the Para-Commander, introduced in 1962 at Istel's Orange Sport Parachute Center. The PC, as it became affectionately known, was based on a design by Pierre Lemoigne of France. Lemoigne had developed an ascending parachute that could be towed behind a car to lift a novice parachutist into the air for training purposes. Lemoigne's invention led to the creation of two new sports, para-sailing and paragliding.

Lemoigne cut a series of vents into the rear of a parachute to get lift from the forward portion of the canopy and he also added vents in the sides to allow steering. The front and side vents were incorporated into the Para-Commander, which also has stabilizing foils on each side of the canopy. Because of the rear vents, the PC has forward drive, so the parachutist actually glides to the earth, instead of dropping straight down, making landings much softer.

Early Parachutes to Modern Skydiving 3The next major advance was the so-called "square" parachute, actually a rectangle and technically known as a multi-cell gliding foil parachute canopy. patented by Domina C. Jalbert in 1966. Jalbert began with the idea of making an inflatable airplane wing out of fabric and flying it like a kite. It was based on the "ram air" principle of inflation: as the canopy moves, air is forced into the fabric cells.

Jalbert's original design wasn't suitable for parachuting, though, because of extreme opening shock. Steve Snyder, an aeronautical engineer, pilot, and skydiver, in 1968 developed the Pilot Chute Controlled Reefing (PCR) system to slow deployment and minimize shock. However, the square parachute required considerably more development before it came into common use.

In the meantime, the parawing was adapted for sport parachuting. Patented as the "Flexi-Kite" by Francis Rogallo in 1951, the parawing is a flexible and controllable airfoil made of fabric. In 1958, Rogallo headed a NASA research and development team investigating the possible use of the parawing for the recovery of spacecraft.

Two parachute manufacturers, Pioneer Aerospace and Irvin Industries, began producing parawings under license Early Parachutes to Modern Skydiving 2from NASA in the 1960s. The Army's Golden Knight precision parachute team began using them in 1965 and parawings dominated sport parachuting through most of the 1970s. Toward the end of the decade, though, the "square" parachute, commonly known as a parafoil or ram-air parachute, began to take over. (The parawing didn't go away, though; it became the hang glider.)

The modern parafoil parachute is made up of a series of rectangular membranes, called cells, connected along their sides by ribs. Most sport parachutes have seven or nine cells. Each cell is open at the front to allow air to enter when the canopy is deployed. Once fully inflated, the canopy is an airfoil, similar to the wing of an aircraft. Control lines attached near each end of the canopy allow the jumper to steer. When both lines are pulled, the leading edge of the parachute flares upward, causing it to stall, allowing a low-velocity landing.

Types of Competition

Sport parachuting competition originated in jumping for accuracy. Freefall style was soon added. In that event, competitors are judged on their performance of a prescribed sequence of maneuvers during freefall.

Early Parachutes to Modern Skydiving 5A discipline originally known as "relative work" emerged during the 1970s. The name came from the fact that it involves two or more free-falling parachutists working together. The first world championships in relative work were held in 1975. In 1991, the discipline became officially known as formation skydiving.

Canopy formation, originally known as canopy relative work, was added to the world championships in 1986. As the name suggests, teams in this discipline work together after their canopies have been deployed.

Formal competition is conducted for four- and eight-person teams in both formation events, but there have also beenEarly Parachutes to Modern Skydiving 6 ongoing attempts to build the largest possible formations. The first 100-way free fall formation was built over Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1986. The current world record is 282 parachutists, set by an international team in 1999. The FAI lists 53 as the world record for canopy formation, but that was broken three times over an eight-day period at Lake Wales, Florida, in November of 2003. A group of international jumpers completed three 64-way formations on November 25. The record was extended to 65 the following day and to 70 on the final day of the meet, November 29.

Another discipline, paraski, was added to the world championship schedule in 1987. Paraski was created in Switzerland during the 1960s as a method of rescuing mountaineers. Training exercises soon turned into competitive meets in which skiers parachuted onto a mountain, put on their skis, and raced to a point where there was a supposed casulty. In the world meet, there are two events, accuracy jumping and racing over a course, with a single skysurfingcombined championship based on the results.

The FAI's International Parachuting Committee (IPC) added another discipline, freestyle skydiving, in 1996. Freestyle can be considered mid-air gymnastics. In fact, most of the earlier freestylers based their maneuvers on gymnastics and figure skating. Skysurfing, in which the competitor performs on a board similar to a surfboard, was developing about the same time, and was added to the world championship schedule in 1997.

Freestyle and skysurfing competition are similarly structured. Each competitor performs compulsory and free routines during a series of seven skydives, and each is accompanied by a camera flyer who records the performance with a helmet-mounted video camera. Judges view the videotape to score the competitor. Part of the score in both events is based on the quality of the camera work.

Freeflying is essentially an off shot of freestyle, created by Olav Zipser, who coined the term in 1986. Zipser originally emphasized flying toward the earth head-first or, occasionally, feet-first, while exploring a wide range of body positions between those extremes. In 1997, Zipser put together the first Space Games, which tested various types of freeflying competition, including three-way teams, pylon racing and maneuverability races. The IPC added freeflying to the 2001 world championships in the form of the three-way team event, which emphasizes synchronized work between two members of a team while the third acts as video grapher.

The newest competitive discipline is canopy piloting. Although no world championship has yet been held, world cup competition was inaugurated in 2003. There are three events in canopy piloting, speed, distance, and zone accuracy, as well as a combined championship based on scores in those three events. Competitors jump from a plane at a relatively low altitude, 1200 to 1500 meters, and enter a course marked by gates, much like a slalom ski course. The beginning of the course is over water for a distance of at least 30 meters. In the zone accuracy event, points are awarded for contacting the surface within various scoring zones.

In 2002, the FAI made a bid to the International Olympic Committee to have parachuting and skydiving events included in the 2008 Olympics. The Olympic Program Commission considered 16 sports for possible inclusion in 2008, but recommended only two of them, golf and rugby.

Early Parachutes to Modern Skydiving 7

Spud Manning and Clarence Brown with Airplane

Original caption:7/1/1933-Los Angeles, CA- A feature of the National Air Races will be the leap of Spud Manning, recognized as America's most daring parachute jumper. Manning will ascend to an altitude of ten thousand feet above the field, in a plane driven by M-G-M director Clarence Brown, and bail out. He will pull a delayed jump within a hundred feet of the ground before opening his parachute, and will carry moke pots to enable the crowd to more clearly see his fall.



SOVET AIRMAN'S CLAIM. Daring Drop from 23,400 feet.

MOSCOW. Oct. 24— Beating Mr. John Tranum's record. a- Soviet ' airman named Evseyev claims to have made a parachute droD of 23.400 feet. He asserts that he did not pull the rip-cord till 500 feet from the earth, when everything seemed grey and dim and the sun appeared green. Onlookers thought the parachutist had crashed to death behind some trees and were amazed to find him walking back to the aerodrome. In England last May 1932,  Mr. John Tranum dropped 21,000ft. This constituted a world record.

< Wednesday 25 October 1933 -- The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954) >



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Why does a skydiver fall in a spread eagle position before opening their parachute?

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Rate This Answer: The "inventor" of skydiving was Spud Manning who found that the spread eagle would slow his descentand allow him to steer.



Century of Flight

World Aviation in 1931

Also this year... The American Spud Manning makes the first spread-eagled skydiving descent from 15,000 feet.