Parachuting’s History: Fiction and Fact (Many errors of fact)

Wikis > Skydiving > Chronology > Parachuting's History: Fiction and Fact (Many errors of fact)
by Pat Works

Parachute History 2.5

Mtw File = Parachute#Etymology 

 Parachuting's  History: Many errors of fact (abridged mtw)

Faust Vrancic's design is one of the first three western parachutes, in 1595.  His was the third of four designs in the West.  In 1595 the Croatian inventor Faust Vrancic designed a parachute-like device which he called Homo Volans (Flying Man).  He never jumped it. Although, a book by John Wilkins, who was secretary of the Royal Society in London, written in 1648 wrongly described his testing of his design by jumping from a tower in Venice in 1617 Subsequent scholars have discredited all such accounts.

Other early forms in the ninth-century (801 to 900 )region of Al-Andalus on the Iberian peninsula, Abbas Ibn Firnas (Armen Firnas) developed a primitive form of parachute. John H. Lienhard described it in The Engines of Our Ingenuity as "a huge wing like cloak to break his fall" when he "flew off a tower in Cordova."A conical parachute appears for the first time in the 1470s in an Italian manuscript, preceding Leonardo da Vinci's conical parachute designs. Leonardo da Vinci sketched a parachute while he was living in Milan around 1480-1483: a pyramid-shaped canopy held open by a square wooden frame.

 In 1783, Lenormand, the first European Parachutist

The modern parachute was invented in the late eighteenth century by Louis-Sébastien Lenormand in France, who made the first recorded public parachute demonstrations in 1783 using parasol-like canopies. Lenormand also sketched it beforehand. He revised his sketches for his autobiography to a truncated cone shape.  Op. Cit. J. Duhem.

The historian J. Duhem has established that L.S. Lenormand read the 1687 report of the parachute's use by Chinese and Siamese acrobats of recorded by witness French Ambassador S.  Loubere.  a century later, Lenormand was stimulated to make trials, jumping from the tops of trees and buildings, and was quite successful. In 1783, Lenormand gave the invention its name of 'parachute'.

Montgolfier brothers

One of the Montgolfier brothers witnessed Lenormand's test descents.  Subsequently the famous pioneering balloonists were then responsible for A.J. Garnerin's historically validated parachute jump from a balloon 14 years later in 1797.

All of this being a direct result of S.  Loubere a Westerner having witnessed Chinese parachutes. Needham remarks, aptly: 'There are not many cases in which so clear a line of transmission is detectable.'


Jean-Pierre Blanchard supposedly demonstrated it as a means of safely disembarking from a hot air balloon. Blanchard's first parachute demonstrations were conducted with a dog as the passenger. Later, in 1793, he claimed tried it himself when his hot air balloon ruptured and he used a parachute to escape. However, this was an un-witnessed event with no historical merit.


Frameless Parachute

Subsequent development of the parachute focused on making it more compact. Early parachutes had been made of linen stretched over a wooden frame, but in the late 1790s, Blanchard began making parachutes from folded silk, taking advantage of silk's strength and light weight.

First Jump from a Balloon

In 1797, André Garnerin made the first validated jump using such a parachute. Garnerin also invented (SIC) the vented parachute, which improved the stability of the descent.  [His vented canopy is an Unsubstantiated claim, discredited by history]

 First Parachute Descent in USA

Baldwin (inset) leaps from the balloon holding on to the parachute. The force of his fall snaps the tie holding the parachute to the balloon.

Baldwin (inset) leaps from the balloon holding on to the parachute. The force of his fall snaps the tie holding the parachute to the balloon.

In San Francisco in 1885, Thomas Scott Baldwin was the first person in the United States to descend from a hot air balloon in a parachute of his own design, the first of many such descents made by Baldwin.

First Parachute Jump from an Airplane: Berry not Morton

In 1911, Grant Morton supposedly  made the first parachute jump from an airplane, in a Wright Model B, at Venice Beach, California. The pilot of the plane was Phil Parmalee. Morton's parachute was of the static lined 'throw-out' type, which he held in his arms as he left the aircraft. History credits balloonist Albert Berry  with making the first parachute jump from an airplane. Morton was second or third.

In 1911, Gleb Kotelnikov invented the first knapsack parachute, later popularized by Paul Letteman and Kathchen Paulus.

On March 1, 1912,  Albert Berry made the first parachute jump from a moving aircraft over tiny B.exit2Missouri using a static-line 'pack' style chute. In this style, the chute was housed in a casing on the jumper's body.

Štefan Banic from Slovakia supposedly invented the first actively used parachute, patenting it in 1913.

On June 21, 1913, Georgia Broadwick became the first woman to parachute jump from a moving aircraft over Los Angeles.

Parachutes Use in WWI

The first military application of the parachute was for artillery spotters on tethered observation balloons in World War I. These were easy targets for enemy fighter aircraft, and sitting duck targets despite  heavy antiaircraft defenses. Because they were difficult to escape from, and dangerous when on fire due to their hydrogen inflation, observers would abandon them and descend by parachute as soon as enemy aircraft were seen. The ground crew would then attempt to retrieve and deflate the balloon as quickly as possible. Once hit by gunfire, they exploded and burned like a torch.

No parachutes were issued to Allied "heavier-than-air" aircrew. As a result, a pilot's only options were to ride his machine into the ground, suicide jump from several thousand feet, or commit suicide using a standard-issued revolver (though the last two options were used only by those who did not wish to die by burning).

In the UK, Everard Calthrop, a railway engineer and breeder of Arabian horses, invented and marketed through his Aerial Patents Company a "British Parachute."

The German air service, in 1918, became the world's first to introduce a standard parachute and the only aircraft parachute as standard issue at the time. Only Germany equipped their pilots with automatic (tethered) parachutes. Their efficiency was wonderful compared to the no-parachute alternative. Although some pilots died whilst using them, including aces such as Oberleutnant Erich Lowenhardt (who fell from 12,000 feet (3,700 m)) and Fritz Rumey (whose chute failed from a little over 3,000 feet during a test in 1918.) On the other hand, the parachute-less Allied forces lost one-hundred percent of pilots under the same circumstances.

Tethered or automatic static-lined parachutes preferred by Luftwaffe

WWI Flying Ace and Commodore of von Richthofen's (the Red Baron, credited with 80 air combat victories). Flying Circus, Hermann Goring was a staunch proponent of automatic parachutes for pilots and published a technical paper on the topic.  (Hermann Goring, Automatic or non-automatic parachute? : Some points of view to this question based on experiences in the Great War, Broderna Lagerstrom, Stockholm, 1927)

1918, In the USA use-tests, all tethered or automatic static-lined parachutes were initially tried but caused problems when the aircraft was spinning or diving  at the exhaustive McCook Field tests by Ball and Smith.

1918 Leslie Irvin, first ever freefaller,  jumps the U.S. Air Services designed/adopted freefall parachute

les irvinCommon fallacy: "In 1919, Leslie Irvin invented…" (SIC) Leslie Irvin successfully tested the U.S. Air Services freefall parachute that the pilot could deploy when clear of the aircraft. The parachute rig was the design of Floyd Smith and Guy Ball at the Hoffman Parachute Trials ordered by Gen. Mitchell in late 1917. Although not involved with the design, Irvin  became the first person to make a premeditated free-fall parachute jump from an airplane at the conclusion of the Air Services 1918 Parachute Development program under Maj. Hoffman & F. Smith.

Caterpillar Club for successful parachute jumps

An early brochure of the Irvin Air Chute Company credits William O'Connor as the first caterpil club boxperson to be saved by an Irvin parachute, on August 24, 1920, at McCook Field near Dayton, Ohio. Another life-saving jump was made at McCook Field by test pilot Lt. Harold H. Harris on October 20, 1922. Shortly after Harris's jump, two Dayton newspaper reporters suggested the creation of the Caterpillar Club for successful parachute jumps from disabled aircraft.

Airborne troops 

Beginning with Italy in 1927, several countries experimented with using parachutes to drop soldiers behind enemy lines. By World War II, large airborne forces were trained and used in surprise attacks. Aircraft crew were routinely equipped with parachutes for emergencies as well.


↑ Parachute. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved July 11, 2008.
↑ Daniel Poore, A History of Early Flight. (New York, NY: Alfred Knopf, 1952).*********
Lee, Arthur Gould. No parachute. London, UK: Jarrolds, 1968. ISBN 0090865901.
Poore, Daniel. A History of Early Flight. New York, NY: Alfred Knopf, 1952.
Poynter, Dan. The Parachute Manual: A Technical Treatise on Aerodynamic Decelerators. Santa Barbara, CA: Para Pub, 1984. ISBN 0915516357.
White, Lynn, The Invention of the Parachute. Technology and Culture 9(3) (1968): 462-467.
↑ Smithsonian Institution. Manned Flight. (Pamphlet 1990.)
↑ David W. Tschanz, Flights of Fancy on Manmade Wings. Retrieved July 11, 2008.
↑ Principles of Aeronautics, Parachutes. Franklin Institute. Cislunar Aerospace, Inc. Retrieved July 11, 2008.
↑ John H. Lienhard, "Abbas Ibn Firnas" in The Engines of Our Ingenuity. NPR. KUHF-FM Houston. No. 1910 (2004). Retrieved July 11, 2008.
↑ Lynn White, "The Invention of the Parachute" Technology and Culture 9(3) (1968): 462-467.
↑ John Wilkins. Mathematical Magic of the Wonders that may be Performed by Mechanical Geometry, part I: Concerning Mechanical Powers Motion, part II, Deadloss or Mechanical Motions. (London, UK, 1648)
↑ National Aviation Hall of Fame, Thomas Scott Baldwin Retrieved May 1, 2012.
↑ Arlington National Cemetery Website, Thomas Scott Baldwin: Major, United States Army Retrieved May 1, 2012.
↑ Arthur Gould Lee, No parachute. (London, UK: Jarrolds, 1968, ISBN 0090865901).


2 comments on “Parachuting’s History: Fiction and Fact (Many errors of fact)”

  1. rob price

    let’s not forget the contributions of john wise, who altered the design of his balloon to form it into a parachute in the event of a collapse, which happened (unintentionally) on one of his flights in 1838. After more design changes he actively testjumped his new design. This predates Baldwin’s and Van Tassel’s jumps. from wikipedia

    In 1838 he developed a balloon that if ruptured or deflated when aloft would collapse to form a parachute (the bottom half would fold upwards into the top half to form the classic parachute shape) which would allow the occupants of the basket to descend without injury or loss of life. Although the idea was not original, Wise was the first to build a working version and the first to demonstrate its use. On a flight from Easton, Pennsylvania, on August 11, 1838, in bad weather, the design was put to an impromptu test when Wise’s balloon was punctured at 13,000 feet. In less than ten seconds all the gas had escaped. The balloon descended rapidly with an oscillating motion, and, on reaching the earth, rebounded, throwing Wise ten feet from the car. Wise survived without injury. He later advertised that on October 1, 1838 he would ascend and in the air would convert his balloon into a parachute, which feat he successfully accomplished.

    • marytodd marytodd

      Rob, this is excellent, as were your other comments. Can you provide the information source for John Wise / balloon converting to parachute (what a great idea!)?

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