100 BCE – On: Pat Works’ Extemporaneous Annals

Wikis > Skydiving > Chronology > 100 BCE - On: Pat Works' Extemporaneous Annals

by Pat Works

Pat Works' Extemporaneous Annals

Falling can be initiated by intent or accident.  Falls are accidents: (slip, stumble, topple, trip, and tumble). On the other hand, Jumping, plunging, plummeting and leaping imply intent.

Surviving a fall: We still temp fate when it comes toward surviving a fall.  Always have.  Still do.  Probably some tree dwelling proto ancestor's faults.  Plausible chronic falling out of trees then sparks some Mr. fix-it drive to jump and to survive the fall. Not unlike lemmings or flying squirrels, humans are wont to jump from high places.  Else it is hard to explain shy man, the one with the brain has been jumping off of objects repeatedly with enough success to refine the methods.  Both shared results and stubborn persist an e won out, so that today in the year AD + another  two thousand fourteen years ,  current  era we have  those 2015- some years plus those several centuries before ,  starting with recorded history, which document in legend successful jumps from tall objects wherein the jumper landed and lived.

Early BASE & Wings -- Albeit shrouded in the mists of time, the Chinese were certainly the first to make documented parachute jumps.  Here, some several hundred years before Jesus Christ (BC), having a written language undoubtedly helped to record the events considerably.  Nevertheless, given the day to day needs of keeping rice on the table and being the largest and most advanced empire in the world likely focused their attention to other matters.  Considering their several other priorities, parachuting was understandably then not amongst their top pursuits.  The result was that history showed the Chinese making a successful parachute jump only once every three centuries.  Most of these jumpers utilized several large umbrellas to break their fall.  One instance large straw hats were utilized.  Whatever and however, theirs was the only news to report until Leonardo Da Vinci……..

Action vs. Ideas-- I differentiate between ideas about jumping and the action. The former being notional brain-gas, the latter isdeed-execution. Da Vinci et al sketched their mental pictures of idea/solutions. Lenormand and followers produced and testedequipment. But, here too information is sketchy, sparse, and contestable.  Whatever, for the first seventeen centuries everyone who jumped was perforce a BASE jumper.  The French had the most parachuting activity followed by the British, Americans, and Germans.   It seems that these early BASE jumpers had more luck than today’s high fatality rate indicates.  Seems the era jumpers wouldn't be caught dead dashing themselves into the ground willy-nilly.  Rather, they were more scientific about making unsuccessful attempts.  Well-dressed in suit + tie in the style of the day so one departed with decorum.

Fixed object jumps:  These early B.A.S.E. jumpers were restricted to parachute jumps from only buildings, towers, bridges, and cliffs.  That was only until the advent of the balloon some one thousand five hundred years later when parachutes blossomed like flowers in a spring fields.  Thereafter, flight parachutists and arrested fall caught both the jumper and the spectators in symbiosis.  Hundreds of thousands spectators flocked to and paid to witness flight culminating with a parachute decent.

Parasol as parachute: Successful parachutists employed round dome shaped  constructs fabricated from stout cloth and stiffened with structural ribs like an umbrella secured beneath the gondola  by a heavy tether when cut loose dropped  the held open canopy structure into free air to probably oscillated wildly to the earth somewhere  downwind . Where then, multitudes rushed afoot and horseback to retrieve the newsworthy aeronaut and bear him back to his launch site for deserved acclaim.  Invariably, these newly minted heroes were suitably attired in suit, vest, white shirt, tie, and dancing slippers secured to stocking feet by a strap.

Celebrity beckoned: Assured fame and big pay days led to extended venues that spanned both Europe and the United States. Everyone loves sky heroes including the hero themselves.  Technology for Balloons, parachutes, and jumpers all improved.  Hot air balloons were superseded by gas balloons. Average crowd size was reported to be more than 40,000 spectators (over 400,000 paid to witness the first descents in Paris.  The latter 40,000 is an understandable figure considering that electricity, motor cars, plumbing, the NFL, radio, FOX News and TV were any decades in a distant future.  Then early aircraft and intrepid aeronauts captured the public imagination and attention.  And, ascents and descents of any sort were fine diversion and a good show to boot.

The early balloon type parachutes were rigid.  Framed and inflexible varnished umbrella parachute structures gave way to limp fold able Canopies stowed in a metal cone or bag.  Still, balloon, jumper and canopy were tied together by an umbilical cord we call s static line for deployment. The reason for a solid link to the mother ship were both simple and scientific.

Fear of falling incapacitated & disabled experiment. The act of falling is fatal to the faller”.  Uncontested conventional wisdom, fact, long-lived legend. After all it was well known and universally accepted that any human body that fell free for several hundred feet was assured to be rendered both unconscious and incoherent… this universally held certainty would persist for several hundreds of years until the aeroplane could develop flight speeds in excess of 120 MPH.  Only then did several rabid fans of Isaac Newton note that since exceeding such speeds rendered no participants neither unconscious nor unfit.  After all, in all cases both the pilot and his machine gunner seemed both fit, competent, and aware whilst engaging the Hun or whichever enemy in mortal air to air combat and oft had a jolly good time to boot.

Nerveless, parachutists and pilots were stuck with heads in the sand with the result that there were no freefalls attempted or recorded until well after the year 1918.

The passion for parachuting did not transfer to motorized aircraft when the Wright brothers opened the sky.  Parachutes, parachutists and shows stayed tethered to ballooning.  The development of the airship, the pilot, and its maintenance and repair precluded such luxury.  Aircraft were serious business; parachutes certainly not.  After all parachutists were just crazy daredevil showmen risking life and limb to a lure of fortune and fame, both uncertain.

Parachutes save: That is until the First World War saw air corps such as the parachute equipped Germans received a 65% pilot survival rate versus the Allied forces zilch.  However, the military balloon observation corps quickly adopted parachutes packed in the gondolas for emergency escape.  This may be traced to the hydrogen filled balloons of the period busting into a fiery inferno when heat by tracer ammunition.  Here, perhaps the eagerness to leave the enveloping fireball was prompted by firsthand experience with flaming mates noted previously.  Such unpleasantness are best avoided where possible.

Lessons learned from the air war of WWI included the desirability of having pilots’ survival potential greater than zero when their aircraft is shot from beneath them.  

Reuse rather than replace -- After the hard lessons learnt from "the war to end all wars" the Britt's were understandably rather pleased in WWII when their parachute equipped pilots enjoyed an 85% survival rate by bailing out of a disabled air ship.  Seeing as this occurred as the air battle for Brittan was at its peak, having trained pilots who could immediately reenter the fray proved both efficient and effective. Saved their ass, it did.

Colorful one-piece body bags.  Although randomly unsuccessful still and all we wear suits to jump with or to die in.   Tailor made flight suits leave us stylishly-dressed. Fatalities depart with decorum.

Pat Works (AKA Madden T. Works, Jr.)