1916: First Use of Parachutes to Save Pilots WW1

Wikis > Skydiving > Early History > History After Balloons & Planes > 1916: First Use of Parachutes to Save Pilots WW1
by Pat Works

1914 – 1918  -- World War I (WWI) was a global war centered in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918.

It involved all the world's great powers, which were assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies (based on the Triple Entente of the United Kingdom, France and Russia) and the Central Powers (originally the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy;

Italy, Japan and the United States joined the Allies, and the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria the Central Powers. Ultimately, more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, were mobilized in one of the largest wars in history.  More than 9 million combatants were killed. , largely because of technological advancements that led to enormous increases in the lethality of weapons without corresponding improvements in protection or mobility. It was the fifth-deadliest conflict in world history, subsequently paving the way for various political changes, such as revolutions in many of the nations involved.[9]

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German Balloon Observer uses parachute after balloon is shot down by 2nd Army Airmen. Click picture for larger view.

World War One countless balloonists and scores of pilots rescued themselves in perilous situations. The Germans were the first aerial combatants to realize it was an enormous waste of personnel to place a soldier in an extraordinarily risky situation without a life-saving alternative. However, that realization was not immediate with the start of hostilities. Nonetheless, the Germans learned quickly and took hasty measures to save much-needed pilots and balloon observers. Later, much later, the Allies reluctantly reached the same decision.

Parachutes were initially forbidden as flying equipment. However, by one account, in the fall of 1916 an Austrian pilot on the Russian front made a parachute jump from a burning plane, the first practical application of the parachute to military requirements. According to another story, in 1917 a German pilot ignored the prohibition, bought a personal static-line deployed rig, wore it on combat missions, and successfully bailed out of his unmanageable plane. In any event, some pilots spent their own money for life-saving equipment. Commanders gradually understood that destroyed airplanes could easily be replaced but replacement pilots were difficult to recruit, their training was time-consuming, and financial costs were greater.