1962: Jalbert Parafoil – First Ram-Air Parachute Jump

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by Gary Corderman, D-2510

1962: Jalbert Parafoil - First Ram-Air Parachute Jump

In September 1962, Paul J. (Pop) Poppenhager, D-47, test jumped a "Jalbert Parafoil", which is believed to be the first ram-air parachute jump in the world.  Below is information related to Domina Jalbert's ram-air design, and Poppenhager's test jump in Clewiston, FL.

In 1957, when Jalbert was flying home to Boca Raton, FL after watching some skydivers he landed his Beechcraft to refuel.  As he was refueling a light went on in his mind, and he took the fuel measuring stick and measured the inside of his Beechcraft wing and the concept of a non-rigid wing was born.  Jalbert's idea was to combine the airfoil form of his Beechcraft wing with the ram-air inflation of a tapered windsock.  Jalbert obtained a patent on his "Jalbert Parafoil" in 1963.  (Source:  book titled, Domina Jalbert: Brother of the Wind, Nothing More Than Cloth and Wind, by Tal Streeter, p. 41.)

In 1961, Paul (Pop) Poppenhager, D-47, and a jumper named Frank Dodd were members of Florida's first skydiving club, South Florida Parachute Association (SFPA).  [The original 1959 club, Broward Skydivers, was renamed SFPA in 1960.]  While the Club was operating at a field in Davie, FL (north of Miami), both Poppenhager and Dodd  jumped various canopies for Jalbert.  Jalbert had a contract with the USAF to design and provide canopies for recovering the instrumentation from weather balloons.    (Source:  Interview with Poppenhager and Pete Wenk, D-135)

In 1962, Poppenhager opened a commercial skydiving center named South Florida Parachute, Inc. (SFPI).    In June 1962, SFPI relocated to Airglades Airport at Clewiston, FL (south of Lake Okeechobee).

(The following is from an interview with Paul Poppenhager, December 2014.)

In September 1962, when Poppehager had about 600 jumps, Jalbert called him in Clewiston and asked how much Poppenhager would charge to test jump a new canopy that Jalbert was developing.  This new canopy was the "Jalbert Parafoil".  Poppenhager quoted him a price of $150, for the aircraft, pilot and jump.  Jalbert was quite frugal, and offered Poppenhager $100 and said, he would fly his Beech Bonanza and Pop could jump from his Bonanza.  Pop said, he needed the money and agreed to the $100 price.

When Jalbert arrived at Clewiston the canopy did not have a deployment device or pilot chute, but did have risers and capwells.  So Poppenhager (a Master Rigger) rolled the canopy up and put it in a "paper bag", with the plan to hold the paper bag containing the canopy and lines to his chest as he climbed out the Bonanza's door and jumped.  The parafoil canopy also did not have any steering lines, but Jalbert told Poppenhager, "just pull on the risers and it will turn".

So Jalbert and Poppenhager take-off in the Bonanza and climb to 2,000 ft., where Poppenhager climbs out and jumps.  Poppenhager said, "it was the hardest opening shock he had ever experienced".  (The tremendous opening shock convinced Pop that Jalbert's canopy would never become a workable sport parachute.)

Poppenhager said, he weighed all of 125 lbs., and the canopy was so large that when he tried to steer the canopy by pulling the risers as Jalbert told him, all that resulted was him doing a chin-up.   Equally as concerning was he was not descending, saying his altimeter was hardly moving.  At one point Poppenhager was worried it might fly all the way into the town of Clewiston and that he considered cutting-away a number of times.  Eventually, Poppenhager landed in a cow pasture about two miles from the target area.  When asked about the landing, Poppenhager said, it was not coming down fast, but had considerable forward speed.  During Poppenhager's descent, Jalbert flew around his canopy in his Beech Bonanza and once he landed and gave the signal that he was OK, Jalbert flew back to the airport.

Poppenhager said, he was upset that Jalbert would not talk with his wife Carol, who was very worried.  (Jalbert had a deep accent making him hard to understand at times.)  Jalbert also did not send anyone out to pick him up.  Poppenhager walked to a farm house and a women there, after hearing Pop's story, offered to give him a ride back to the airport.

Jalbert never did pay Poppenhager the $100 for the jump.  Poppenhager billed him a couple of times and even visited Jalbert at his workshop in Boca Raton, but was always told the $100 would be sent shortly.  With the opening shock being so bad, and Jalbert not paying the $100 for the jump, it was the last jump Poppenhanger ever made for Jalbert.

As an aside, in the winter of 1969, when I was employed at SFPI, I remember being out at the drop-zone when Poppehager was flying Rob Jenks (D-1693).  This was during the week when there were not any other jumpers at the Center.  Rob Jenks was test jumping Steve Snyder's (D-5) early parafoil designs and they were trying to develop a system to reduce the opening shock.  I distinctly remember Pop saying to me, as we were standing under the Chickee shelter, "I jumped one of those out of a paper bag once and it almost killed me".

Submitted in December 2014 by

Gary Corderman, D-2510

Commander U.S. Navy (retired)



4 comments on “1962: Jalbert Parafoil – First Ram-Air Parachute Jump”

  1. Pat Works Pat Works


    Good. OK. We got it figured out so it will be good to go. Suggestions: Change usage of “Parafoil” to “Jalbert-Airfoil”

    … something like 1. very early Jalbert-Airfoil (now commonly known as Parafoil).
    2. If you can, add-in all the good -new info on the event, including any of my findings.
    3. Then, we’ll replace your first version with your revisions / revised update.

    I think we’ll have a fine piece of news that enriches History.

    I do hope that will work for you. My apologies if I sounded dismissive. And hey, we elicited some more information and citations….
    All good stuff.

    Also, awaiting your next submissions. PLEASE DO SHARE, HELL, YOU WAS THERE!

  2. Gary Corderman

    1. Pat Work’s requested that I submit more history. I should have mentioned initially, when I originally researched this 1st Ram-Air jump in December 2014, I asked Paul Poppenhager to check his logbooks. While the bottom 5-6 logbooks (out of about 30) in his outside storage shed were partially eaten by bugs (common in S. Florida), he was able to piece together portions that confirmed the jump he made of this Jalbert ram-air canopy was September 1962, and that he had about 600 jumps at the time.

    2. In regard to patents and dates, Jalbert held a number of patents on his ram-air (para-foil) canopies. As per Wikipedia, “In 1957, Jalbert invented the ram-air airfoil and began testing and formalizing the design.” [footnoted to Tal Streeter’s notes toward his book about Domina Jalbert]

    3. Jalbert filed a patent (his first for his ram-air designs), [Quote] “January 10, 1963, U.S. Patent 3131894A, the parafoil which had sectioned cells in an aerofoil shape; and open leading edge and a closed trailing edge, inflated by passage through the air — the ram-air design.” [End quote, from Wikipedia]. “Patent 3131894A, filed 1/10/1963, was called Multi-cell Glide Canopy Parachute” In 1964, possibly Jalbert filed another patent, titled: Multi-cell Wing Aerial Device”, which Pat Works refers to in his comments. Again, Jalbert filed a number of patents for his various modifications to his original ram-air canopy, but the first was 1/10/1963, only 4 months after Poppenhager test jumped Jalbert’s first early design of a ram-air canopy in September 1962.

    4. As Tal Streeter mentioned in his Notes for his book on Domina Jalbert, the ram-air canopy was invented in 1957 and he began “testing” and formalizing the design. It is certainly reasonable, that Jalbert who had Poppenhager (and Frank Dodd) test jump other canopies in South Florida (close to Jalberts workshop in Boca Raton, FL), would of wanted to see how his new ram-air canopy design would perform in September 1962, (4 months prior to filing his first ram-air patent in January 1963). Thus, Jalbert contacted Poppenhager and arranged for a Test Jump.

    5. In regard to Poppenhager’s 1962, test jump possibly being a test jump of a kite, I’m confident Poppenhager would know the difference, both then and now, (being a Master Rigger, Experienced Skydiver, and Commercial Pilot). Poppenhager made numerous test jumps of the Ballard Wing in the March 1967 timeframe. This single layer of fabric, without air cells, would more closely resemble a kite. So, Poppenhager certainly understands the difference between a Wing (or Kite) and Jalbert’s canopy that he jumped in September 1962, with sectioned cells in a aerofoil shape. When Poppenhager first mentioned to me in 1969, that he jumped “one of those out of a paperbag”, we were standing their looking at Steve Snyder’s parafoil ram-air canopy, and of course Pop had made many test jumps of Ballard’s Wing….so it was obvious the difference between what might be considered a kite, and what was a ram-air canopy.

    6. I’ve found it strange since hearing the story that Jalbert never paid Poppenhager the $100 for his test jump. While purely speculation on my part, it actually seems like a prudent thing for Jalbert to do, i.e. not make payment and therefore ensure there was not an accounting record, cancelled check, etc. documenting the Test Jump. Poppenhager’s jump (9/1962) was before Jalbert filed his January 1963 patent; therefore, it is reasonable that Jalbert would not want an experienced skydiver, Master Parachute Rigger and Commercial Pilot (i.e. Poppenhager) to be able to claim that he recommended design changes or improvement and potentially make a legal claim for part of the original patent. Again, this is purely speculation on my part, without any documentation or proof to support my view. However, this would explain why Poppenhager was never paid the $100 for the test jump.

    7. In conclusion, I’m confident that the canopy Poppenhager test jumped for Jalbert in September 1962, was Jalbert’s very early ram-air design canopy—and the First Ram-Air Canopy parachute jump in the world. However, because there may be questions, I’ve referred to Poppenhager’s test jump as , “Thought to be the first ram-air canopy jump”.

  3. Gary Corderman

    While I understand this early Jalbert Ram-Air canopy jump being questioned, I’m confident the date of September 1962 is correct, and it was a Jalbert ram-air canopy not a kite. I know Jalbert designed various kites, but this was not a kite. Paul Poppenhager, a Master Rigger since the early ’50’s certainly knows the difference between a kite and a parachute canopy. You may very well be correct that the name Jalbert Parafoil may of come later; however, the canopy that Poppenhager jumped in ’62 contained air cells and was Jalberts very early attempt, (before his 1963 patent), to design a ram-air canopy that he first envisioned in 1957, using his Beechcraft wing as a model. (Which may explain why this first Jalbert canopy was so large.)

    As for jumping a canopy without a deployment device, pilot chute or steering lines … there was nothing unusual about Poppenhager (and others) jumping such canopies during that time period (’62 and before). Belly reserves were loose packed without a deployment device (except the container) and most without pilot chutes. And in the early 60’s, reserve canopies were almost all not steerable, except by pulling on the risers. Poppenhager had jumped a number of loose pack canopies, (in the military in ’51, ’52; before the military switched to bag deployment devices when aircraft became faster), and sport reserve type canopies. So, there is nothing that brings the date into question in regard to Poppenhager, who would jump almost anything, jumping a canopy that he rolled into a paperbag without a pilot chute or steering lines.

    It is also of note, that Poppenhager did not invent the deployment bag, (the Army did that), but certainly popularized it when he began making bags for club members and for sale as early as 1960. He, and all the local jumpers in Clewiston, were using attached bag deployments for their sport canopies. Knowing Poppenhager well, using a paper bag, where he was sure the canopy would come-out of the bag, would be a plausible solution for jumping a canopy that did not have any other deployment device. A bag deployment (even a paper bag) is certainly something I can see Poppenhager attempting.

    In conclusion, I’m confident of the date of the jump being September 1962, and that the canopy was Jalbert’s first ram-air canopy.

  4. Pat Works Pat Works

    Ed, Good story. Fine read. Cna you please recheck and verify your date of 1962? Sounds like a Kite; not a parachute. No deployment; no steering lines; no container, no pilot chute. (The history of man-lifting kites is very old. The first records of man-lifting kites come from China CE 636.)
    So, 1962 seems to be a mistake. Could it have been a bit later? 1962 is way early for a ram air parachute … The few not round parachutes were single surface wings. flying paragliders are not not jump canopies. single surface Gliding parachutes never caught on. When Lee Guilfoyle jumped one, The Barish Sailwing in 1965, it was the first jump on a gliding parachute. Nothing like that is documented prior.
    Jalberts Parafoil Kite was invented in 1963. Jalbert had a history of designing kites. In 1964, he filed a patent titled “Multi-cell Wing Type Aerial Device” . The name “Parafoil” came later. He envisaged the parafoil kite later. A Parafoil patent was granted in 1966.

    Good artiicle in any event. I encourage you to submit more history.

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