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)