History of Aviation

André Jacques Garnerin

André Jacques Garnerin was born in Paris on 31st January, 1769. He studied physics before joining the French Army. Over the next few years Garnerin became interested in hot air balloons and advocated their use for military purposes.

In 1783 Louis-Sébastien Lenormand developed a parachute out of two umbrellas. He used this parachute to jump safely from a high tree.

Two years later Jean Pierre François Blanchard placed a small animal in a small basket attached to a parachute. This was then dropped from a air balloon and the descent was so slow that the animal survived the fall.

Garnerin began experimenting with parachutes while he was a prisoner of war in Hungary. However, during his three year stay he never reached the stage where he could employ his parachute to escape from the high ramparts of the prison.

It was not until 1797 that Garnerin completed his first parachute. It consisted of a white canvas canopy 23 feet in diameter. The parachute had 36 ribs and lines, was semi-rigid, making it look like a very large umbrella.

Garnerin made his first successful parachute jump above Paris on 22nd October, 1797. After ascended to an altitude of 3,200 feet (975 m) in an hydrogen balloon he jumped from the basket. As Garnerin failed to include an air vent at the top of his parachute, he oscillated wildly in his descent. However, he landed unhurt half a mile from the balloon's takeoff site. Garnerin therefore became the first man to design a parachute that was capable of slowing a man's fall from a high altitude.

In 1799, Garnerin's wife, Jeanne-Genevieve Garnerin, became the first woman to make a parachute jump. Garnerin made exhibition jumps all over Europe including one of 8,000 feet (2,438 m) in England.

André Jacques Garnerin died in Paris on 18th August, 1823, when while preparing balloon equipment, a beam struck him on the head.

© , September 1997 - April 2014