History of Aviation

Parachutes

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.

André Jacques 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.

André Jacques 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.

The first parachute jump from an aeroplane took place at St. Louis. During the First World War parachutes were issued to pilots in the German Airforce, French Army Airforce and the United States Air Service but not the British Royal Flying Corps. The official reason given was that parachutes were not 100% safe, it was too bulky to be stored by the pilot and its weight would affect the performance of the aeroplane. Unofficially the reason was given in a report that was not published at the time: "It is the opinion of the board that the presence of such an apparatus might impair the fighting spirit of pilots and cause them to abandon machines which might otherwise be capable of returning to base for repair."

R. E. Calthrop, a retired British engineer, had in fact developed the Guardian Angel, a parachute for aircraft pilots, before the war. Pressure was applied on Calthrop to keep quiet about his invention.

With growing numbers of pilots dying as a result of their aircraft being hit by enemy fire, Calthorp rebelled and in 1917 advertised his Guardian Angel parachute in several aeronautical journals. Calthorp revealed details of the tests that had been carried out by the Royal Flying Corps pointed out that British pilots were willing to buy their own parachutes but were being denied the right to use them.

© , September 1997 - April 2014