1) Early days

V0.2 - 17-04-2020

Early parachute systems

Developing parachutes

As long as man has existed flight has been a dream and fantasy. From the Greek and Roman myths such as Icarus to the balloons of the 1800s. Already 4000 years ago the Chinese noticed that air resistance would slow down a fall. Legend has it that jumps were performed using large bamboo hats. in the 800s jumps using large wing-like structures were done in Cordova and in 1100 large rigid umbrellas were used to entertain the Chinese monarch with early base jumping. 

Early days

The idea of the parachutes dates back to Renaissance Italy already in 1470, drawings of a parachute-like contraption existed. This system was used to safely extract people from burning buildings in Venice. One of the more known drawings comes from Leonardo Da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus where a pyramid-like structure, supported by wooden frames, would be used to slow down the fall. This was published in about 1480. It is unknown if his design was tested back in the 15th century, however in 2000 and 2008 replications of the parachute were tested successfully. 

In the 16th century, Croatian Fausto Veranzio updated Leonardo's design into a square sail. He realised that the square parachute would be more efficient in slowing down a free fall. His drawings of the "Flying Man" were published in his book "New Contraptions" or "New Machines" in 1615/1616. Rumours have it that Veranzio tested his parachute by jumping off the St Martin's Cathedral, however, there is no evidence to support this.

Leonardo's flying man
Parachute of Da Vinci

Flying man on the left and the parachute of Da Vinci on the right

Drawing of Leonardo's parachute jump

Drawing of Leonardo's jump

In the late 18th century Louis-Sebastien Lenormard made the first recorded parachute jump. In 1783 he coined the term Parachute combining the words Parare and Chute. Parare is Italian for to avert, defend, resist, guard, shield or shroud and Chute is the french word for falling. Jean-Pierre Blanchard demonstrated the use of a parachute for safely descending from a hot air balloon showing the first application of a parachute. He tested the concept using a dog and later himself when his balloon failed. The latter, however, was not observed by others.

These parachutes were still linen with a wooden frame, much like Leonardo and Verazio had described. In 1790 Blanchard began working on making parachutes more compact exchanging linen with silk. Silk is both stronger and lighter compared to linen. This led to the invention of the frameless parachute in 1797 by Andrew Garnerin. In 1804 Jerome Lalande added a vent hole to the parachute to increase the stability and remove violent oscillations.

Some other notable firsts in parachuting are the first fatality in 1837 when Robert Cocking died during an accident and the first parachute harness invented by Captain Thomas Baldwin in 1887. In 1890 Paul Letteman and Kathchen Paulus were the first to fold a parachute into a soft backpack such that a jumper could hold it on the person before opening it. Kathchen was also the first to use a smaller parachute to pull open the main chute thus inventing the pilot chute. 

20th century

The 20th century was the period where the parachute matured to what we know now. In 1907 Charles Broadwick made the first jump with a foldable parachute. This parachute was stowed in a backpack and deployed using a static line after the jump. His jumps were still made from a hot air balloon and were mainly performed as stunts at fairs. The acrobats performing parachute jumps would be called aeronauts. The main reason for Broadwick to fold the parachute was to prevent the entanglement of the parachute lines with the balloon lines.

In 1911 Grant Morton performed the first jump from an aircraft. He used a folding parachute that he held in his arms when he left the aeroplane. In the same period, Captain Albert Berry also parachute from an aeroplane, it is unclear who of these two actually was the first.  

Later that year Gleb Kotelnikov became the first person to use a parachute to slow down a car using a parachute thus inventing the drogue chute. Although the concept would only be used in 1937 by soviet planes to safely land during arctic expeditions.

Later in that year, both were combined into the first aeroplane jump with a knapsack-type parachute. This was done by Albery Berry. 1913 marked the first parachute jump of a woman from a moving aircraft. Then in 1914, the first jump was made using a knapsack-style parachute that was deployed manually.

Georgia Broadwick became the first person to make a free fall before parachute deployment, although unintentionally as her static line failed. The first intentional free fall was done by Leslie Irvin in 1919. 

Grand Morton's jump from the Eiffel Tower
Gleb Kotelnikov with the knapsack

Grand Morton's jump on the right and Gleb Kotelnikov with the knapsack on the right 

During the wars

World war 1 saw the first applications of parachutes for the military. During the great war, artillery observers would observe the battlefield from tethered balloons. These balloons were priority targets for enemy fighter aircraft. When the balloon would be hit, the observers would jump to safety by parachute. The parachutes would be folded into storage containers attached to the balloon. The jumper would only wear a small harness. In the war, parachutes were used quite successfully in balloons but with mixed results in fixed-wing aircraft. Here the bag with the parachute would be stored behind the pilot. However, the movement of the aircraft would result in the entanglement of the parachute lines with the aircraft. These problems were solved by Solomon Lee van Meter who added a ripcord to the parachute. This allowed the jumper to deploy the parachute at a safe distance. After world war 1, three major advances in parachute technology were observed. These came together in the US army's project to develop a suitable parachute system, combining the best of several designs. The first expanded on the knapsack idea of Kotelnikov by using a soft backpack. Charles Broadwick demonstrated this in 1906. At the same time. Second, it used a ripcord to deploy the parachute manually and third it used a pilot chute to inflate the main parachute from the bag. This new parachute, the Airplane Parachute Type-A, was tested successfully in 1919 by Leslie Irvin and was used to save several pilots whose aircraft malfunctioned. In 1927 plans were made to use parachutes to deploy soldiers behind enemy lines. This came after Italy performed the first combat jump in 1918. 

Actions involving parachute troops can be seen in the Battle of Crete and Operation Market Garden during world war 2. These events marked the first time in history that parachute systems were used for offensive applications. WW2 was also the first time engineers were faced with the challenge of atmospheric re-entry. The German V2 flew to about 88 km altitude during a long-range ballistic flight. the main challenges with this entry were not the heating but the mechanical stresses. The first problems with aerothermal effects were seen during the entry flights of the first intercontinental ballistic missiles. More on the first rocketry, spaceflight and aerothermal eating in the next section. 

Balloon observer about to leave the basket using a parachute

Balloon observer about to leave the basket using a parachute

V0.2 - 17-04-2020

V0.2 - 17-04-2020