Throughout time many people have tried to fly by jumping off something, hoping to land safely, like birds, bats and bees. Most of the time the jump failed, but there were a few partial successes. This gave people the false hope that man could fly alone. What most people did not realize was that the birds, bats and bees have a different weight to lift ratio. This concept was difficult to understand.
It is believed that the first recorded parachute jump took place in 852 A.D. when Arman Firman, a Muslim holy man, tried to fly in Cordoba, Spain. He jumped off of a tower wearing a huge cloak. He thought the cloak would billow out and allow him to float gently to the earth. Instead, the cloak did nothing to slow him down and he crashed to the ground. Fortunately, there was enough air in the folds of the cloak to soften the landing slightly and he survived. Thus, this became the first recorded parachute attempt.
Although Firman may have been the first to jump, many experts give credit to Leonardo da Vinci (the famous painter and inventor) to be the earliest to conceive of (think of) and document with diagrams the idea of supporting a persons weight under a parachute. Six hundred years after Arman Firmani, Leonardo da Vinci was determined to prove that human flight was possible. He studied flight for over twenty years and in 1486 he began to study birds. He continued with this study until his death in 1519 convinced that the secret behind human flight was in the wings of the birds.
Amoung his first drawings about flight was the parachute. He wrote, "If a man have a tent of closely woven linen without any apertures (openings) 12 braccia across and 12 in depth, he can throw himself down from any great height without injury." There is no record that Leonardo da Vinci ever tried any of his parachute ideas.
For the next three hundred (300) years many attempts were made to use a parachute and jump. These attempts were written down but not witnessed. Some of these "experimenters" were Fausto Veranzo, Joseph Montgolfier, and Jean Pierre Blanchard.
Finally, in 1797, balloonist Andre Jacques Garnerin made the first of many undisputed (witnessed) exhibition parachute jumps from his balloon. His first was over Paris, France with thousands watching. Garnerin's parachute was made of silk with a supporting pole and looked like a huge reinforced umbrella. Standing in a basket at the end of the pole, he released his chute and then oscillated (swung back and forth) violently as the unvented (no hole in the top) canopy spilled air from one side and then from the other. He apparently was following Da Vinci's instructions that the material should be without an aperture (hole). (Modern parachutes have a vent hole in the top.)
Until the balloon, there was not much opportunity to use a parachute. The parachute was used only for exhibitions (showing off). The parachute was not thought of for emergencies until 1808 when Judaki Kuparento had to jump from his burning balloon over Warsaw, Poland. How he did this is not exactly known.
It was not until 1909, when the Wright Brothers developed powered flight, that the parachute found a new purpose. In 1912 Capt. Albert Berry of the United States Army made the first successful descent from an airplane. Early parachutes were made of canvas, and later of silk. In World War I parachutes were used by observers to escape from damaged observation balloons but were considered impractical (not useable) for airplanes. In the last stages of World War I the parachute finally became usable when jumping from an airplane. Because of this success the U.S. Government formed a special "parachute" board to design parachutes for various uses in an aircraft. By World War II this was completed and parachutes were used for many different purposes. Today parachutes are used for dropping food and medical supplies into areas stricken by disasters such as floods and earthquakes. Life rafts and other survival equipment are lowered by parachute in air-sea rescue operations. Equipment weighing many tons can be dropped from an aircraft by parachute. Parachutes also serve as landing breaks for high speed jet airplanes (such as those that take off and land on the decks of aircraft carriers), and they are used to slow a returning space capsule as it reenters the Earth's atmosphere.
Why do we need a parachute? Objects falling freely through the atmosphere are pulled toward the Earth by gravity. Free-falling objects can attain a top speed of 118 miles per hour or more! No person could survive a fall at that speed. By using a parachute, the speed of fall is reduced enough to insure a safe landing. The open parachute counters (opposes) the downward pull of gravity. Although the effects of gravity are reduced, it is not completely eliminated (removed) The speed of fall, however, is decreased to a much safer 14 miles an hour.
What are the various parts of a parachute? Today parachutes are made of nylon. When it is not in use it is folded into a nylon or cotton duck pack. The pack is fastened to the person's back or front with a harness. The harness is specially constructed so that the parachutist is not injured as the forces of deceleration (slowing down), gravity and wind are transmitted (sent) to the wearer's body as the chute opens.
A rip cord is used to open the duck pack and allow the chute to deploy (pop out). The rip cord can be used in three different ways. First, the parachutist may pull the rip cord with his hand. Second, a static line connected to the aircraft will deploy the chute as the person jumps. Third, as a pilot is ejected from a jet aircraft and separates from his seat the parachute automatically opens.
Suspension lines, or shrouds, connect the canopy (parachute cloth) to a ring on the harness. The line is continuous from the ring, through a seam in the shroud over the top of the chute and back down to the ring again. The shroud consists of several smaller nylon sections sewn together in such a way that a tear will usually be confined to the section in which it originates (begins).
During World War II thousands of soldiers parachuted from airplanes. After the war many of these veterans continued to parachute for fun. In 1951 the first world parachuting championship was held in Yugoslavia. Today they are held every two years. In 1960 there were approximately 1000 who participated in the sport. In 1980, just 20 years later the sport had grown to some 250,000 individuals participating in 28 different countries.
To find out more about parachuting: go to your library and check out some books on parchuting, sky-diving, or air sports. Check the Internet. Send away for information to a local parachuting company for information.
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