Throughout time many people have tried to fly by jumping off of high structures hoping that some force would keep them up and let them glide like the birds, bats and bees. Most of the time, the feat did not work. Occasionally a person would land safely and that was enough incentive to give people the false idea that flight by man alone would be possible. What most people did not realize is that the birds, bats and bees have a difference weight to lift ratio. This concept was difficult for some to grasp and the attempts continued.
It is believed that the first recorded parachute jump took place in 852 A.D., when Arman Firman, a Muslin holy man, tried to fly in Cordoba, Spain. He jumped off of a tower wearing a huge voluminous cloak. His misguided theory was the cloak would billow out and allow him to float gently to the earth. Instead, the cloak did nothing to slow down his descent 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 served as the first recording of a parachute attempt.
Although Firman may have been the first to jump; many experts credit Leonardi Da Vinci (the famous painter of the portrail of Mona Lisa) to be the earliest to conceive of and document the idea of air supporting a person's weight. After centuries of myths, 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.
Da Vinci gave us one of the first truly scientific treatments of the subject. He wrote 35,000 words, 5,000 pages and made 150 drawings about flight. Among his first sketches was the parachute which was designed in 1495. Of the parachute, he wrote, "If a man has a tent of closely woven linen without any apertures 12 braccia across and 12 in depth, he can throw himself down from any great height without injury".
Da Vinci's genius in the subject of aeronautics was phenomenal and had he lived longer he may have been able to see his vision become a reality.
A hundred years after Da Vinci's sketch was published, Fausto Veranzo drew a picture of a square canvas parachute being used from a tower. He claims to have experimented with his parachute, but there is little evidence supporting his claim. Usually in those times (1595) a designer would gather a huge crowd around him to watch his initial attempt.
There are many other names that pop up in various historical sources as possibly being the first to make a parachute jump. Joseph Montgolfier, the balloonist and papermaker, claimed to have parachuted from the top of his home in Annonay, France. Jean Pierre Blanchard, the balloonist, experienced difficulty with his over-inflated balloon over Ghent and is credited by some sources as being the first to jump from a balloon. He claimed to have broken his leg on that emergency jump.
Finally in 1797, balloonist Andre Jacques Garnerin made the first of many undisputed exhibition parachute jumps from his balloon. His first was over Paris 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 violently as the unvented canopy spilled air from one side and then from the other. He apparently had believed Da Vinci's instructions that the material should be without an aperture.
Until the balloon, there was little opportunity to use a parachute. Ironically the parachute was used almost exclusively for exhibitions. Although the early balloons were made of treated paper and lifted by the heat of burning straw, the idea of using a parachute for emergencies never came to light. Because parachuting had always been thought of as a stunt, the first life saving jump in 1808 was a novelty. Judaki Kuparento parachuted from his burning balloon over Warsaw. His method of exit and operation of the parachute is unknown.
It was not until 1909 when the Wright brothers developed powered flight, that the parachute found a new purpose. Early parachutes were made of canvas, and later of silk. In 1912 Capt. Albert Berry of the United States Army made the first successful descent from an airplane. In World War I parachutes were used by observers to escape from captive balloons but were considered impractical for airplanes. It was not until the last stages of the war that the use of the parachute was available in aircraft. Due to its success in 1918 the U.S. Government designed a board to begin developing a parachute designed to meet all of the requirements for use in an aircraft. By World War II this was completed and parachutes were used for various jobs. Every aircraft at this point was supplied with parachutes and their use was an important factor during the war. Today parachutes are used not only during times of war they are also 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. 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.
One may ask "Where did the word parachute originate?", and "How do parachutes work?" The word parachute comes from the French words para and chute; used together they mean to shield a fall. Objects falling freely through the atmosphere are pulled toward the Earth by gravity. Free-falling objects can attain a terminal velocity, or top speed of 118 or more miles per an hour. 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. A parachute in use resembles an open umbrella. The open end is directed downward. Strong forces produced by air resistance push upward against the descending parachute. These forces oppose the downward pull of gravity. Although gravity's force is reduced, it is not completely eliminated. The speed of fall, however, is decreased from terminal velocity to a much safer 14 miles an hour.
What are the various parts of a parachute? Today, parachutes that carry people are made of nylon. When the parachute is not in use, it is folded into a nylon or cotton duck pack. The pack is fastened to the parachutist's front or back with a harness, which is specially constructed so that the effects of deceleration, gravity, and wind are transmitted to the wearers body as safely and comfortably as possible.
The parachutist uses a strong, flexible cable cord called the ripcord to open the pack. When the ripcord is pulled, the packs cover flips open and a miniature parachute, the pilot chute, pops out. After bursting from the pack is becomes filled with air. This creates a strong upward force of drag. The drag pulls the main parachute out of the pack.
The main part of the parachute is the canopy, which is designed to be as strong as possible. The canopy is made of 28 triangular-shaped panels, or gores. Each gore 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. The direction of the weave in each section adds further strength.
The suspension lines, or shrouds, connect the canopy to the harness. Each shroud is a continuous unbroken line. It is fasten to a ring on the harness, it passes through seams in the canopy, over the domed top, and back to the harness, where it is secured to another ring.
There are three methods of parachuting: free-fall, static line, and automatic ejection. In each method the ripcord is activated by a different means. In a free-fall the parachutist jumps out of the airplane, clears the craft, and then pulls the ripcord. In a static jump a line is connected to the parachute pack and to the airplane . When the parachutist jumps, the line pulls the canopy out of the pack. The ejection method is used to abandon an aircraft flying at supersonic speeds or to get out of a military aircraft that has been hit by anti-aircraft fire. The parachute is designed as part of an assembly that includes the ejection seat. A small rocket charge ejects the pilot, seat, and parachute assembly. At that point when the pilot is clear of his seat, a small timing device is activated and the parachute opens automatically.
There are various types of competitions in the sport. Style jumping is one such competition where the entrants are judged by the speed and style of their stunt. Team events involve two or more persons jumping together. Although the sport began in 1914, it did not flourish until the 1950's. In 1951 the first world parachuting championship was held in Yugoslavia. Today they are held every two years.
To find out more about parachuting: Go to your library and check out some books on parachuting, sky-diving, or air sports. Send away for information to a local parachuting company for information.
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