It’s impossible to say how long ago the idea of a parachute first occurred to a person. But it’s easy to imagine that a wanderer in nature might have caught a glimpse of a flying squirrel and thought, “Cool, I bet I could do that too!” And they’d have been right, though it took a long time for that technology to mature.
And there were literal missteps along the way. Imagine if you will a little kid jumping off a picnic table holding an umbrella in an attempt to self arrest. It doesn’t work. Imagine instead a grown person jumping off a three story medieval tower with the same hope. Ouch.
The hard landings of such lessons failed to stop people from trying, and in time workable parachutes came to be, with the first successful jump taking place about 250 years ago. Since then the state of the art has grown immensely, while the essential nature of parachuting has remained exactly the same. Falling tamed.
Derivation of “parachute:” From the Italian “para,” meaning “prevent,” and the French word “chute,” for fall. A device for preventing a fall.
First known parachute concepts: China: Han Dynasty writer Sima Qian in a book of historical legends
Qian’s parachute concept: Two big hats grasped by hand
First modern parachute design: Leonardo da Vinci, 1485
Inventor of the modern parachute: Louis-Sébastien Lenormand, late 1700s, in France
First successful parachute jump: Lenormand, 1783, from a balcony of Tour de la Babote
Approximate height of balcony: 60 feet
Outcome: Lenormand was unhurt
First parachute jump from an aircraft: Jean-Pierre Blanchard, 1785, France
Blanchard’s first “guinea pig:” A local dog, who survived the event
First use of parachute as a rescue device from an aircraft: Blanchard again, when his balloon burst. The account was not witnessed.
First all-silk parachute design: Andre Garnerin, 1797
First woman to parachute: Jeanne-Geneviève Garnerin, Andre’s wife
First parachute jump from an airplane: Albert Berry, 1912, St. Louis, Missouri
Berry’s profession: Daredevil
First packed chutes: Early 1900s, concurrent independent development by many
First woman to parachute from a plane: Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick, 1913
First freefall: Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick, again
How “tiny:” 5 feet tall and 85 pounds
Profession: Acrobat and performer
Number of jumps: More than 1,000
Age at death: 85
First use of a parachute as a braking device (drogue chute): 1912
Inventor: Russian Gleb Yevgeniyevich Kotelnikov
First use to stop a plane: Late 1920s
Purpose: To stop Soviet airplanes landing on ice floes
Other Kotelnikov inventions: Backpack parachute, cargo chutes and automatically opening chutes
First use of parachute in wartime: World War I
First use: Disputed. Balloonists and fighter pilots made successful jumps.
First concept of airborne troops: Benjamin Franklin, 1784
First successful paratrooper drop: 1926
Number of airborne troops jumping for Normandy invasion, 1944: More than 13,000
Rank of D-Day airborne assault all time: Fourth
Largest ever: Operation Market Garden, British invasion of Holland
Number of airborne troops: More than 34,000
Largest parachute: Pioneer Aerospace, 52 feet in diameter
Purpose: For Mars landing of spacecraft
Inventor of rocket-powered “ballistic” parachutes: Boris Popov
First certificated whole-airplane parachute system: Cirrus Aircraft
Number of successful saves: More than 200
Person who coined the term “whole-airplane parachute:” Isabel Goyer