Behind Every Optimist, There is a Pessimist

This article first appeared in the January 1990 Flight Test News.

By J. Paul, Member-At-Large, Toronto, Canada

Most of us have to wear it; most of us know how to use it, but we hope to never have to do so… There is no flight testing without a parachute!

Leonardo Da Vinci was the first to scientifically conceive a “parachute”…his technical concept was the result of many calculations which were likely verified by several tests, based on, a manuscript dated 1502.

Reconsidered by Fausto Veranzio some 93 years later, the concept of the parachute piqued the curiosity of both Blanchard and Joseph Montgolfier…In 1793, Sebastien Lenormand jumped off the top of a tree, helping his rapid descent with two large umbrellas. Using a more conservative approach, Blanchard’s specialty was to launch hot air balloons with animals onboard. His first “parachuted” guinea pig was his own dog.

The Frenchman Garnerin must be considered a pioneer suspended to a hot air balloon, he flew over the Monceau Park, in Paris, 1,000 ft above ground. After cutting off the rope holding him to the balloon, he became the first man subjected to a parachute-assisted descent. This first jump was a success, despite some dramatic oscillations of the chute due to the absence of a central air outlet. The astronomer Lalande quickly offered this modification following Garnerin’s landing.

Just like hot air balloons, the parachute became a popular attraction during fairs and celebrations of all kinds. The first controlled jumps from an airplane were made by Captain Berry in Saint Louis, MO, in March of 1912.

The first aviator to survive a true emergency bail out was a young and truly unknown French pilot named Pegoud. Mrs. Cayat de Castellat became the first woman to jump out of a flying aircraft. She loved it, and gave several public demonstrations. She died in 1914 while performing a jump
during an airshow in Brussels.

The parachute became widely used during the Second World
War: particularly following a series of tactical experiments in the Soviet Union in 1935. In the United States, the use of parachutes for flight crew members became compulsory as early as 1924.

Brilliant visionary and born optimist, Leonardo Da Vinci started the history of the most extraordinary human technological marvel: the airplane. Also a sophisticated pessimist, he gave us a plane…with a parachute.

This article first appeared in the January 1990 Flight Test News.

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