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The History of Skydiving

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Antique Skydiving History

It might be surprising to learn that parachuting may have begun prior to 90 B.C. in China. China's renowned historian, Ssuma Ch'ien studied ancient texts, which told the story of Emperor Shun whose father was trying to kill him. He fled into a granary tower, which his father set ablaze. The Emperor tied several large conical straw hats together and jumped out of the tower, the hats serving as a parachute, and landed safely on the ground.

A book published in 1214 entitled "Lacquer Table History" by Yo K'o relates an episode that occurred in Canton in the 1100's, when an Arab stole one leg of a golden lacquered table. He escaped by climbing to the top of a mosque's very tall minaret and jumped, holding onto two umbrellas without handles. He reached the ground without injury. (The Chinese also invented the first umbrellas.)

There is also documentary evidence the Chinese and Thai acrobats used some form of a parachute device for entertaining stunts in the Chinese Imperial Court. Because of their feats, the first European construction of a parachute-like device was made during the reign of King Louis XIV of France in the 1680's.

It was Joseph Montgolfier of France, who in the late 18th century, first gave significant meaning to the modern use of the parachute by testing his device while jumping out of a hot air balloon. His success led to a plethora of balloonist stunt jumpers using parachutes.

With the high incidence of hot air balloon accidents that were occurring at the time, the parachute gained impetus as a mechanism to save lives. Famous balloonist Jean Pierre Blanchard, the first person to cross over the English Channel in one, used the parachute to make several successful jumps.

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Modern Skydiving History

After Wilbur and Orville's airplane success, the modern parachute and skydiving came into its own. The first skydiver, although this is disputed, was Grant Morton who, in 1911, jumped from a Wright Model B airplane over Venice Beach, California using a folded silk parachute. He threw the canopy into the air and landed safely.

The parachutes used at the time were "automatic," meaning they were either inflated before a jump or pulled into the airstream from a box attached to the jump-off platform. This static type of parachute proved unsafe for escape from a moving jump-off platform. This then led to the ripcord parachute invented by Leo Stevens in 1908. For some reason, it didn't come into general use until 1920.

The next important invention, patented in 1911, was a flexible parachute made by an Italian man, Pino. The skydiver wore the parachute as a backpack. There was also a specially designed leather cap, which would open into a smaller parachute. The pilot chute pulled off the "hat" during a jump, and the larger parachute in the backpack opened.

After World War II, there was a plethora of parachutes no longer needed by the military. Experienced paratroopers started jumping again for the sheer pleasure of it all, and skydiving as a recreational and competitive sport was born.

As airplanes become more and more aeronautically advanced, the parachute continues to undergo functional and design changes to keep up. It will be very interesting to see what the future holds for skydiving enthusiasts – no doubt, the changes will be nothing less than spectacular.

"Know skydiving, know life..... NO skydiving, NO life!"

- Anonymous

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