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Parachuting - A Leap of Faith
It is amazing that there are people on planet earth who think it fun to jump out of planes flying thousands of feet in the sky with nothing but a cloth sack to keep them safe as the ground settles in under their feet. This is truly a leap of faith: faith that nothing will go awry, faith in the stability of that cloth sack above them and faith in God for controlling wind force and direction.
One might wonder about the person responsible for inventing this somewhat “high risk” sport. However, many people around the globe can share blame for perfecting this brilliant idea. If people should fly, would there not be wings present at birth?
Leonardo da Vinci
He was an Italian artist, a designer and amateur engineer. Leonardo drew pictures and painted portraits. Apparently, in his spare time he also would calculate and draw such things as parachutes. He had a vision of something a person could use to escape from a very tall building.
This was the late 1400s and travel was by ground or water. Yet, Leonardo drew up his plans (with dimensions) for a large tool that safely lands a person on the ground. These plans are similar to the ones in use today.
Pierre was a French balloonist with flying on his mind. He was not daft enough to be daring. Therefore, he decided to test the concept of floating through air. Convincing his pet dog to test his parachute - although the dog did not have much say about it – Leonardo and the pooch went about town searching for the highest structure.
They found a structure several hundred feet high. He and pooch went to the top and prepared for take off. Pierre dropped his dog and watched as dog and parachute safely landed. Pooch apparently did not enjoy the experience as much as Pierre did. The dog ran away with the parachute and nobody ever saw that canine again.
During the 18th century, entertainers began using parachuting as a spectacular circus event. This drew crowds, most of them coming to witness a fatal jump. People do not change over time...or centuries.
This age of invention and do-it-yourself concoctions brought out the best (and worst) in experimentation. After fatal results that others reported, Orville and Wilbur Wright built an airplane that actually flew. This brought renewed interest in parachuting and the parachute became the symbol of safety for pilots.
Robert Cocking and the Baldwin Brothers
In 1837, Robert Cocking demonstrated his version of a parachute in England resulting in his death. This event would naturally bring a sane person to observe that a parachute resembling an upside-down inside-out umbrella was not safe. Interest in parachutes declined dramatically in England after that incident.
However, across the Atlantic, the Baldwin Brothers designed a parachute much like those in use today. It was several years before they had one ready to test. Instead of using live human beings, sandbags served as guinea pigs. Success of this test brought them to the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco for a demonstration before a sold out crowd in January 1887.
Since 1887, interest in parachute jumping dominated the field of extreme sports. It still serves as great entertainment for major holiday celebrations. Parachuting also made its way into combat training and use in wartime engagements provides an invaluable piece of history.