Mankind has always been fascinated by the idea of flight, but gravity proved to be a problem and kept people on the ground. There had to be a way around it!
The first evidence of people attempting to fall from the sky dates back to the 12th Century in China. There are stories of some form of parachute being used during circus like stunts to entertain guests at the Chinese court. The relation between the umbrella, known to be invented by the Chinese, and this early evidence appears obvious.
The first known pictorial evidence of a parachute appeared in the sketchbook of Leonardo Da Vinci in 1514.The device showen was a pyramid shaped structure, which implied that a man can leap from a tower without endangering his life.
The real beginning of skydiving starts with a Frenchman, Andre-Jacques Garnerin. In 1797 he made a successful parachute descent using a canopy and a small basket tied beneath a hot air balloon.
Garnerin, however, encountered serious oscillatory problems during his experiments and a French astronomer, Lelandes, who observed one of his jumps, suggested cutting a small hole near the apex of the canopy. This modification is now known as a vent, and it worked to prevent oscillation.
Up to this point all parachutes had a ridged or semi-ridged structure, but in the early 1800 there began to appear parachutes that were completely collapsible. These proved to be much more practical and more convenient to carry around. In 1887 Captain Thomas Baldwin, a renowned American jumper, introduced a silk parachute with vent opening in the USA.
With the advent of the airplane the design and technique of the parachute had to change. People were now jumping from a moving aerial platform, and the parachute had to be inflated once they had jumped out of the plane. A backpack type parachute was developed by an Italian inventor Joseph Pino in 1911 and is considered a major milestone in parachute history. He introduced the use of a small pilot parachute to assist in opening the main canopy.
During World War I and II huge improvements were made to parachutes to increase their operational reliability for both German and British pilots in case of them being forced to abandon their planes.
After World War II many soldiers were not ready to give up the rush they got from parachuting and this lead to the development of parachuting as a hobby.
As it grew in popularity, competitions began to emerge and it developed into a sport for civilian enthusiasts. French-American parachutist Raymond Young wrote an article in April 1954 in a Flying magazine and was the first to use the word “skydiving” to describe his feeling during free fall.
Domina Jalbert, a kite-maker, invented the parafoil or ram-air parachute in 1966. It had soft inflatable wings that traps air between 2 rectangular shaped membranes. It steered much more easily than a circular parachute and gives lighter impact on landing. By the 1970’s it had become extremely popular and was the beginning of a new era in parachuting.
Skydiving is an undeniable rush and drop zones now exist all over the world providing jumpers of all experience-levels the opportunity to free fall and fly in the sky!