101st Airborne Division (502-PIR) & a Brief Parachute History


Franz Reichelt jumps off the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France wearing a crazy homemade parachute contraption and tragically falls to his death in this archive footage from February 4 1912.

Legend and Fact

According to the legend, it would seem that the first use of a device intended to slow the fall of a man in the air was made in China some 2000 years before JC. As the story told us, Shun, the Emperor itself trapped in his burning palace used some large umbrella to jump out of a window and landed relatively safely on the ground. Unfortunately, CNN was there and we don’t have any image from this jump. It seems also that over here, in Europa, a fellow named Icarus did also some interesting test as well as some interesting crashes. In fact, after Emperor Shun first Airborne test, 3500 years were needed to go further with a equipment to help slowing the fall of a men into the air. In one of his book published in 1502 : Codice Atlantico, Leornardo da Vinci presented the first draw of an engine that would have slowed down the fall on a men in the air. Please notice the part of the last sentence : ‘that would have slowed’ … In 1616, Fausto Veranzio published a book under the title Omo Volans (Flying Man) and reproduce da Vinci’s Parachute with some modifications. In fact a rectangular wooded frame with a piece of canvas fixed to it. Let’s hope that no one ever tried this strange thing to jump from some cliff or so. This engine wasn’t usable to make neither a test jump nor a wind catch but the interesting part of Veranzio’s draw was the way he described the system to connect the man to the device, using single pieces of rope. Veranzio created the first Parachute harness that (while modified) is still in use today. Newton got also involved in the project. While using da Vinci’s elementary calculations, he created the first Mathematical rule to be used in relation with the size of the Parachute and the weight of the Paratrooper.

leonardo-da-vinci-parachuteLeornardo da Vinci’s Parachute
In France, Louis Sébastien Lenormand, a French Physicist at the Montpellier Faculty, invented a device and named it Parachute. Into the great book of history, Lenormand is the first human to make a witnessed descent with a parachute and is also credited with coining the term parachute French parasol-sun shield and chute-fall. On December 26 1783 Lenormand jumped from the tower of the Montpellier observatory in front of a crowd that included Joseph Montgolfier (one of the two balloonists Montgolfier brothers), using a 14 foot parachute with a rigid wooden frame. His intended use for the parachute was to help entrapped occupants of a burning building and, or balloon to escape unharmed. Balloon and Parachute : A large crowd gathered outside the walls of the Walnut Street Prison that fronted on what is now Independence Square in Philadelphia at dawn on January 9 1793. The occasion was not a hanging but a balloon launching, which, if successful, would be the first aerial voyage in the history of the new United States of America and the New World. Jean Pierre Blanchard, noted French aeronaut, had advertised in the Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser for several weeks that he would make a hydrogen-filled gas balloon ascension on that day at 10 in the morning precisely.

fveranzioFausto Veranzio’s Parachute
So, on the morning, at 1000 past 1000 to be exact, Blanchard wrote in his Journal : I affixed to the aerostat my car, laden with ballast, meteorological instruments, and some refreshments with which the anxiety of my friends had provided me. I hastened to take leave of the President and of Mr. Ternant, Minister Plenipotentiary of France to the United States. This is the way Blanchard used describe the scene : My ascent was perpendicular and so easy that I had even time to enjoy the different impressions which agitated so many sensible and interesting persons who surrounded the place of my departure, and to salute them with my flag, which was ornamented on one side with the armoric bearings of the United States and, on the other, with the three colors so dear to the French nation On the ground, Gen John Steele, comptroller of the US Treasury, was astonished at what he saw. In a letter to a friend, he wrote : Seeing the man waving a flag at an immense height from the ground, was the most interesting sight that I ever beheld, and to I had no acquaintance with him, I could not help trembling for his safety.

louis-sebastien-lenormandSébastien Lenormand’s Parachute
According to the history, the first real Paratrooper in the history of the Parachute was a small animal that Jean Pierre Blanchard placed a in a small basket attached to a parachute. This was then dropped from an air balloon and the descent was slow enough to make sure that the animal survived.
Born in Paris on January 31 1769, André-Jacques Garnerin studied physics before joining the French Army. Over the next few years Garnerin became interested in hot air balloons and advocated their use for military purposes. While he was prisoner of war in Hungary Garnerin began experimenting with parachutes. During his three year stay he never reached the stage where he could employ his parachute to escape from the high ramparts of the prison. It was not until 1797 that Garnerin completed his first parachute. It consisted of a white canvas canopy 23 feet in diameter. The engine had 36 ribs and lines, was semi-rigid, making it look like a very large umbrella and Garnerin made his first successful parachute jump above Paris on October 22 1797. After ascended to an altitude of 3200 feet (975-M) in an hydrogen balloon he jumped from the basket, the parachute opened correctly but, oscillated wildly in the fall because of lack of an air vent into the canopy. A French Physicist, Jérôme François de Lalande, who was present at the Plaine de Monceau, noticed the oscillations of the device used by Garnerin and proved that the problem was due to the lack of an Air Vent at the top of the canopy. Garnerin allowed de Lalande to modify his parachute and as it worked almost perfectly, he then decided to adopt the system.

jean-pierre-blanchardJean-Pierre Blanchard
In 1799, Garnerin’s wife, Jeanne-Geneviève Labrosse, became the first woman to register a patent for the parachute as well as to be the first woman to make a parachute jump. Garnerin made exhibition jumps all over Europe including one of 8000 feet (2,438 m) in England. Is is to note that the initial use of the parachute was not saving a man who had to jump out from the basket of an hot air balloon, but saving the entire device, balloon, basket and the astronaut. During the next century, parachute use was confined to carnivals and daredevil acts. Acrobats would perform stunts on a trapeze bar suspended from a descending parachute. The parachute was released from a hot-air balloon by attaching the top of the parachute to the equator of the balloon with a cord that broke after a person jumped from the basket. Public opinion became very unfavorable towards the use of parachutes when Robert Cocking fell to his death.

andre-jacques-garnerinAndré-Jacques Garnerin
Cocking spent many years developing his improved parachute, based on Sir George Cayley’s design, which consisted of an inverted cone 107 feet (32.61-M) in circumference connected by three hoops. Cocking approached Charles Green and Edward Spencer, owners of the balloon, the Royal Nassau (formerly the Royal Vauxhall), to allow him an opportunity to test his invention. Despite the fact that Cocking was 61 years old, was not a professional scientist, and had no parachuting experience, the owners of the balloon agreed and advertised the event as the main attraction of a Grand Day Fete at Vauxhall Gardens. On July 24 1837, at 0735, Cocking ascended hanging below the balloon, which was piloted by Green and Spencer. Cocking was in a basket which hung below the parachute which in turn hung below the basket of the balloon. Cocking had hoped to reach 8000 feet (2440-M), but the weight of the balloon coupled with that of the parachute and the three men slowed the ascent; at 5000 feet (1500-M) and with the balloon nearly over Greenwich, Green informed Cocking that he would be unable to rise any higher if the attempt was to be made in daylight.

sir-george-cayleySir George Cayley
Faced with this information, Cocking released the parachute. A large crowd had gathered to witness the event, but it was immediately obvious that Cocking was in trouble. He had neglected to include the weight of the parachute itself in his calculations and as a result the descent was far too quick. Though rapid, the descent continued evenly for a few seconds, but then the entire apparatus turned inside out and plunged downwards with increasing speed. The parachute broke up before it hit the ground and at about 200 to 300 feet (60 to 90-M) off the ground the basket detached from the remains of the canopy. Cocking was killed instantly in the crash; his body was found in a field in Lee. The blame for the failure of the parachute was initially laid at Cayley’s door, but tests later revealed that although Cayley had neglected to mention the additional weight of the parachute in his paper, the cause of the crash had been a combination of the parachute’s weight and its flimsy construction, in particular the weak stitching connecting the fabric to the hoops. Cocking’s parachute weighed 250 lb (113 kg) many times more than modern parachutes.

robert-cockings-parachuteRobert Cockings’ Device
However, tests carried out in the USA by John Wise, an American balloonist, showed that Cocking’s design would have been successful if only it had been larger and better constructed.
Following Cocking’s death parachuting became very unpopular, and was confined to carnival and circus acts until the late 19th century when developments such as the harness and breakaway chutes made it safer. Some years later, a major contribution to the parachute systems was the development of a harness by the Baldwin brothers, Samuel and particularly Thomas Scott, who was a pioneer balloonist and became an US Army major during World War I. Thomas Scott Baldwin became also the first American to descend from a balloon by parachute.

Capt Thomas Scott Baldwin in flight near the McKinley Bridge 10 September 1910

The concept of folding or packing the parachute in a knapsak-like container was developed by Käthe Paulus & Hermann Lettemann in 1890 and became the first Remote Automatic Sack. Käthe Paulus also demonstrated an intentional breakaway. After a first parachute inflated, it was released and pulled open a second one. Beside Paulus and Letterman did manage a way to get the canopy folded into a bag fixed to the basket of the balloon, parachutes were still not described as a life saver device. A major improvement had still to be made to disconnect the device from the balloon’s basket. This improvement came a little later from the USA. Charles Broadwick (Coat Parachute), Leo Stevens (Rip Cord), Mike Blodgett (Main Pack), worked out a way to get the entire device folded into a bag that could be used as a rucksack. The modern parachute was born and the first jump from an airplane has been claimed by both Grant Morton and Capt Albert Berry in 1911. Morton jumped with a silk parachute folded in his arms which he threw out as he left the plane. Berry had a 36 ft. parachute packed into a metal case beneath the fuselage. The parachute had a trapeze bar for him to hold on to as he jumped and descended to the ground.

A patent granted early in 1911 to an Italian inventor named Joseph Pino for a flexible parachute, including a pilot chute, must be considered as one of the major milestones in parachute history, as he claimed in the patent, the jumper using this new device could wear his parachute in a pack like a knapsack. On his head would be a hat-like device fashioned into a leather cap, which would blossom out into a smaller open parachute. During the jump, the small pilot chute would pull off the hat and deploy the larger parachute from the knapsack. Using parachutes for military reasons was an idea first introduced by US Col William Wild Bill Mitchell, sometime during World War One. A great deal of planning went forth to try an experimental drop of one battalion of the American Expeditionary Force’s 1st Division, behind the German lines. But by the time that Mitchell and his staff could overcome the logistical obstacles the war had ended. Over the next ten to twenty years the US Army had basically shelved the idea, although there were some small-scale experiments conducted during this time frame. It was not until the Germans skillful use of Airborne troops in 1939 that the US Army turned up the heat on the idea and seriously preceded with the US program.

(Doc Snafu note) : Included in Wild Bill Mitchell’s Staff in France in 1918 was a young lieutenant called Lewis H. Brereton. In 1944, Brereton became the Commanding General of the 1st Allied Airborne Army.

In the Parachute history lot of major improvements were looks-like automatically forgotten.

1 : The Parachute moved from a container to a backpack.
2 : Crash of USASSC Lt Edward Selfridge with his Wright Airplane on Dec 18 1908.
3 : Albert Berry’s, USA, became the first Jump from a plane on March 1 1912.
4 : The Benoist Airplanes Manufacturing Company (France) engaged into Airborne Parachute Jumps.
5 : Frederick Rodman Law jumped out of an Hydro Plane piloted by Anthony Janus and Philip Page.
6 : In 1913, a study over 80 airplanes crashes found out that over 40% of the pilots involved were killed from there wounds while hitting the planet and it became pretty urgent to find a way to save the life from going down airplane’s pilot.
7 : Billy Mitchell gave order that a military study section was grounded at McCook Field near Dayton Ohio and placed Maj E. L. Hoffman in charge while Hoffman called Smith, Russel, Irvin and Bottriel in his staff.

The Military Study Section had to develop nearly all available parachutes worldwide, like :

– Broadwick Parachute, United States
– Hardin Parachute, United States
– Irvin (Irving) Parachute, United States
– Jahn Parachute, United States
– Martin Parachute, United States
– Scott-Omaha Parachute, United States
– Sperry Parachute, United States
– Stevens Parachute, United States
– Mears Parachute, England
– Calthrop Parachute, England
– Robert Parachute France
– Ors Parachute France
– Heinecke Parachute, Germany
– Bae-Gu Parachute, Germany

The Study Section renamed United States Army Air Service, started a wide range of tests like the one in Kelly Field in 1926, Bolling Field in 1927 and Anacostia in 1928. Meanwhile, in Italy, testings were also conducted. In 1928, 9 Italians Paratroopers were dropped with guns and ammunition. Mitchell ordered also a test and 3 paratroopers and a separated Machine Gun were dropped at Brooks Field near San Antonio, Texas. The deal of the test was to regroup, get the gun in firing position then seizing a dummy target on the ground. During this last test, present as an International Military Observator, the soon to become Father of the Red Army Russian Airborne, Maj Leonid Minov. Minov and his Deputy, Lt Mochkowski, back in Russia, started testing to, and on August 2 1930, 10 Russian paratroopers were dropped with guns and ammo. In 1931, the Russian Provisional Parachute Section was created. In 1932 this became a Paratrooper Regiment, in 1933 a Paratrooper Brigade and their first mass jump happened in 1934. 46 paratroopers and a small Tank were dropped. In 1935, 1200 paratroopers were, this time, dropped with success and a little later, 5200.

william-c-leeThe first Glider test in the USA happened in 1931. Baker Battery, 2nd Field Artillery Battalion was moved from France Field (east cost) to Rio Hato (west cost). In 1933, the whole 2nd Field Artillery Battalion was Air moved with succes from Rejuca to Cherrea (Panama Zone). The Infantry Board requested to go further on improving Air Transport at Fort Benning while the British Air moved an entire Infantry Regiment from Egypt to Iraq. In Italy again, in 1935, an entire Infantry Regiment was Air Transported from Rome to Albania. Note that Italian paratroopers will be the second Airborne troops to make a Military Combat Jump in World War Two, in 1941, they were dropped on Cephalonia Island. In France, since Lt Jean Levassor, who became the first man tu use a parachute device in combat and jumped out from a going down airplane on March 16 1916, development where conducted till 1940 and were stopped with an Operational Paratrooper Battalion. This Elite Battalion will be reactivated in 1942, renamed 1er Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes, sent to England and added into the SAS (Special Air Service).

American paratrooper should be an Air Force Unit (Army Air Corps)! American paratrooper should be an Army Unit (Army Ground Forces)! American paratrooper should be one of our (US Engineer Corps)!. Gen George C. Marshall turned to Maj Gen George A. Lynch and said : George, can you take this over ? Sure and I will pass it over to William Lee. William C. Lee answered : we are late but we have to go ahead; 1st, sent all those material to Lawson Field, create a shelter village and be ready because We Have a Rendez-Vous with Destiny. In June of 1940 a test platoon was formed at Fort Benning with volunteers from the 29th Regiment.

Headquarters Twenty Ninth Infantry (Rifle)
Office of the Regimental Commander

Fort Benning, Georgia
July 1, 1940
Special Orders – N° 127

1. First Lt John Sammons Bell, 29th Infantry Reserve, having been ordered to active duty for a period of fourteen (14) days, effective June 30 1940, and having joined that date, the verbal orders of June 30, 1940 attaching him to Company A 29th Infantry are hereby confirmed and made of record. Unless sooner relieved by proper authority Lieutenant Bell will stand relieved from this attachment July 13, 1940.

2. Pursuant to authority granted by General Orders N° 101 Headquarters, Fort Benning Georgia, 1922, and under the provisions of Section VIII, Amy Regulations 615-360, April 4, 1935, a Board of Officers is appointed to meet at this station at the call of the senior member thereof for the purpose of investigating, making report, and recommendations as to whether or not such persons as may be properly brought before it should be discharged prior to the expiration of their term of enlistment :

Captain Frank G. Davis, 29th Infantry
First Lieutenant Philip S. Gage Jr, 29th Infantry
Second Lieutenant Carl A. Buechner, Jr 29th Infantry

Detail for the Board

3. Pursuant to authority granted by General Orders N°101, Headquarters, Fort Benning, Georgia, 1922, and under the provisions of Section VIII Army Regulations 615-360, April 4, 1935, a Board of Officers is appointed to meet at this station at the call of the senior member thereof for the purpose of investigating, making report, and recommendations as whether or not such persons as may be properly brought before it should be discharged prior to the expiration of their term of enlistment

Detail for the Board

Captain Richard Chase, 29th Infantry
First Lieutenant Francis T. Pachler, 29th Infantry
First Lieutenant Willis R. Crawford, 29th Infantry

4. Private John J. Sullivan, 7087204, having enlisted at this station for this regiment, is assigned to Company F, 29th Infantry, and will report to the company commander thereof for duty.

S.O. #127, Hq., 29th Infantry,July 1,1940, Contd.

5. Pursuant to authority granted by letter Headquarters The Infantry School, file N°580, subject : Test Platoon for duty with Infantry Board, dated July 1, 1940, the following named officer end enlisted men of the 29th Infantry are detailed on special duty with the Infantry Board, Fort Benning, Georgia, and will report to the president thereof for duty :

First Lieutenant William T. Ryder, 29th Infantry
Sergeant John M. Haley, 6375843, Company A,
Sergeant Benedict F. Jacquay, 6657783, Company C,
Sergeant Grady A. Roberts, 6382894, Company D,
Sergeant Robert B. Wade, 6372146, Company F,
Sergeant Norman J. McCullough, 6379058, Company M,
Sergeant Lemuel T. Pitts, 6395609, Company B,
Private Farrish F. Cornelius, 6399726, Headquarters Co,
Private 1cl Specl 6th Cl, Obie C. Wilson, 6966171, Hqs Co,
Private 1cl Specl 6th Cl, Donald L. Colee, 6393903, Serv Co
Private William N. King, 6391164, Hq & Hq Det, 1st Bn,
Private 1cl Addison L. Houston, 6384962, Company A,
Private 1cl Mitchel Guilbeau, 6399296, Company A,
Private 1cl Joseph L. Peters, 6399384, Company A,
Private Thad P. Selman, 6971792, Company B,
Private Hugh A. Tracy, 7003685, Company B,
Private Jules Corbin, 6386052, Company A,
Private Joseph P. Doucet, 6387916, Company C,
Private 1cl Louie E. Davis, 6966798, Company C,
Private 1cl Johnnie A. Ellis, 6967763, Company C,
Private Specl 6th Cl, Robert H. Poudert, 6972398, Co D,
Private Sydney C. Kerksis, 6388134, Company D,
Private 1cl 4th Cl Tyerus F. Adams, xxxxxxx, Company D,
Private 1cl Tullis Nolin, 6927494, Hq & Hq Det, 2nd Bn,
Private 1cl Benjamin C. Reese, 6969901, Company E,
Private 1cl Raymond G. Smith, 6387925, Company E,
Private 1cl Willie F. Brown, 6398865, Company E,
Private 1cl Thurman L. Weaks, 6966916, Company F,
Private 1cl Specl 6th Cl, John M. Kitchens, 6394975, Co F,
Private 1cl Louie O. Skipper, 6963804, Company F,
Private 1cl Specl 6th Cl Alsie L. Rutland, 6963778, Co G,
Private Frank Kasell Jr, 6971611, Company G,
Private Robert E. Shepherd, 6970055, Company G,
Private 1cl Specl 4th Cl, John F. Pursley Jr, 6396514, Co H,
Private 1cl Lest C. McLaney, 6966537, Company H,
Private Specl 6th Cl, Aubrey Eberhardt, 6920642, Co H,
Private Ernest L. Dilburn, 6392470, Hq & Hq Det., 3rd Bn,
Private Leo C. Brown, 6384060, Company I,
Private Specl 6th Cl, Albert P. Robinson, 6972295, Co I,
Private 1cl Floy Brukhalter, 6966963, Company I,
Private 1cl Edward Martin, 6963787, Company K,
Private John O. Modiset, 6395976, Company K,
Private Code E. Barnett Jr, 6928902, Company K
Private John E. Borom, 6393663, Company L,
Private 1cl Specl 6th Cl George W. Ivy, 6399227, Co L,
Private 1cl Specl 4th Cl John A. Ward, 6379123, Company L,
Private Sepcl 6th Cl Steve Voils Jr, 6967738, Company M,
Private Specl 6th Cl Richard J. Kelly, 6928566, Company L,
Private Bura M. Tisdale, 6394981, Company M,

added manually
Private Charles M. Wilson (?) (050 ?)

Special Order #127 cont.,

6. The following named enlisted men of the 29th Infantry, from companies as indicated opposite their names, are relieved from special duty with Recruit School, 29th Infantry, and will report to their respective company commanders for duty :

Sergeant Clarence J. Mathes, 6346954, C Co,
Sergeant Benedict F. Jacquay, 6657783, C Co,
Sergeant Max R. Grigg, 6385278, E Co,
Sergeant Reddie Smith, 6386301, F Co,
Sergeant Julian F. Dey, R-2131654, L Co,
Corporal James H. Davis, 6921421, C Co,
Corporal Richard M. Veale, 6308768, D Co,
Corporal Harold L. Pilcher, 6363024, E Co,
Corporal Woodrow W. Simms, 6927511, E Co,
Corporal Andy J. Brown, 6373211, E Co,
Corporal Elmo Edwards, 6373692, F Co,
Corporal Adam P. LeCompte, 6396044, F Co,
Corporal Elmer E. Cox, 6361753, F Co,
Corporal Paul H. Lee, 6382812, G Co,
Corporal Jay H. Mann Jr, 6397181, G Co,
Corporal Robert H. Sutton, 6386503, H Co,
Corporal Bennie F. Bowdoin, 6927648, I Co,
Private 1cl Specl 6th Cl Madison I. Wallace, 6372531, G Co,
Private 1cl Horace W. Gladney, 6967893, I Co,
Corporal Clyde W. Pierce, 6922484, G Co,

7. At their own request, and with the approval of their respective organization commanders, the following named enlisted men of the 29th Infantry are reduced to the grade of Pvt, without prejudice :

Coporal Farrish F. Cornelius, 6399726, KQ Co, (TP)
Corporal William N. King, 6391164 HHQ Det, 1st Bn, (TP)
Corporal Joseph E. Doucet, 6387916, C Co, (TP)
Corporal Ernest L. Dilburn, 6392470, HHQ Det, 3rd Bn, (TP)
Corporal Leo C. Brown, 6384060, I Co, (TP)
Corporal John E. Borom, 6393663, L Co, (TP)

By order of Colonel Griswold (1) :
William H. Craig
1st Lt 29th Infantry

Parachute test Platoon Photos


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