Parachute is a cloth canopy which fills with air and allows a person or heavy object attached to it to descend slowly when dropped from an aircraft, or which is released from the rear of an aircraft on landing to act as a brake.
A parachute is usually made of a light, strong fabric. Early parachutes were made of silk. The most common fabric today is nylon. A parachute’s canopy is typically dome-shaped, but some are rectangles, inverted domes, and other shapes.
The oldest modern parachute was designed in the 1470s in Renaissance Italy to help people escape from burning buildings.
Just a decade later, Leonardo da Vinci created an improved pyramidal design, which was successfully tested in 2000 and multiple times later on.
The Venetian polymath and inventor Fausto Veranzio or Faust Vrančić (1551–1617) examined da Vinci’s parachute sketch and kept the square frame but replaced the canopy with a bulging sail-like piece of cloth that he came to realize decelerates a fall more effectively. A now-famous depiction of a parachute that he dubbed Homo Volans (Flying Man), showing a man parachuting from a tower, presumably St Mark’s Campanile in Venice, appeared in his book on mechanics, Machinae Novae (“New Machines”, published in 1615 or 1616), alongside a number of other devices and technical concepts.
The modern parachute was invented in the late 18th century by Louis-Sébastien Lenormand in France, who made the first recorded public jump in 1783. Lenormand also sketched his device beforehand.
Two years later, in 1785, Lenormand coined the word “parachute” by hybridizing an Italian prefix para, an imperative form of parare = to avert, defend, resist, guard, shield or shroud, from paro = to parry, and chute, the French word for fall, to describe the aeronautical device’s real function.
In 1797, Andrew Garnerin became the first person recorded to jump with a parachute without a rigid frame. Garnerin jumped from hot air balloons as high as 8,000 feet in the air. Garnerin also designed the first air vent in a parachute intended to reduce oscillations.
In 1907 Charles Broadwick demonstrated two key advances in the parachute he used to jump from hot air balloons at fairs: he folded his parachute into a backpack and the parachute was pulled from the pack by a static line attached to the balloon. When Broadwick jumped from the balloon, the static line became taut, pulled the parachute from the pack, and then snapped.
In 1911 a successful test took place with a dummy at the Eiffel tower in Paris. The puppet’s weight was 75 kg (165 lb) – the parachute’s weight was 21 kg (46 lb). The cables between puppet and the parachute were 9 m (30 ft) long. On February 4, 1912, Franz Reichelt jumped to his death from the tower during initial testing of his wearable parachute.
The first military use of the parachute was by artillery observers on tethered observation balloons in World War I. These were tempting targets for enemy fighter aircraft, though difficult to destroy, due to their
heavy anti-aircraft defenses. Because it was difficult to escape from them, and dangerous when on fire due to their hydrogen inflation, observers would abandon them and descend by parachute as soon as enemy aircraft were seen.
Most parachutes were made of silk until World War II cut off supplies from Japan. After Adeline Gray made the first jump using a nylon parachute in June 1942, the industry switched to nylon.
Parachute jumping as a sport began in the 1960s when new “sports parachutes” were first designed. The parachute above drive slots for greater stability and horizontal speed.
On August 16, 1960, Joseph Kittinger, in the Excelsior III test jump, set the previous world record for the highest parachute jump. He jumped from a balloon at an altitude of 102,800 feet (31,333 m) (which was also a piloted balloon altitude record at the time). A small stabilizer chute deployed successfully, and Kittinger fell for 4 minutes and 36 seconds, also setting a still-standing world record for the longest parachute free-fall, if falling with a stabilizer chute is counted as free-fall. At an altitude of 17,500 feet (5,300 m), Kittinger opened his main chute and landed safely in the New Mexico desert. The whole descent took 13 minutes and 45 seconds. During the descent, Kittinger experienced temperatures as low as −94 °F
(−70 °C). In the free-fall stage, he reached a top speed of 614 mph (988 km/h or 274 m/s), or Mach 0.8.
According to Guinness World Records, Yevgeni Andreyev, a colonel in the Soviet Air Force, held the official FAI record for the longest free-fall parachute jump (without drogue chute) after falling for 24,500 m (80,380 ft) from an altitude of 25,457 m (83,523 ft) near the city of Saratov, Russia on November 1, 1962, until broken by Felix Baumgartner in 2012.
Felix Baumgartner broke Joseph Kittinger’s record on October 14, 2012, with a jump from an altitude of 127,852 feet (38,969.3 m) and reaching speeds up to 833.9 mph (1,342.0 km/h or 372.8 m/s), or nearly Mach 1.1. Kittinger was an advisor for Baumgartner’s jump.
On 24 October 2014, after ascending to a height of 41,422 m (135,898.68 ft) above Roswell, New Mexico, USA, attached to a helium-filled balloon, Google’s Senior Vice President Alan Eustace (USA) was released to set a new exit altitude record, as verified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) on 14 April 2015.
The smallest parachute canopy used for a jump measures 3.25 m² (35 ft²), landed by Ernesto Gainza (Venezuela), in Dubai, UAE, on 5 April 2014.