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This book makes no claim to be a comprehensive history of the development of the modern parachute. Its intention is to provide the younger person with an interest in aviation matters in general, but perhaps with a more specialised or passing interest in parachutes in particular, a general background of historic information. Sufficient elementary technical detail is discussed for a better understanding of the broader subject.
Although the following few chapters largely consider past history, it is not to say that its intention is just of historic and archive value only. An interest in history is a quite valid occupation and indeed it has been quoted by none other than Marital (40 -104 AD) who said – he lives doubly who also enjoys the past – . However, only through an understanding of what has gone before can one expect to look to and provide for the future in the fullest measure.
The words spoken by the Ven. G. R. Renowden, Chaplain-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force during the 1987 Battle of Britain Commemorative Service in Westminster Abbey are particularly valid in connection with parachutes when he said No age stands isolated and alone; Whether we like it or not we are debtors to the past. It ill becomes individuals or nations to become indifferent to the history that has formed theirs – .
Thus the following chapters attempt in some small way to fill in a some background about those that have gone before and for the benefit of a future generation some of whom quite literally will be endeavouring to reach, as the motto of the Royal Air Force translates, Through hardship to the stars.
Perhaps one may also consider the meaning of the words the modern parachute in the present discussions. According to English dictionary definition the word modern means just now or pertaining to the present therefore what has been described as the modern parachute can equally describe Garnerins parachute of 1817 – for it was modern to his contemporaries – as it can describe parachute devices today, – in the early 1990s. which can often look much different from the modern parachutes of the mid-20th century.
The real element of the parachute is of course the sky, which for all intents and purposes, is limitless. For those whose interest centres on parachutes that too can be limitless and one may finally quote the words of Leonardo da Vinci from the 16th century saying – For once you have tasted flight you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward; For there you have been and there you long to return – . How true, but one may well ask also How did he know? Part of the Foreward by Alex Henshaw M.B.E. The concept of the parachute in one form or another has of course been known to man for centuries. It is the advent of the aeroplane with which it is usually associated however that posed its most serious problems. If the concept was logical and comparatively easy, the perfection proved to be at times extremely difficult and dangerous. To encase a large, bulky canopy into a small manageable pack, to fit this onto a cumbersome pilot in a confined cockpit, to expect the pilot, possibly injured, to evacuate with speed and for the parachute to unfailingly open safely before plummeting into the ground, required years of work in design, construction, inventiveness and live testing before 100% could be achieved.
Leslie Irvin may not have been the inventor of the parachute, but I feel it is fair to say that his contribution to the perfection and development in its various modes exceeded that made by any individual or country.I personally owe a great debt to Leslie Irvin. During the early 1930s my father and I were flying with him over the Kent coast in his luxuriously comfortable Stinson Reliant, when in a most articulate and convincing manner he expounded his views, faith and confidence in the products he was then beginning to fabricate in the new factory in the United Kingdom. With the naive brashness of youth, I had previously brush