Have you ever felt like jumping out of a plane? Plenty of people have, but thankfully most of them did it after the invention of the parachute.
In fact parachutes were invented long before aeroplanes. In 852 in Moorish Spain, Armen Firman jumped from a tall tower using a cloak on a wooden frame and lived to tell the tale.
Leonardo da Vinci designed a parachute in the 1480s, though he didn’t try it out. Croatian inventor Faust Vran’de jumped using a similar design in 1617.
These early parachutes didn’t catch on because there weren’t any flying machines around to make them really useful. In 1783, around the same time as the first hot-air balloon, Sebastien Lenormand invented a parachute, which he demonstrated by jumping from a tree, but it was only four meters high. A few years later, having refined his design, he successfully jumped from a tower.
In 1785 Jean Pierre Blanchard used a dog to test his parachute design. The dog was fine, and so was Blanchard when he used the parachute in 1793 to escape a balloon accident.
Up until then, parachute designs used a wooden frame. In 1797 Andre Jacques Garnerin jumped from a balloon over 900 m high using a frameless parachute much more like the modern-day kind, made of folded silk. Since then parachutes have saved thousands of lives. Some strange people even use them to jump out of planes for fun.
The minimum age for doing a parachute jump is 16 in the UK (and then you still need written parental consent), so for the time being you’ll just have to simulate a parachute jump by making your own parachute instead.
a large handkerchief (approximately 30 cm square), string, scissors, an action figure
WHAT TO DO
Tie a small knot in each corner of the handkerchief.
Cut four equal lengths of string (about 40 cm) and tie each bit of string to a corner of the handkerchief, above the knots.
Gather the loose ends of the strings together and tie them together in a knot.
Now you need to fasten on an action figure. Don’t pick a really heavy action figure – you might need to experiment with different weights.
It’s time to test your parachute. You may find that you need to drop the parachute from a greater height if it doesn’t open properly the first time.
Did the parachute work first time? Try dropping your parachute from different heights to find out which produces the best result.
Cocking up: Robert Cocking was the first person to die in a parachute accident when the parachute he had designed himself failed to open in 1837. His fatal mistake was in forgetting to include the parachute’s weight in his calculations.