If you’re considering skydiving, you may have found yourself wondering what on earth would possess someone to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. That might lead your mind to ponder who the first person was to consider doing such a thing. Wonder no more because we are about to give you a little history lesson, starting with the first parachute jump to skydiving as we know it today.
Let’s travel back in time to the 1100s. Here, we find that the Chinese first tried the idea of jumping from a cliff or static object (known today as BASE jumping), but it wasn’t until much later that skydiving came about.
Fast forward a bit to the year 1493. You probably wouldn’t have guessed it but the great artist, Leonardo DaVinci, was also credited with inventing skydiving. While he was known for his impeccable attention to detail, he was also a curious scientist and was credited with creating the first parachute. He is quoted as saying, “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward. For there, you have been, and there you will always long to return.” Leonardo never jumped his parachute design but Adrian Nichols gave it a try in 1999 and it worked! However, he chose to land an alternate parachute so we don’t really know just how well a triangular parachute can be landed.
Now let’s jump to 1797 where we’ll find that the first successful parachute jump was actually made by André-Jacques Garnerin from a hydrogen balloon, 3,200 feet above Paris, France. That must have taken a lot of guts to be the first person to try that!
Moving forward to the early 1900s, credit for the first modern skydive from an airplane is split between Grant Morton and Albert Berry. There is still controversy to this day over who actually jumped first so we may never know the truth. After these pioneers took to the skies, military started using parachutes to access places that were difficult to reach. It was rare that a soldier would jump without some equipment or supplies, so the idea of jumping with weight attached was not new – even before tandem skydiving as we know it was invented. With proof in place that it was possible to jump with cargo, there were discussions around whether it was possible to jump with a human passenger, too. Once the world wars were over, the military parachute equipment was made available to the general public.
Military parachutes were round in shape which made them very difficult to control and jumpers were essentially at the mercy of the wind. In the Sixties, the first square parachute was invented by Domina Jalbert and it became known as the Jalbert Parafoil. This invention significantly advanced skydiving to what we know it today. In the early 1980s, solo skydives were taking place for sport but tandem skydiving was still being tested. However, the FAA (Federation Aviation Administration) waived the experimental status and the United States Parachute Association (USPA) gave it sport status in the 1980s, making it possible for drop zones to offer tandem skydives to their customers. In 1991, the movie Point Break made skydiving more mainstream and dropzones around the country started seeing a spike in business.
Today, tandem skydiving is the most popular way to experience skydiving for the first time (although it’s not the only way). While everyone gets nervous to jump out of an airplane, skydiving has come a long way from what it once was. If you’ve always been curious, now’s the time to give skydiving a try so you can see for yourself why people have been drawn to it for centuries.
The largest tandem skydiving center near Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland.