Skydiving As It Used To Be

After
World War Two a skydiving club was established at Thruxton airfield
near Andover in Hampshire, southern England. The British skydiving
Club used old (even then) Jackaroo biplanes, ex military parachutes
and the club members were pioneers who would go on to found other
skydiving clubs, become National Coaches and so on.

Today
we’re quite familiar with square parachutes that glide and perform
like a hang glider, indeed it’s possible to strap an engine to
someone’s back with a propeller in a cage, attach a modern square
parachute to their shoulders and hey presto they can fly. We’re also
accustomed to the idea of buddy jumps where a would-be skydiver, or
someone who just wants a one off experience can be attached to the
front of an experienced jumper and do a minute’s free-fall from
twelve thousand feet on their first jump, often their only jump for
the ‘I’ve done that’ box ticking character.

The
buddy jump is only possible because these days reserve parachutes are
worn on the back as well as the main parachute, which has
traditionally been worn there, this in turn is a result of parachutes
getting smaller and lighter, making it possible for two to be worn
mounted one above the other in a tandem rig as they were originally
called. No need to differentiate today, all kit is like that.

Not
so long ago all parachutes were round, heavy and bulky and reserve
parachutes were worn on the front of the body. Strangely parachuting
as a sport may even have peaked in the nineteen seventies, when this
was still largely the case. In the early nineteen seventies the
Parafoil square parachute became available and even triangular
parachutes based on the Rogallo wing were experimented with, whilst
other companies developed the high performance round with an inverted
apex, extended high pressure area and a myriad of slits, holes and
control lines.

None
of these designs was a hundred percent certain to open without
malfunction, so skydivers used a plain round reserve that was more
than ninety nine percent reliable! The first commercially successful
square parachute was the Strato Star, later followed by a larger
version, the Strato Cloud. Early ‘Stars’ had a reefing system using
lines and rings around the periphery to control the potentially back
breaking opening shock. This was also a complexity that could lead to
a malfunction and it was ordinary sport jumpers who pioneered the use
of a slider which slid down the rigging lines as the parachute opened
to control the opening sequence.

The
slider itself could cause a problem if too large or too small and
sliders with holes in and various designs were experimented with
until reliability was achieved. Today, sport jumpers use square
reserves and are happy to wear them on their backs, where they cannot
see them, nor reach them with their hands, so reliable has the
equipment become.

In
the nineteen seventies experienced sport parachutists generally
jumped high performance rounds and by the end of that decade pretty
much all of them were jumping squares, all students however were
still jumping rounds, usually ex military kit even then. Experienced
jumpers on squares still trusted to round reserves. The accelerated
free-fall course hadn’t been invented and the sponsored jump for
charity was a new trendy innovation.

Both
Britain and America had a plethora of sport parachute clubs and there
were quite a few in Spain, France and elsewhere in Europe not to
mention Australia and other countries. The British Parachute Club at
Thruxton did not survive but the RSA Parachute Club moved to Thruxton
from Blackbushe airport and at its peak in the mid seventies trained
as many as seven thousand new jumpers a year quite something given
the British weather. The other full time club at Peterborough almost
certainly did similar numbers and before long there was a third full
time club at Headcorn in Kent as well as weekend only clubs spread
around the country. For an in depth understanding of the skydiving
scene in the nineteen seventies get a copy of the book ‘Of Land, Sea
And Sky’.

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About sailorsnook

I live on a boat and travel most of the time. I used to be a skydiving instructor, car and motorcycle racer. I ran my own advertising agency for many years. I'm interested in ski-ing and snowboarding, writing, music and dancing, particularly swing dancing. I have plans for a world peace campaign.
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