Skydive Key West Presents the History of Skydiving

Parachute jumping is an old idea, but it took centuries for the activity to grow into skydiving, a sport we enjoy today for the thrill, pleasure, and challenge it provides.

Ancient Chinese drawings show people using the principles of parachuting to descend from tall towers and other heights beneath umbrella- and kite-like constructions. One story tells of an emperor’s son, imprisoned in a high tower by his father, using two large conical bamboo hats for a safe jump to freedom. And there is evidence of 12th century Chinese adventurers using make-shift parachutes to jump from cliffs in an early form of what is now called base jumping.

Parachuting Innovators

During the 15th century Renaissance period, true parachute designs begin to emerge in manuscripts and drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, Fausto Veranzio, and others. These early ideas revolved around using various styles of wooden framework to hold open a cloth canopy, with a harness or suspension system attached to the frame.

On June 26th 2000, skydiver Adrian Nicholas used a replica of the da Vinci chute to jump from 10,000 feet. The chute worked, but at 7,000 feet Nicholas wisely cut away from the 187-pound Renaissance canopy and landed with a modern parachute.

The first frameless parachute was used by Andre’ Jacques Garnerin, a French balloonist interested in devising a way to escape from a failing hot-air balloon. In 1797, Garnerin was documented using a canvas parachute attached to a small basket to descend from a balloon approximately 2,000 feet above Paris.

On April 28 1919, Hollywood stuntman and parachutist Leslie Irvin made the world’s first free-fall jump using a rip-cord activated parachute. A year later, Irvin launched the world’s first parachute manufacturing company, then introduced the first nylon parachute during WWII.

A Sport Grows

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, parachuting continued to develop, mostly as a stunt displayed at fairs and airshows. The earliest skydiving competitions were held in the 1930s. At the same time, parachutes were being adopted for military purposes, first as a means of escape from WWI observation balloons that came under attack by enemy fighter planes.

The military soon developed techniques for dropping troops into battle via parachute, and Italian assault troops conducted the first operational jump in August 1918 during WWI. In the 1960s, work began on using freefall from high altitude as a way to insert soldiers into a particular area undetected. The civilian sport of skydiving grew roughly in parallel, in many cases practiced by former military jumpers.

Tandem Skydiving

The concept of dropping more than one person under a single canopy arose out of military interest in having men jump with heavy equipment loads and sending non-jump-qualified personnel down along with paratroopers. By the late 1970s, civilian jumpers were also experimenting with early versions of the tandem jump.

On January 15 1983, Ricky Meadows and Ted Strong successfully jumped the first ever dedicated tandem skydive system. A year later, Strong Enterprises received the first FAA exemption allowing tandem jumps as an experimental instructional method. The company introduced the Dual Hawk Tandem System, which revolutionized the sport by allowing trainees and other non-skydivers to experience a jump while attached to a specially-qualified instructor.

Join in the Fun!

Today the United States Parachute Association counts over 40 thousand members, and roughly 3.3 million jumps were made in 2019. Over a million successful tandem skydives have also been completed. By making the sport more accessible, tandem skydiving has driven the development of parachute technology and supported a growing number of skydive drop zones.

Sky Dive Key West has been proud to offer the excitement and joy of tandem skydiving to Key West visitors for over 20 years. Our safety record is perfect, and our customer service has earned consistent 5-star ratings. Freefall into paradise in one of the world’s most scenic skydive locations – contact Skydive Key West at 305-396-8806 or [email protected] to reserve your jump now.