In 1783, French inventor Louis Sebastien, became the first person to complete a parachute jump. Sebastien's parachute was very different from those utilized today, as the chute was already open when the Frenchman attempted his jump. With the invention of the airplane in the early 1900s, the need for a compact and contained parachute arose. World War I, the first real war where the various warring parties utilized airplanes, created an even greater need for a more modern parachute. The United States Air Corps established a parachute development center at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio. This center began operation in 1918, the second year of American involvement in World War I. D. Floyd Smith, who was assigned to McCook Field, designed a modern parachute. Smith's chute was enclosed in a pack that was easily wearable by pilots in the small plane cockpits of this time period. The pilot would jump from the plane and then deploy the chute, allowing the airman to fall slowly and safely to the ground.

The first emergency parachute jump also took place at McCook Field. On October 20, 1922, Lieutenant Harold R. Harris, Chief of the Flying Section of McCook Field, had to jump from his plane after his control stick malfunctioned and forced Harris's plane to enter a nosedive. Harris jumped from his plane at approximately 2,500 feet and deployed his parachute at approximately five hundred feet. The pilot landed safely in a grape arbor, while his plane crashed approximately one block away. The plane, a Loening PW-2A, was completely destroyed.

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