Bush parachuted out of the torpedo
bomber airplane that he piloted when it was hit by the Japanese and
caught fire over the South Pacific during World War II in 1944. When
he bailed out of his plane, he pulled the parachute rip cord too
quickly and hit the tail of the plane. He was later picked up out of
the water by a Navy submarine.
Two of Lt. Bush's crew members died on
that fateful flight. One man bailed out but his parachute failed to
open, while Bush either thought the other man had already bailed out
or that he was wounded or dead when he didn't answer his intercom.
Either way, he went down with the airplane.
According to the U.S. Veterans Dispatch
website, a man named Chester Mierzejewski, who was approximately 100
feet in front of Bush's plane when Bush parachuted out of it -- "so
close he could see in the cockpit" of Bush's bomber -- claimed that
the future president could have avoided losing his crew members by
crash-landing the plane in the water, rather than parachuting out of
it as it began to burn over the Pacific Ocean. Mierzejewski broke
his silence about his version of the story in 1988; in Bush's
defense, one can only wonder how hard it would be to respond in that
type of situation, with events unfolding at lightning speed with no
time to spare.
invented the parachute?
As is the case with many inventions,
there's more than one inventor who contributed to it. Leonardo da
Vinci first conceived of the idea in 1483. It's believed that the
ancient Chinese also created sketches of what a parachute might look
Legend has it that sometime around
1794, Frenchman Jeanne Pierre Francois Blanchard, who was the first
person to fly a hot-air balloon in America, built the first
parachute and tested it using a dog. Blanchard's testing is
unsubstantiated and may or may not be true, but it is true that his
wife worked as air service chief for Napoleon when he planned to
attack England with an invasion of hot-air balloons.
A Frenchman named Andre Garnerin made
the first parachute jump in 1797. Garnerin would charge fair goers
to see him make a parachute jump from his hot-air balloon and then
skip town before it was time to jump. One day, before he could
escape with their money, the authorities were called and, given a
choice of either jumping or going to jail, Garnerin made his first
jump, becoming the world's first parachutist. His parachute was
based on da Vinci's original design and consisted of a silk pyramid
tent with a wicker basket hung from it.
[to top of
second column in this article]
Capt. Thomas Baldwin and his brother
improved the parachute in 1885. They tested their design by using
weighted sandbags from nearby cliffs (rather than their dog) and
later used the parachute for the jumps Thomas made from a hot-air
balloon. He became known as the "father of the modern parachute,"
but he and his brother never patented their parachute because they
didn't think it would catch on with others. Baldwin later designed
the first dirigible for the Navy as well as his own airplane, the
The arrival of the Wright brothers'
airplane in 1903 expanded the use of parachutes beyond hot-air
Stefan Banic, a Slovakian inventor
who immigrated to Greenville, Pa.,
in 1907, invented the
parachute that is used in airplanes today. According to
Slovakopedia.com, he made a prototype and tested it by jumping from
a 41-floor building in 1913 and from an airplane in 1914.
He was awarded U.S. Patent
1,108,484 during the same
week that the great war began in 1914 (at the time, World War I was
known as "The Great War" because it was the only world war at that
point in history).
Banic's parachute was used by U.S.
pilots during the war.
impact of the parachute
In addition to all the lives that the
modern parachute has saved since its introduction in 1914, we
wouldn't have heard of the men who became our 41st and 43rd
presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, without it.
You can see
what da Vinci's parachute would have looked like by following a
Paul Niemann is a contributing
author to Inventors' Digest magazine, and he also runs
building websites for inventors. He can be reached at
Paul Niemann 2003
column in LDN:
more invention myths"