The First Parachute Jump in 1797 -- and a Current Navigation System for Parachuting Commandos in 2011

by Michael on Oct. 22nd, 2011

Descent of Jacques Garnerin with a parachute (1797)
Descent of Jacques Garnerin with a parachute (1797)Courtesy trialsanderrors
On October 22, 1797, André-Jacques Garnerin made the first parachute jump from a balloon floating 2,230 feet above the Parc Monceau in Paris, France.The 23-ft. diameter silk parachute lacked an air vent at the top of the parachute, which resulted in violent oscillations during his descent. As a result, Garnerin also has the dubious honor of the first person to have suffered from airsickness.Diagram of a Parachutist's Wind Cone
Diagram of a Parachutist's Wind ConeCourtesy Chris Rumell
Parachutists of the Marine Corps's 1st Force Reconnaissance Company jump from the back of a C-130
Parachutists of the Marine Corps's 1st Force Reconnaissance Company jump from the back of a C-130Courtesy United States Marine Corps

For several years, parachute jumping was never a precision mission. But now, in 2011, a laptop manufactured by General Dynamics provides an avionics navigation system for HAHO/HALO (High Altitude-High Opening/High Altitude-Low Opening) military parachutists. The software, called GlideLine, calculates the variables of a pre-jump mission and helps the parachutist stay on target as he drops in elevation. GlideLine was designed by the firms Nanohmics Incorporated in Austin, Texas and Complete Parachute Solutions, Inc. in Deland, Florida. On the application, a display shows concentric circles, representing what parachutists call a wind cone. If the parachutist veers outside of the wind cone, he is not going to make his drop zone. When you're parachuting, there is no good way to tell if you're outside of the wind cone ... until now.

GlideLine reads a signal from a GPS device worn by the parachutist and, using latitude/longitude coordinates of the desired landing zone, the software program displays a visualization of the wind cone and the parachutist's relationship to it. This way, the parachutist can can concentrate on the mission on hand, which is not the jump, but the tasks needed to be accomplished once the parachutist reaches the ground.

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