The devices retarding the falling of bodies were mentioned as early as nearly two thousand years ago. A Chinese emperor by name of Shun got down from a rooftop by means of two oversized rush hats.
Famous travellers, such as Magellan, Marco Polo and others, wrote that they had witnessed some Africans jumping from tall trees and hills with the help of large umbrellas.
Roger Bacon, the famous 13 th - century monk, and scientist was the first to formulate the principal idea of the apparatus that was to retard free-falling bodies in the air.
Leonardo da Vinci, the great Italian artist, scientist and architect with almost mathematical precision forecast the look of parachutes (i.e. their quadrate configuration).
In 1783, French physicist Louis Sebastian Lenorman tested his invention descending by it from the balcony of Monpelier observatory. The invention, which made possible to fall slowly in the air, he called "parachute" translated from French "counterfalling". This word is widely used till today. For nearly a century parachute jumping with its unusual and impressive air tricks was a sort of entertainment for crowds. American parachutist Charles Lerois came to Russia in the summer of 1889. He made his first balloon descent in St.Petersburg.
Aeronaut and parachute jumper Joseph Drevnitsky won great popularity in Russia. A son of rich parents, he studied law and spoke several foreign languages. To make his son "get down to earth" his father disinherited him. But that did not stop Drevnitsky for he was a real fanatic of parachute jumping and taught his brother and Olga Drevnitsky, his brother's wife, ballooning and parachute jumping. She took it up in 1895 and is the first Russian woman-parachutist.
Before pilots learn how to leave aircrafts in the air, air-flying took the toll of quite a number of outstanding people. American lieutenant Selridge, who perished in 1908, was the first victim among the conquerors of the air. By 1909 the number of victims had totalled three. And in 1912 they exceeded 130 men. It became quite obvious that man had to ensure his safety with some life-saving device. This device became known as parachute. At first it was very cumbersome and had to be fastened in an opened position to a basket of a balloon. It was necessary to construct quite a different type of parachute to be light, compact, encased in a parapack and reliable. At first most parachute designers considered it to be hardly possible for a canopy to open in the air without the aid of some special devices, such as an umbrella spokes, compressed air or powder explosive charges. In 1909 German designer Wasser came out with his idea of a parachute very much resembling a large umbrella. One should have only pulled a cord, when springs would have immediately unfolded and a pilot taken out of a cockpit by the force of the contrary current of air. The parachute designed by Bonnes had a special rubber tube being filled with a compressed air, stretched the edges of a canopy. In 1912 Alphonse Robert constructed a parachute, the spokes of which were made of a piano strings.
Along with other countries Russia proceeded with theoretical and practical research works in this field. Already in 1856 K.Konstantinov, famous for his works on artillery, published articles dealing with parachutes, in which he wrote about the specific features of their design and came out with some theoretical calculations.
It is considered that the first parachute balloon jump from the height of 800 meters was made in March 1912 by American captain Albert Berry who had already had quite a number of parachute jumps.
Meanwhile there was an obvious decrease of interest in parachute constructing because of rather tempting idea of providing safety measures to an aircraft itself. By that time a real parachute had already been constructed. It was designed by Russian actor Gleb Kotelnikov. Having witnessed the tragic death of a talented Russian pilot Lev Matsivich and been shocked by it, he became really obsessed with the idea of constructing a parachute, to which he devoted several years of his life as well as all his personal savings. In 1911 he applied for a patent to the Committee on Inventions granted to him in France under the number 438612.
That is how he summarized the working principle of his parachute:" The working principle of the apparatus is as follows:
in case of emergency a pilot, wearing it on its back, could throw himself out of an aircraft, opening a knapsack by pulling a cord attached to its lock. In case of an unexpected fall the device can work quite automatically. For that purpose the lock of the parapack is connected with a carriage of an aircraft by means of a cord which would open the lock of a parapack being stretched under the weight of a falling man ". At first G.Kotelnikov called his invention a safety apparatus, a knapsack-parachute and later on it got the name of RK-1 (Russian, Kotelnikov, Model 1).
Parachutes of different design and construction were far from being perfect. In spite of a great number of drawbacks, they were widely used during World War I when 64 parachute jumps were made on all Russian fronts (all with the parachute designed by Juckmais). 36 of them were made when pilots tried to save themselves, i.e. those were the emergency jumps. According to newspapers, about 800 men saved their lives with the help of a parachute at all the Allied fronts.
Taking a closer look at the process of construction and improving different models of parachutes designed by G.Kotelnikov it becomes clear that it was he who was the first to accomplish almost all his principles, special features and requirements characteristic of modern parachutes. It could hardly be denied that G.Kotelnikov can be considered the first designer of a modern aircraft life-saving parachute. No doubt, there were other similar parachute modifications, but none of them met the necessary requirements. There were several famous names of those engaged in parachute construction in the USA. Among them Floyde Smith, Hoffmann and Leslie Irwin.
In 1926 Russian Air Forces Research Center bought the best foreign-made samples of parachutes and put them to comparative test. The majority of them were considered to be defective. The only one of them that met all the necessary requirement was a non-automatic parachute designed by Irwin. No matter how difficult it was for Russia at that time, it somehow managed to find necessary gold currency for purchasing about 1.800 parachutes of this design.
Later on a great number of different parachute systems were worked out and introduced by Russian parachute designers Nikolai Lobanov, Igor Glushkov and others. The horizontal velocity of an aircraft continued to increase. Parachutes of the earliest design did not meet the requirements of the day and became obsolete. It was then that Lobanov designed a parachute of a rather original construction, which apart from its square canopy, had a lot of other merits.
Being widely used by the Russian Army during World War II, the parachute of this design saved of many pilots. Subsequently Nikolai Lobanov, Dr.Sc. and the Laureate of many prizes has become at the top of Russian parachute designers
From early of twenties some investigators (Jones R, Taylor and the others) begun to study shapes and fabric stress of an inflated parachute under the steady descent (for infinite number of suspention lines). In thirties essential contribution was done by works of Lebedev N.V., Lobanov I.A., Churikov F.S., Rakhmatulin Kh.A., on experimental study, elaboration of calculation and principles of parachute construction. Later the works had been done, in which canopy was considered as surface of revolution, which a finite number of lines attached to it. Equations for calculation of fabric stress were obtained by Stevens G.W., Jones R., Duncan W.J., Richard G.J.. In Russia academician Rakhmatulin Kh.A. accomplished great contribution to theoretical investigations. He was the first who solved the problem of shape and stress distribution along round canopy.
In America a well-known scientist Heinrich H.G., has done many useful papers. At present a lot of different theoretical works and branches exist. But it is a separate question. Many interesting and useful information about different parachutes can be read in a number of books by Dan Poynter and Theodor Knacke.