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So, Who Thought Jumping From 15,000 Feet in the Air Was a Good Idea?

Skydiving is one of the most popular and exhilarating sports in the world – but who came up with the idea of the free fall? We’re taking you on a ride through history and sharing the interesting past of skydiving that led it to becoming the sport it is today.

Jumping to Earth

Humans are meant to live on the earth – not in the water, not in the sky. Otherwise, we most likely would have developed wings like birds or fins and lungs like water dwelling species. So why do constantly look to push the boundaries of what is humanly possible? 

Why do we, as a both as a species and individually, push the human body to the absolute limits- and then look to go even further?

The thrill, the excitement, the danger, the feeling of doing something seemingly impossible to others. Sometimes even the fame and fortune are all reasons, but it largely depends on each individual person to come up with their own reasoning.

But who came up with the idea of flying in a plane, ten of thousands of feet into the air…and then jumping back down to earth?

While you might be thinking that skydiving is a relatively new sport, it actually has ancient origins (and no, aliens did not help, in any way…that we know of…just kidding!).

Skydiving Is Older Than You Know

You’re probably thinking that skydiving came into mind sometime after planes were invented, say about in the last 120 years or so, right?  That’s a normal guess, but you’d be wrong. 

The idea of jumping from the sky and using a parachute-like device has been documented in human history since 83 BC by Sima Qian. Qian is regarded as the father of Chinese history, and his story is of a young boy – a future emperor – who was cast out of his home by his murderous family. Trying to evade death, he found himself at the top of a tall building that his siblings set on fire. Using a makeshift parachute out of hats and canvas, he jumped from the building and flew to the ground, and eventually regained control of his birthright. 

While the legitimacy of this legend has been called into question as there is no other proof that it ever occurred other than in Quan’s writings, it does show that us humans have always been fascinated by flying in the air, and that our ancestors were completely badass when it comes to creating the first “extreme sports”.

When were the first blueprints for a parachute created? Well, we have one of the most famous creators in the world to thank for that…

Leonardo daVinci. 

Flipping through the pages of history to 1485, Leonardo DaVinci sketched the first drawings of what a parachute would look like, and how it would function. However, it wouldn’t be until 515 years later in 2000 that his parachute was brought to life by Adrian Nicholas, who created an exact replica of DaVinci’s blueprint. 

Weighting a mere 184 pounds and made from rope, wood and canvas, Adrian Nicholas made a 10,000-foot jump – but cut away at 7,000 feet to use a regular parachute to make a safe landing. Still quite a cool “full circle” moment, and we’re sure that DaVinci would’ve been pretty excited to know that this far into the future people still study his work and that his thoughts impact people over 500 years later.

Now that we’ve explored the first mentions of using parachutes – who actually performed the first jump? That moment can be traced to France in 1797, when Andre-Jacques Garnerin made the first parachute descent with a canvas canopy and a small basket – but it was still attached to a hot air balloon. He had guts, that’s for sure, and is credited with the first skydiving style jump. 

1919, 16 years after the Wright Brother’s made their successful first flight, Leslie Irvin (no, not the serial killer) made the first recorded free fall jump using a ripcord. 

Born in 1865 and with an avid interest in aviation but more so with parachute innovation, Irvin formed his own parachute company the same year he landed the first free fall jump. In 1939, his company had grown to include six different factories, and eventually turned into today’s Airborne Systems.  


Now, we are leading into the time when skydiving exploded: WWII  

Leslie Irvin’s parachute innovation became revolutionary. Skydiving didn’t start out just as a fun activity or sport. During WWII, canopies were made of silk from Japan. Irvin saw an opportunity within the current geopolitical state of the world and the possibility of innovation within the skydiving world, by creating nylon canopies intending, which increased wind resistance, added good elasticity and was more cost-effective than silk. 

WWII impacted nearly everything across the world, and the ability to have solider jump from planes tens of thousands of feet into the air into war zones changed the course of the second world war, and of course, impacted how different military operations happened from that point all the way to our current lifetimes.

Of course, once the military realized what a game changer skydiving was as a tactical move, they invested heavily in all aspects. From furthering the skills, techniques and equipment needed, skydiving didn’t just continue as a military advantage, but as a global activity after the war.


From Tactical Move to Sport

Soldiers continued to skydive after leaving the military, and it became increasingly popular among civilians and spread across the world like wildfire. From adrenaline junkies, veterans, athletes and people from all walks of life were attracted to death defying activity.

However, skydiving was mostly something that veterans and soldiers partispated in, and officially became a sport in 1952. It wasn’t until the ‘60s that it became something that civilians started to take part of, as that is when some of the first non-military drop zones and non-military training methods came to be.

Since the 60s, skydiving is literally one of the most popular extreme sports in the world. With around 350,000 in the US people complete more than 3 million jumps in a typical year today, more and more people are taking it up a cool activity, or as a professional sport. Across the globe there are countless associations, sports events and competitions being held every year, and the community is growing daily. 

Got questions about skydiving and don’t know where to start? Check out our The Most Burning Skydiving Questions—Answered!


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