The Early Days of the Parachute

The parachute, an innovation that has saved so many lives, was not invented by an aerospace engineer. Rather, the modern backpack parachute was patented by a Russian actor in 1911. Gleb Kotelnikov felt compelled to do something after he saw a pilot die during an air show in St. Petersburg.

Kotelnikov’s innovation came with the realization that for a parachute to save lives, it had to meet two primary qualifications: it had to always be with the pilot –ideally, it would be attached to him in some way– and it had to open automatically – presumably to protect the pilot if he lost consciousness. He developed several prototypes that met these qualifications, including a parachute helmet, a parachute belt, and a parachute attached to several points of the body via an elaborate harness. Eventually he came up a working model for a stable parachute in a hard knapsack that would be attached to the pilot by a harness. He dubbed the invention the RK-1 (Russian Kotelnikov 1). The RK-1 was attached to the plane by static line that would pull the chute open once the pilot reached the proper distance from the aircraft, but it could also be opened manually by pulling a cord.

But the Russian military resisted using Kotelnikov's invention, because they thought it would encourage pilots to abandon malfunctioning planes -which would be a waste of planes! But eventually, the innovation spread all over the world. Read how it happened at Design Decoded. Link

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