Everyone likes a grim story so here is one.
The early days of flight were rather dangerous. Lots of people died because the planes were so dangerously weak. The first ideas for parachutes were developed during the Italian Renaissance, most notably by Leonardo da Vinci. They were worked on and off over the next three or four hundred years but the advent of the balloon and then the aircraft incentivised their development.
It’s just gone the one hundredth anniversary of one attempt to prove a parachute design.
Franz Reichelt was a French tailor, inventor and parachuting erm… enthusiast.
He had trialled some parachute designs with dummies and these had suggested to him that he might be on the right lines but he couldn’t get any designs to work with people. To be fair to Franz, he did experiment on himself. He managed to escape injury in one trial by jumping into a pile of hay but broke his leg in another. He decided that the problem with his tests were that they simply weren’t from high enough up. A French flying club had recommended that he didn’t take his designs any further but there was no stopping Franz.
I really don’t think that the height is the problem Franz
He asked the police for permission to test his inventions from the Eiffel Tower. It seems that the police thought he was going to use dummies.
When he arrived at the Eiffel Tower Franz seems to have announced that he was going to be testing the parachute himself, much to the horror of his friends who naturally tried to dissuade him. There is even a suggestion that a guard, who had seen plenty of earlier experiments with dummies go wrong, also tried to suggest that this was a bad idea. A very bad idea indeed. Nonetheless, Franz was convinced that he would prove these doubters wrong. So wrong.
Franz on the morning of his attempt
As you can see in the film, and had probably guessed by now, the parachute failed to open and Franz hurtled to his death. It was -7°C that day and the ground was frozen. Despite the hard ground, Franz managed to leave his mark. A six inch deep one.
Here’s a link to the film of Franz’s leap.
It obviously doesn’t go well but is worth a watch anyway. Have a look at the rickety arrangement that has been assembled so he can climb on to the ledge. He doesn’t look too convinced once he gets up there and you can see what a clumsy invention he has invented. How would anyone use that when they’re in a burning, out of control bi-plane? Have a look at the shot when they measure the dent in the ground Franz leaves behind.
To quote a 1912 article in Popular Mechanics “…Franz Reichelt (1879 – 1912), an Austrian tailor who, had been experimenting with a new form of parachute, jumped from the first platform of the Eiffel Tower, 180 feet from the ground. The parachute did not open and Reichelt fell like a stone. His body was a shapeless mass when the police picked it up”