13 January 1917 – Guardian Angel

The parachute has been around since before the war. Everard Richard Calthrop a British railway engineer and inventor patented his first parachute design in 1913. As World War I progressed he continued to develop his parachute. In 1915 he offered it to the Royal Flying Corps. At this point in the war, only balloon observers used parachutes to escape if the balloon was set on fire.

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Collett pre-jump

Tests of the parachute were made from a moving plane. Captain Clive Franklyn Collett, a New Zealander, had been posted to the Experimental Station at Orfordness, Suffolk as a test pilot in June 1916. Today, he made the first jump from a moving aircraft, in this case a BE2c, by parachute and was successful, his “Guardian Angel” fluttering into action at a height of 600 feet – 31 seconds later he was on the ground.

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Collett comes down safely

The design, however, was eventually rejected owing to its weight and cumbersome means of operation from a container under the fuselage. Unofficially, Senior RFC commanders belived that parachutes “might impair the fighting spirit of pilots”.

Calthrop was encouraged to remain quiet about his invention, but faced with increasing losses of pilots he publicised the parachute in 1917. Despite a campaign by some pilots, the Royal Flying Corps declined to introduce parachutes during World War I, although air forces of most other nations did so.

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