Classic History Books


William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

through being enveloped in dense fog; hour after hour went by, until at length dawn revealed a
densely-wooded tract of country with which they were entirely unfamiliar. They decided to land, and

they were greatly surprised to find that they had reached Weilburg, in Nassau, Germany. The whole

journey of 500 miles had been made in eighteen hours.

Probably no British aeronaut has made more daring and exciting ascents than Mr. Green - unless it be a
member of the famous Spencer family, of whom we speak in another chapter. It is said that Mr. Green

went aloft over a thousand times, and in later years he was accompanied by various passengers who were

making ascents for scientific purposes. His skill was so great that though he had numerous hairbreadth

escapes he seldom suffered much bodily harm. He lived to the ripe old age of eighty-five.

 

CHAPTER VI. The Parachute

No doubt many of those who read this book have seen an aeronaut descend from a balloon by the aid of a
parachute. For many years this performance has been one of the most attractive items on the programmes

of fetes, galas, and various other outdoor exhibitions.

The word "parachute" has been almost bodily taken from the French language. It is derived from the
French parer to parry, and chute a fall. In appearance a parachute is very similar to an enormous

umbrella.

M. Blanchard, one of the pioneers of ballooning, has the honour of first using a parachute, although not
in person. The first "aeronaut" to descend by this apparatus was a dog. The astonished animal was placed

in a basket attached to a parachute, taken up in a balloon, and after reaching a considerable altitude was

released. Happily for the dog the parachute acted quite admirably, and the animal had a graceful and

gentle descent.

Shortly afterwards a well-known French aeronaut, M. Garnerin, had an equally satisfactory descent, and
soon the parachute was used by most of the prominent aeronauts of the day. Mr. Cocking, a well-known

balloonist, held somewhat different views from those of other inventors as to the best form of

construction of parachutes. His idea was that a parachute should be very large and rather heavy in order

to be able to support a great weight. His first descent from a great height was also his last. In 1837,

accompanied by Messrs. Spencer and Green, he went up with his parachute, attached to the Nassau

balloon. At a height of about a mile the parachute was liberated, but it failed to act properly; the inventor

was cast headlong to earth, and dashed to death.

From time to time it has been thought that the parachute might be used for life-saving on the modern
dirigible air-ship, and even on the aeroplane, and experiments have been carried out with that end in

view. A most thrilling descent from an air-ship by means of a parachute was that made by Major

Maitland, Commander of the British Airship Squadron, which forms part of the Royal Flying Corps. The

descent took place from the Delta air-ship, which ascended from Farnborough Common. In the car with

Major Maitland were the pilot, Captain Waterlow, and a passenger. The parachute was suspended from

the rigging of the Delta, and when a height of about 2000 feet had been reached it was dropped over to

the side of the car. With the dirigible travelling at about 20 miles an hour the major climbed over the car

and seated himself in the parachute. Then it became detached from the Delta and shot downwards for

about 200 feet at a terrific rate. For a moment or two it was thought that the opening apparatus had failed

to work; but gradually the "umbrella" opened, and the gallant major had a gentle descent for the rest of

the distance.

 

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