EXPLORATIONS - February 20, 2002: Sport Parachuting
By Paul Thompson
EXPLORATIONS -- a program in Special English by the Voice of America.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to jump out of an airplane with only a large round piece of
material to keep you safe? Well, today, you will find out. I'm Shirley Griffith. Ray Freeman and I will describe
the activity known as sport parachuting.
Excitement fills the early morning air as you arrive at the little airport for your lesson in
sport parachuting. First you learn to recognize and name each part of the parachute. You
also learn what each part does.
The excitement builds as your teacher describes each step of the jump from take -off to
landing. He tells you what to do in an emergency. Again and again, he explains the need
By early afternoon, you have completed the schoolwork. Now it is time for your first jump. As you put on the
equipment, you probably begin to think, "Do I really want to do this?" You are excited, of course, but a little
The teacher inspects your equipment. Nothing is loose. Nothing is broken. He asks you questions about safety.
Finally, he smiles and says you are ready.
Then you, two other students and the teacher climb into a small airplane. The pilot makes sure everyone is sitting
down and that no one else is outside near the plane. The plane's engine starts. The pilot moves the plane to the
end of the runway. Moments later, you are climbing into the sky.
The door of the plane has been taken off so you can get out more easily with all the parachute equipment.
Without the door, the engine noise and the wind are very loud. Talking is almost impossible. So you sit there and
think about everything you have learned. You go over each step for a successful and safe jump. You try to put the
fear out of your mind.
While you are thinking, your teacher and the pilot are working. The teacher leans out the door, watching the
ground far below. With one hand he points toward a spot in the sky above your landing area. When the teacher is
satisfied that the plane is flying toward the right place, he shouts:
This means you are getting close to the jump area. When the plane reaches it, your teacher tells the pilot:
"Cut the engine!
The pilot slows the plane's engine. Then the teacher points at you, and says:
"Sit in the door!
Still fighting your fear, you sit in the doorway, with your legs outside the airplane. Then, you get the next
You reach out and hold the wing support. When you have a good, tight hold with both hands, you slide out of the
plane using its wheel as a step. When you reach the right position, you step off the wheel.
Hanging by your hands, you look at your teacher and nod your head. You are ready and waiting for his final
command. You look down at the ground, nine-hundred meters below your feet. The wind from the plane's
propeller feels heavy against your chest.
Then your teacher shouts:
You let go of the wing support and fall away from the plane. You throw your head back, arms out, legs apart, as
you learned. You fall face forward toward the Earth below.
The sound of the engine and the scream of the wind disappear immediately. There is only silence. You feel you
are moving...but not falling.
Quickly, a line tied to the plane pulls the parachute from its pack. The lines of the parachute and the stiff straps of
the parachute harness gently pull on your shoulders and legs.
You look up. The big, colorful parachute is now fully open above you. You look at it carefully to make sure it is
not damaged. Reaching over your head, you hold the left and right steering lines. You pull the left one and begin
a slow, smooth turn to the left.
You still have no feeling of falling. You seem to hang in the air. There is no longer any feeling of fear. Yet your
heart is racing with excitement. You look around. You can see for many kilometers. You look down between
your feet. You can see people, cars and buildings. They look very small.
For a few moments, you enjoy the view and the silence of your first parachute jump.
Too soon, it seems, it is time to prepare for landing. You watch the landing area and move toward it by pulling on
the left or right steering lines. You aim for the soft sand in the center of the landing place.
Suddenly, the ground is moving quickly toward you. You bring your feet together and bend your legs at the knee.
You reach high into the straps above your head. You keep your eyes straight ahead. You hit the ground, gently, it
seems. And, as you learned, you roll on your side to the left and come back up onto your feet.
You gather up your parachute, being careful not to cross the many lines. Your first sport parachute jump has been
safe, successful and great fun.
The idea of the parachute is almost as old as man's dreams of flight. The first known parachute designs were
drawn by Italian artist and inventor Leonardo Da Vinci as early as Fourteen-Ninety-Five. However, there is no
evidence that Da Vinci ever built a parachute.
About two-hundred years ago, Louis-Sebastian Lenormand of France invented a kind of parachute to save people
at the top of tall burning buildings. Historians say he jumped safely from a building in Montpellier, France, using
his small device.
The first man to use a real parachute was Andre-Jacques Garnerin. In Seventeen-Ninety-Seven, he parachuted
from a balloon six-hundred meters above the city of Paris.
There were more and more parachute designs after the invention of the airplane. Early planes often crashed.
Fliers needed a safety device that would let them escape from a falling plane. Parachutes saved many of their
Parachutes became so dependable that military leaders believed they could be used to get soldiers to a battlefield
quickly. American General Billy Mitchell tested the idea in Nineteen-Twenty-Eight. Six soldiers jumped by
parachute from an airplane. When they landed, they set up a machine gun. The test was a complete success. And
the parachute became a useful military tool.
In the past thirty years, parachuting has become an exciting sport. It became popular when young men who
learned to parachute in the military wanted to continue jumping when they returned to civilian life. Today,
parachuting is enjoyed by men and women, young and old.
There are many kinds of sport parachuting. One of the most interesting is skydiving.
Jumpers leave the airplane as it flies more than three-thousand-meters above the ground. They fall for about one
minute before opening their parachute. They use their bodies, and the air that rushes past them, to control their
flight while falling. They can speed up or slow down. They can turn left or right. They can turn over completely.
People who like to skydive say they can do anything an airplane can do, except go up! Those who jump say
skydiving is as close as man will ever come to free flight...like that of birds.
Today's parachutes are very different from the device Leonardo Da Vinci designed five-hundred years ago. They
come in many different shapes and colors.
One of the most popular is shaped more like a rectangle than the traditional circle of old parachutes. This one
works much like a jet airplane. It forces the air that passes through it to the back. Large openings in the back can
be opened or closed to steer it.
Some of the most modern kinds of parachutes give jumpers much more control over where they float. Jumpers
can fall gently down. Or they can travel forward, while falling, at speeds of forty kilometers an hour.
You have been listening to the Special English program, EXPLORATIONS. Your narrators were Shirley Griffith
and Ray Freeman. Our program was written and produced by Paul Thompson. Listen again next week at this time
for another EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.
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