On April 28, 1919, 23-year-old Leslie Irvin did something many had long thought impossible: He jumped from an airplane—intentionally untethered by a static line—freefell 1,000 feet, deployed a parachute and landed safely. And so freefall as we now know it was born.
Irvin’s daring feat, over McCook Airfield in Dayton, Ohio, dispelled the long-held belief that a self-deployed parachute could never work and that a person would most likely become unconscious in freefall before being able to deploy on his own. While many had previously jumped from airplanes and landed successfully under parachutes, the jumps all involved some sort of static line or automatically deployed parachute. The one exception came in 1914, when Tiny Broadwick manually deployed her parachute after her static line became entangled. Irvin’s intentional delayed freefall opened the door for sport parachuting to develop throughout the world.
Now, 100 years later, the sport of skydiving has evolved beyond what anyone in Irvin’s day might have imagined. Freefall alone has limitless possibilities—from formation skydiving to freeflying to wingsuiting to big-ways and world records. The list goes on and on.
And so this year, USPA joins skydivers around the world in celebrating the centennial of freefall. USPA is planning several activities throughout the year and is inviting skydivers across the U.S. and abroad to participate:
1. USPA is holding a kids’ art contest, inviting those under age 16 to submit drawings or paintings that depict a celebration of 100 years of freefall. The deadline for submissions is February 15, and winners will appear in the April issue of Parachutist.
2. USPA is inviting jumpers to build the shape of “100” in freefall and submit their photos to USPA. The jumps would fit well as part of drop zones’ centennial celebrations in April. The jumps can include as few or as many jumpers as needed to form the 100 and can involve any freefall discipline. The deadline for submissions is May 15, and photos will appear in the July issue of Parachutist.
3. USPA is encouraging drop zones to hold some sort of centennial celebration sometime during the month of April. Events can include boogies, state record jumps, family activities, tandem jumps for members of the media and more. USPA will provide DZs with template press releases to promote their activities to local news outlets. DZs can look for more information in the coming months.
4. USPA is posing the question to skydivers: “Where will skydiving be 100 years from now?” The deadline for responses is February 15, and select answers will appear in the April issue of Parachutist.
5. USPA is inviting skydivers to visit the USPA booth at the Parachute Industry Association Symposium February 4-7 at the Hyatt Regency Dallas. The booth will feature centennial celebrations throughout the week. More information on the Symposium is available at piasymposium.com.
The pioneers of skydiving who have paved the way for those of us who enjoy it today span more than a century—from those who first dared to risk their lives by jumping from a plane with only a backpack of nylon to save them to those who have developed modern gear and skydiving techniques. This year, we celebrate one such pioneer, who 100 years ago first experienced what skydivers today know and love—the exhilaration and freedom of freefall.