Canine Sky Diver
from the book, "Petrified Lightning"

Petrified Lightning

Canine Sky Diver

As the World War II soldier stood in the door of the C—47 waiting for the quick signal to jump, visions of his chute not opening were not unusual. But after a stern tap on his boot, he stepped out of the door and into space. He could feel his body tumbling and the sudden jerk as the chute opened. If this was a combat jump his troubles were just beginning.

During World War I, for combat pilots, wearing a parachute was considered cowardly, and so they didn't. Many a death could have been prevented but for this misplaced medieval emphasis on pride in noble bravery. The situation was quite different during World War II, when any member of the service permitted to board a military aircraft had to be equipped with a parachute. Today people skydive for pleasure, and those who conduct the jumps make a good living giving clients a jolt. Earlier generations of paratroopers, who were at times helped out of the plane by a foot to the back, have difficulty imagining parachuting as a safe, thrilling sport.

Parachuting was invented more than a hundred years before the Wright brothers conducted their first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903. (A parachute would have done them no good, since they didn't go high enough.) The inventor of the parachute was a French balloonist named Jean—Pierre Blanchard. Mr. Blanchard was playing it safe, however, for he did not make the first jump. His dog did!

In 1785 the inventor of the parachute secured his dog inside a basket and tied down the lid. Ascending to a relatively great height in his large balloon and with gusto, the courageous Mr. Blanchard threw the basket with the parachute attached overboard. The wind immediately filled the primitive wind—catching device, and it opened. The dog was unhurt in the somewhat rough landing, and the first parachute jump in history was a success.

The successful sky diver, long forgotten, can be identified only as Canis familiaris parachutensis.