Sport Parachuting Then and Now: 1960s vs. Today
Updated: Apr 14, 2020
50 YEARS AGO AND TODAY - A HISTORY OF PARACHUTING
While skydiving and parachute jumps have been around for more than 100 years, nobody really expected it to become a sport. Except for some crowd-pleasing stunts at air shows (look up Tiny Broadwick, who was jumping static line at an air show and unintentionally made the first freefall jump when her static line failed. She's also attributed as the inventor of the ripcord), parachuting was primarily a military activity. Finally, at the end of World War II, parachute jumping became a hobby in its own right.
In World War II, thousands of soldiers across the globe experienced exiting an aircraft and parachuting to the ground. A few of them discovered that it was enjoyable, and after the war ended they kept jumping. Thus was born the National Parachute Jumpers and Riggers taking off in 1947. This group would later become the Parachute Club of America, and finally its current iteration: the USPA (United States Parachute Association). Parachuting as a sport had begun to permeate the international community.
After 50 years of freefall parachuting, skydiving had become its own beast by 1969. 50 years later, now, the differences in skydiving equipment, cost, and safety have drastically expanded, changed, and grown.
In the ‘60s, parachuting was mostly a sport for young men. Canopies came down fast, and hard. Parachute landing falls were a constant and unavoidable practice opportunity, and even with extensive practice landing injuries like sprains or even a broken bone were very common (see this military parachuting publication). Without much forward speed compared to today’s sport canopies (typically 6-8 mph, compared to today’s ram-air canopies at about 20 mph), off-landings were routine occurrences.
In addition to main canopy changes, reserve parachutes have also evolved. Reserve parachutes in the late 1960s were mostly military surplus round canopies designed to supplement a partially open main parachute. Cutting away a main was considered an extreme response, and when cutaways did become more common it still required two hands to operate the emergency releases. Today, emergency procedures are streamlined and much simpler, making snap-decisions straightforward. Landing a ram-air reserve is as simple as landing a main.