Leslie Leroy Irvin was born September 10, 1895 in Los Angeles.
Irvin grew up adventurous and athletic and fascinated with his childhood hero, Charles Broadwick.
At some point, Irvin witnessed Broadwick perform a daring parachute drop.
Broadwick would ascend suspended beneath a hot air balloon attached to an early parachute. After the balloon had ascended to a sufficient height, Broadwick would release the parachute and descend, thrilling the crowd until his parachute filled and he floated back down to earth.
Irvin, himself, made his first parachute drop at the age of 14.
At the age of 19, Irvin became a stunt-man for a fledging California film industry.
He would perform acrobatics on trapezes suspended under hot air balloons and then descend using a parachute drop.
In 1914, soon after becoming a stunt-man, Irvin volunteered to drop from an airplane as a stunt for the movie “Sky High.” In the movie, Irvin successfully made a parachute drop from 1,000 feet.
World War I
During World War I, Irvin joined the Army Air Service’s parachute research team, serving near Dayton, Ohio.
Advances in aviation had created new needs for parachute use, including saving people from a disabled aircraft.
During the war, Irvin helped develop a static line parachute that could be used as a life-saving device.
By 1918, these innovations had led to the development of Airplane Free-Fall Parachute Type-A.
This new type of parachute incorporated three elements:
1. Parachutes needed to be stored in a pack worn on the back.
2. A ripcord for manually deploying the parachute at a safe distance from the airplane.
3. A pilot chute that would draw the main canopy out of the main pack.
April 19, 1919
Leslie Irvin volunteered to test this new parachute by jumping from an airplane.
This was the first free-fall parachute sky dive.
With pilot James Floyd Smith flying the airplane, Irvin made the jump, the new parachute performed flawlessly, though Irvin broke his ankle on landing.
As a result of Irvin’s daring feat, the Type-A parachute was put into production and over time saved a number lives.
Air Chute Company
Less than two months later, in June of 1919, Irvin formed the Irving Air Chute Company in Buffalo, New York, as the first parachute manufacturer and designer.
Legend has it that Irvin was inadvertently changed to Irving by a secretary who mistakenly tacked a ‘g’ on the end of the name, and Irvin never bothered to correct the mistake.
An early brochure of Irving Air Chute Company credits William O’Connor, age 24, during the month of August 1920, as the first person to be saved by an Irving parachute at McCook Field.
Then, in 1922, Irvin’s company instituted the Caterpillar Club, awarding a gold pin to pilots who successfully bailed out of a disabled aircraft using an Irving parachute.
By 1939, Irving Air Chute had become the largest parachute manufacturer in the world. 45 countries, including Germany, were using Irving parachutes.
Also, as aircraft flew at ever increasing altitudes, pilots and aircrew were subject to ever lower temperatures, and Irvin designed and manufactured the classic sheepskin flying jackets made famous by Hollywood and news reels.
D-Day, 1944, the largest liberation force in human history is launched with the Allied airborne forces using Irvin designed parachutes.
During World War II, Irving parachutes alone saved over 10,000 lives.
Leslie Irvin died on October 9, 1966.
Later, his company would go on to make car seat belts, slings for cargo handling, and even canning machinery.
In 1970, the company finally removed the ‘g’ from its name, becoming Irvin Air Chute, and in 1996, changed its name again to Irvin Aerospace Inc.
In July 2012, the company became a division of HDT Global, and is now known as Airborne Systems.
In addition to parachutes, the company now specializes in a diverse range of products for global aerospace and military markets.
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