National Geographic : 1952 Jun
835 Lakehurst Waves Attend Class to Learn ABC's of Parachute Operation During their 15-week course, men and women students are taught history, theory, maintenance, and construction of parachutes. Here, in a beginners' group, Airman Pat Irwin (foreground, right) learns six steps in the "chain reaction" set off by pulling a rip cord. Her Navy classmate inspects a pilot chute, the small parachute which opens first and pulls the big one after it. The instructor is a chief petty officer. high above his head. Suddenly the arm snapped down. "Go!" Pat felt herself moving briskly down the aisle, saw the opening suddenly before her, and hurled herself headlong into nothingness. When the spots stopped dancing before her eyes, she was dangling alone in the middle of a silence more intense than any she had ever known. Above her the white nylon chute she had packed was spread like a protecting roof. As she floated downward, the Wave looked at her right hand, which should still be hold ing the rip cord she couldn't remember pulling. Her hand was empty. She had dropped the rip cord. By tradition, that meant she would have to stand treat at the celebration that night. In what seemed like seconds-actually about three minutes-the ground was rush ing up at her. As it thumped the bottoms of her feet, Pat remembered to relax and roll forward as she had been taught. Then somebody was pounding her on the back; others were helping her unfasten the harness still holding her to the collapsed chute. An hour later she watched Sheila's para chute puff out in the sky. By the end of the day, the U. S. Navy had 47 new Parachute Rigger Airmen on its rolls (one Wave didn't jump), each of them willing to stake life itself on the job he or she had learned to do.