|Leslie Leroy Irvin was an aviation innovator.
Irvin was born on September 10th, 1895 in Los Angeles, California. At the age of fourteen, he made his first jump with a parachute. He became a stunt man and performed various stunts involving aircraft and acrobatics including trapezes and balloons. He was also a protégé of Charles Broadwick. Broadwick is credited with developing the modern parachute “system” including a harness and a soft backpack unit.
In 1914, Irvin jumped from a plane, he sailed 1,000 feet down to the ground in the film Sky High. Later he joined the Army Air Service’s parachute research team.
On the research team Irvin worked to develop the Airplane Parachute Type-A. The chute design included:
· storing the parachute in a soft pack worn on the back, which Irvin’s mentor developed
· a ripcord for manually deploying the parachute at a safe distance from the airplane
· a pilot chute drawing the main canopy from the pack
In 1919, the team tested their parachute design with Irvin performing the jump. It was the first premeditated freefall parachute descent. The parachute performed perfectly, Irvin did break his ankle on landing.
Less than two months after the successful test of the parachute, the Irving Air Chute Company was created. The additional ‘g’ on Irving was blamed on an accident by a secretary. The company didn’t fix the name until 1970. An early brochure of the company names William O’Conner as the first person whose life was saved by the use of an Irving Parachute in 1920. Two years later the company instituted the Caterpillar Club, awarding a gold pin to pilots who successfully bailed out of disabled aircraft using an Irving parachute.
By 1939, Irving was the largest parachute manufacturer in the world. Irving parachutes were in 45 countries. Three years earlier, in 1936, the company’s German factory was seized by the German government and they bought their patents. During World War II Irving parachutes saved over 10,000 lives. The company also created the classic sheepskin flying jacket as airplanes started flying higher and the temperature became colder.
After the war, the Irving Company made car seat belts, slings for cargo handling, and even canning machinery.
Irvin passed away on October 9th, 1966.
Irvin was a member of Builder Lodge No. 911 in Kenmore, New York. He was also a member of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, and a member of Ismailia Shrine Temple in Buffalo, New York.