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women, who were paid to make ascensions at civic events. Jumping out of a disabled fixed-wing aircraft safely to ground was deemed “possible,” but pilot safety faded in the glare of the Exhibition Era prior to WWI. Spectators flocked to air meets to see an airplane for the first time and aviators became heroes who risked their lives in machines from which there was no escape. Fortunately, there emerged inventors who personally knew the risks of flying and developed the parachute now considered essential equipment.


THE EMERGENCE


OF PILOT SAFETY Although there were several independent and little-known inventors of parachute prototypes, Americans, A. Leo Stevens [1877-


1944] and J. Floyd Smith [1884-1956] began with designs that worked, and improved them to keep up with the advancement of aircraft.


LEO Stevens’ life story depends upon which narrative he left behind, but it is certain that he was from a circus performing family which included tight-rope walking high above the ground. Stevens eventually made spectacular parachute jumps from balloons and went on to design and fabricate balloons for sale. He was an active balloon pilot and briefly took the controls of an airplane. He was the promotional manager for several famous Exhibition Era aviators and dare-devil showmen. The fatalities of several aviators whom he personally knew inspired him to develop the


A. Leo Stevens experimented with parachute development his entire life. Dare-devil Rodman Law made a motion picture stunt jump from the top of the Statue of Liberty in 1912 using a manually operated, “Stevens Safety Chute”. Stevens is best known for his manufacture of balloons and organizing national chapters of the Aero Club of America. Drawing from author’s collection.


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