FACT: Franz Reichelt was a man of invention, this Austrian born French tailor was a parachuting pioneer and he manufactured many designs over his life, earning him the nickname of ‘The Flying Tailor‘.
Reichelt was concerned with the safety of others and for many years put a great effort into designing a suit for aviators. This parachute suit would be a light sui, but when an aviator did, say, fall from their aircraft they could easily deploy a convenient parachute, affording them a safe landing and their lives. A truly noble idea and pursuit.
His wearable parachutes were tested on dummies which he dropped from the window of his fifth floor Parisian apartment: initially there was some success but subsequent designs were all uniformly failures. In 1911 a Colonel Lalance offered a prize of 10,000 francs to any successful design of a parachute for aviators. The only stipulations were that it had to be under 25 kilograms and was to be designed and proven to be functional within 3 years.
Eager for this new prize, double that of a previous one he had not attained, he redoubled his efforts. After another redesign and another failure he concluded that the short drop was to blame in part for the misfortune he suffered, his suits needed more time to deploy themselves. So he secured a higher platform.
Specifically the Eiffel Tower. After several petitions for a spot he was finally granted his opportunity in early 1912.
He informed the press of the test and on the 4th February 1912 crowds gathered and cinematographers assembled to record the event. On the day there was a stiff breeze blowing and people shivered, waiting to see what could be the future for parachuting. Then Franz arrived in a car, covered in a ‘sort of cloak fitted with a vast hood of silk’. This was the parachute suit in its undeployed state, Franz had kept this a secret from everyone, he would jump himself.In his own words:
“Je veux tenter l’expérience moi-même et sans chiqué, car je tiens à bien prouver la valeur de mon invention.”
That translates to ‘I want to try the experiment myself and without trickery, as I intend to prove the worth of my invention.’
And so, on the 4th February,1912, The Flying Tailor stood 57m above the ground with a calm smile on his face. He stood on a short stool and looked over the Seine, then he placed a foot on the guard rail, and jumped.
His canopy almost immediately folded in half around him and though it appeared to fully billow out at the last moment it was not enough. He was dead before the onlooker reached him. Le Parisienne noted that he was bleeding from his mouth, nose, ears and his eyes were wide open, the pupils dilated with terror. After being taken off to a hospital his impact crater was measured, it was 15cm deep.
After the incident the authorities sharply cut down on the number of drops permitted from the tower, fearing another case of an overly confident inventor.
If you wish to watch the footage of the fall and subsequent death click here, fear not there is no gore. Just footage of someone with too much faith.