Not many people have had the opportunity to majestically descend through the air at jaw-dropping heights with a parachute. It certainly isn’t for someone with a fear of heights! It can be defined as a device that slows the vertical descent of something falling through the atmosphere.
Reports of parachutes date back to the 14th Century in China, while the first record of a parachute in the West occurred about two centuries later. There was even a diagram of a parachute along with a brief description of the concept found in Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.
It is believed the first person to demonstrate the use of a parachute in action was Louis-Sébastien Lenormand of France in 1783.
How does it work? Before looking into the science behind the parachute, the best way to learn is by example, so it’s time to build one that can fall slowly to the ground; making modifications as you go.
A plastic bag or light material
A small object to act as the weight, a little action figure would be perfect
Cut out a large square from your plastic bag or material.
Trim the edges so it looks like an octagon (an eight-sided shape).
Cut a small whole near the edge of each side.
Attach eight pieces of string of the same length to each of the holes.
Tie the pieces of string to the object you are using as a weight.
Use a chair or find a high spot to drop your parachute and test how well it worked, remember that you want it to drop as slow as possible.
Hopefully your parachute will descend slowly to the ground, giving your weight a comfortable landing. When you release the parachute, the weight pulls down on the strings and opens up a large surface area of material that uses air resistance to slow it down. The larger the surface area the more air resistance and the slower the parachute will drop.
Cutting a small hole in the middle of the parachute will allow air to slowly pass through it rather than spilling out over one side, this should help the parachute fall straighter.
Parachutes have found wide employment in war and peace for safely dropping supplies and equipment as well as personnel, and they are deployed for slowing a returning space capsule after re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. They are also used in skydiving for those with a hunger for adventure!