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Charles Lindbergh has long been recognized as a "Caterpillar Club" record- holder for making four emergency parachute jumps. Lindbergh's Four Emergency Jumps by Jim Bates:

I Take No Foolish Risks

De Haviland — DH-4, converted by the Robertson Aircraft Corp for mail carrying.
In the peacetime years that followed World Alar One, "Lucky Lindy" was a nickname earned by six-foot-four Charles "Slim'' Lindbergh, Jr. long before his famed, daring solo flight in May 1927 across the Atlantic Ocean in the "Spirit of St. Louis."

In the two and half years before his courageous Atlantic air crossing, he parachuted to safety four times in harrowing emergency situations, once as an army student pilot, again as a test pilot, and twice as a contract pilot for the U.S. Air Mail Service, earning him the "Lucky Lindy."

Even before the days of flying the mail, Lindbergh had been a barnstorming wing walker and exhibition parachutist.

Because of those daring aviation activities he had also been given another nickname by the press— "The Flying Fool"—but he resented that sobriquet. After his thirty-three-hour solo transatlantic flight from Long Island, New York to Paris, France, a large group of reporters were interviewing him when an American newsman asked "Don't you resent being called the 'Flying Fool?'" He hastily answered "I certainly do resent it. I take no foolish risks and study out everything I do in the air I don't think I am a flying fool."

Enamored With Flying

Lindbergh saw his first airplane near Washington, 1912 and became fascinated with flying. However, he wrote, "Up to the time I enrolled in a flying school in 1922 I had never been near enough to a plane to touch it."

He made a go at college studies, leaving his Little Falls, Minnesota home to enter the University of Wisconsin, in Madison. After starting his third semester at Wisconsin Lindbergh decided into study aeronautics in earnest, and if, after becoming better acquainted with the subject, and it appeared to have a good future, I intended to take it up as a life work." He stuck with his studies until completing half his sophomore year, then headed for Lincoln, Nebraska, reaching there by rail on the first of April and enrolling as a flying student with the Nebraska Aircraft Corporation, at a cost of $500.

On April 9, 1922 — only five years and several months before making his historic, adventurous ocean-crossing flight—young Lindbergh had his first flight as a passenger, in a Lincoln Standard aircraft. A few days later he began his flight instruction in the same plane. There was no ground school as part of training, so Slim—a nickname he didn't mind—simply got here-and-there, now-and-then flight training as he worked at the aircraft factory. After some seven weeks of factory work and about eight hours of dual instruction (and some $150 for personal expenses), his instructor declared the eager student ready to solo in mid-May. But Lindbergh couldn't come up with a $500 cash bond required by the factory president, who worried that the plane would be expensively damaged by the novice flyer. It would take many weeks of working at the factory for $15 a week before Lindbergh could save the bond money.

But then Lindbergh's instruction plane was sold. Luckily, the young new pilot made a deal with the new owner that he would pay his own expenses in return for being the plane's mechanic and the owner's helper. They went on a barnstorming tour of southeast Nebraska and Lindbergh got his first practical experience in cross-country flying-and in wing-walking, which he never really enjoyed doing, but nonetheless continued to wing-walk for some time.

Soon after Slim learned to pilot a plane—though still not having soloed—and had started wing-walking, he had night dreams about his flying. Dreams became occasional nightmares of endless falling in space: he would wake up bedeviled by terror.

He had seen actual out-of-control planes twist and spin as they fell. He knew how to right a plane for long enough to clamber from a biplane cockpit onto a wing and dive into space. He knew how to protect the ripcord, how to fall clear of an aircraft so parachute lines could deploy properly. He knew to carry a flashlight so he could check his canopy and his approach to the ground if an emergency jump was made at night. But he did not know what an actual jump was like.

He could only imagine. He could only wonder, and keep on having a bad dream now and then. Twenty-year-old Lindbergh decided he ought to make a jump to learn what to expect.

He intently watched Charlie Hardin make a jump in June 1922. Lindbergh once wrote 'The novice has a poet's eye. He sees and feels where the expert's senses have been calloused by experience," and he eloquently described what he saw and felt:

    I watched him strap on his harness and helmet, climb into the cockpit and, minutes later, a black dot falls off the wing two thousand feet above our field. At almost the same instant, a white streak behind him flowered out into the delicate wavering muslin of a parachute—a few gossamer yards grasping onto air and suspending below them, with invisible threads, a human life, and man who by stitches, cloth, and cord, had made himself a god of the sky for those immortal moments.

    A day or two later, when I decided that I too must pass through the experience of a parachute jump, life rose to a higher level, to a sort of exhilarated calmness. The thought of crawling out onto the struts and wires hundreds of feet above the earth, and then giving up even that tenuous hold of safety and of substance, left me a feeling of anticipation mixed with dread, of confidence restrained by caution, of courage salted through with fear. How tightly should one hold onto life? How loosely give it rein? What gain was there for such a risk? I would have to pay in money for hurling my body into space. There would be no crowd to watch and applaud my landing. Nor was there any scientific objective to be gained. No, there was deeper reason for wanting to jump, a desire I could not explain. It was that quality that led me into aviation in the first place — it was a love of the air and sky and flying, the lure of adventure, the appreciation of beauty. It lay beyond the descriptive words of man-where immortality is touched through danger, where life meets death on equal plane, where man is more than man, and existence both supreme and valueless at the same instant.

Once having made a jump—under the tutelage of Charlie Hardin—the experience rid Lindbergh's mind of dread that struck during sleep. He later wrote: "I'd stepped to the highest level of daring, a level above even that which airline pilots could attain.''

He returned to Lincoln, Nebraska for more flight instruction, then spent until the end of October 1922 on a barnstorming tour, being a mechanic for another owner's plane and doing wingwalking and making exhibition parachute jumps, still without having soloed. The following year there were other long barnstorming trips, ranging from Wisconsin to Florida. With his wingwalking and parachuting, Lindbergh was gaining a lot of flying time, but still he had not made a solo flight.

He remedied that situation after spending a winter at home in Minnesota with his father, who cosigned for a $900 bank loan so his son could buy a surplus army airplane. In March 1923 he spent $500 for Curtiss "Jenny" with a 90-horsepower engine, a creaky, tattered plane that could fly only 70 miles an hour at top speed, and could only slowly climb to seventeen hundred feet.

No flying license was required in those days, so making sure he had a full fuel tank, he lifted the rickety Jenny off the ground for his first solo. His lengthy passenger experience, all the while paying sharp attention to everything that happened to create flight, and his innate skills got him into the air and safely back to the ground on several takeoffs and landings. However, he once almost crashed the Jenny by lifting off too soon and then bounced so hard the landing gear was almost wrecked. He rarely made the same mistake twice and at day's end he had mastered his plane's many quirks and learned flight under his control. Now he could fly anywhere he chose.

Late in 1923 he flew to St. Louis, Missouri to be a spectator at the International Air Races at Lambert Field, located in farming country some ten miles northwest of the St. Louis business district. Lindbergh wrote: "There are no runways, but the clay sod is good surface for any size of aircraft during summer months. In freezing weather, gusty winds and deepening ruts make operation difficult." He admiringly looked over the many newer types of high-performance planes in the races and determined he would apply to be a Flying Cadet in the U.S. Army, deciding that would "be my only opportunity to fly planes which would roar up into the sky when they were pointed in that direction, instead of having to be wished up over low trees at the end of a landing field. "

Flying Cadet Training and First Emergency Parachute Jump

Lindbergh enrolled as a flying cadet in the U.S. Army in 1924 and his first emergency jump happened early in flight training. It was from an open cockpit, single-seat SE-5 scout biplane, on March 5, 1925 as a student pilot at Kelly Field, near San Antonio, Texas.

Lindbergh and another cadet on a training mission had a midair collision at about 5,000 feet as they attacked a DH4B "enemy" bomber. In their dive on the bomber several hundred feet below, Lindbergh, after seeing no other plane near, pulled up and jumped. His excerpted official report noted: "I passed above the DH and a moment later felt a slight jolt, followed by a crash....

"I closed the throttle and saw an SE-5 with Lieutenant McCallister in the cockpit a few feet away on my left. He was apparently unhurt and getting ready to jump.

"Our ships were locked together with the fuselages approximately parallel. I removed the belt, climbed out to the trailing edge of the —the ship was then in a nearly vertical position—and jumped backward from the ship as far as possible.

"I had no difficulty in operating the pull ring and experienced no sensation of falling. The wreckage was falling nearly straight down and for some time I fell in line with its path. Fearing the wreckage might fall on me, I did not pull the rip cord until I had dropped several hundred feet and into the clouds.

"During this time I had turned one half revolution and was falling flat and face downward. The parachute functioned perfectly; almost as soon as I pulled the rip cord and the risers jerked on my shoulders, the leg straps tightened, my head went down, and the chute was fully opened....

"Next I turned my attention to locating a landing place. I was over mesquite and drifting in the general direction of a plowed field which I reached by slipping the chute. Shortly before striking the ground I was drifting backwards, but was able to swing around in the harness just as I landed on the side of a ditch less than 100 feet from the edge of the mesquite. Although the impact of the landing was too great for me to remain standing, I was not injured. The parachute was still held open by the wind and did not collapse until I pulled on one group of the shroud lines." (Lt. McCallister also bailed out successfully. )

Lindbergh wrote about parachutes and military flying: "There is a saying in the service about the parachute: 'If you need it and haven't got it, you'll never need it again!' That just about sums up its value to aviation." New Second Lieutenant

Three months later, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Service Reserve Corps, with silver wings from the army. (Only eighteen cadets graduated from a class of 104.)

Lindbergh then joined the St. Louis, Missouri firm of Robertson Aircraft Corporation as chief pilot for the company's line of commercial planes. On a June 2nd test flight of a new design, Lindbergh made his second emergency jump.

Emergency Bailout No. 2

Performing spins, the aircraft failed to respond to the pilot's insistent, forceful attempts to recover. Instead, it plummeted to earth, twisting and turning. Some observers said the flyer and the careering plane separated at 250 feet. Lindbergh was more conservative in his estimate. He thought it was higher; in his official report stated the height at 350 feet.

"I pulled the ripcord as soon as the stabilizer passed. The chute opened quickly but while it was functioning I had fallen faster than the spinning ship. On its next revolution, the plane was headed directly towards the chute. How close it passed will never be known, for the risers leading up from my harness were twisted and swung me around as the ship passed. However, less than twentyfive feet intervened between the wing and my parachute.

"I watched the plane crash in a grain field and turned my attention to landing. A strong wind was drifting me towards a row of high tension poles and it was necessary to partially collapse the chute in order to hasten descent and land before striking the wires. I landed rather solidly in a potato patch and was dragged several feet and over a road before several men arrived and collapsed the chute. In addition to the strong wind and rough air, collapsing or 'cutting' the chute so close to the ground had caused a very rapid descent, and my shoulder had been dislocated in landing." After medical treatment, Lindbergh was again flying within two hours.

Robertson Aircraft Corporation won the contract for the St. Louis-Chicago route of the newly developed U.S. Air Mail Service nationwide system. But work under the contract would not begin until the following spring.

In November, 1925 Lindbergh enlisted in the 110th Observation Squadron, 35th Division, Missouri National Guard, and was promoted to first lieutenant soon after; then spent the winter months instructing students for Robertson, teaching how to fly the OX-5 and test flying in the company's commercial service. Contract flying for the U.S. Post Office Department commenced on April 15, 1926.

Emergency Jump No. 3

"...I stepped over the side of my cockpit, into space." The wreck of Captain Lindbergh's mail plane.
Chief Pilot Lindbergh was on a mail flight on September 16, 1926 when he made an emergency jump at night in a blinding snow and rain storm because his plane ran out of fuel after he became lost in darkness and violent weather, after more than two hours of rigorous flying.

In his official report he wrote: "Seven minutes' gasoline remained in the gravity tank. Seeing the glow of a town through the fog I turned toward open country and nosed the plane up. At 5,000 feet the engine sputtered and died. I stepped up on the cowling and out over the right side of the cockpit, pulling the ripcord after about a 100-foot fall. The parachute, an Irving* seat service type, functioned perfectly; I was falling head downward when the risers jerked me into an upright position and the chute opened. This time I saved the ripcord. I pulled the flashlight from my belt and was playing it down towards the top of the fog when I heard the plane's engine pick up. When I jumped it had practically stopped dead and I had neglected to cut the switches. Apparently when the ship nosed down an additional supply of gasoline drained to the carburetor. Soon she came into sight, about a quarter mile away and headed in the general direction of my parachute. I put the flashlight in a pocket of my flying suit preparatory to slipping the parachute out of the way if necessary. The plane was making a left spiral of about a mile diameter, and passed approximately 300 yards away from my chute, leaving me on the outside of the circle. I was undecided as to whether the plane or I was descending the more rapidly and glided my chute away from the spiral path of the ship as rapidly as I could. The ship passed completely out of sight, but reappeared in a few seconds, its rate of descent being about the same as that of the parachute. I counted five spirals, each one a little further away than the last, before reaching the top of the fog bank."

The plane crashed about two miles from where Lindbergh landed, but the mail was undamaged, recovered, and delivered. When the wreckage was inspected a few days later, it was discovered that a 110-gallon fuel tank removed for repair had been replaced with an 85-gallon tank without anyone (particularly the pilot) being notified of the change.

* The name "Irving" is synonymous with the name "Irvin." When Leslie Irvin formed a parachute manufacturing company in 1919, a hurried typist mistakenly added a "g", to his name. Today, as "Irvin Industries Inc.," the company still designs and manufactures parachute systems.

Record-Setting Fourth Bailout

His fourth emergency parachute jump, made on November 3, 1926 was close to a reprise of the previous one. Excerpts from his report read:

"When about ten minutes of gas remained in the pressure tank and still not the faintest outline of any object on the ground could be seen, I decided to leave the ship rather than attempt to land blindly. I turned back southwest toward less populated country and started climbing in an attempt to get over clouds before jumping. The main tank went dry at 7:50 P.M. and the reserve twenty minutes later ...

"I. . . dove over the left side of the cockpit while the airspeed registered about 70 miles per hour and the altimeter 13,000 feet. The rip cord was pulled immediately after clearing the stabilizer. The Irving chute functioned perfectly. I left the ship head first and was falling in this position when the risers whipped me around into an upright position and the chute opened....

"For the first minute or so the parachute descended smoothly and then commenced an excessive oscillation which continued for about five minutes and which could not be checked.... The snow had turned to rain and, although my chute was thoroughly soaked, its oscillation had greatly decreased."

Lindbergh landed on a barbed wire fence but his heavy flying suit prevented injury. However, for several anxious moments he struggled with the parachute canopy being kept inflated by gusts of wind. Mail, much of it oil-soaked, was recovered from the wrecked airplane and delivered.

Charles A. Lindbergh, in great part, owed his fame and glory of 1927 to parachutes.

* * * * * * *

Though Charles Lindbergh has long been recognized as a "Caterpillar Club" record- holder for making emergency parachute jumps, current research has shown that his personal record has been tied. Bryan Philpott, in his book "Eject! Eject!" (Ian Allan, London, l989) notes: "A record of four ejections-all from F-4 Phantoms, the last being a Royal Navy aircraft during an exchange posting-belongs to Lt. D.J. Lortscher, USN, a Weapons Systems Operator. Unfortunately, he was later killed when he and his pilot failed to eject from an F-14."

It is uncertain whether his bailouts have been duly recorded in the records of the Caterpillar Club, an informal organization. The Switlik Parachute Co., Trenton, New Jersey, has extensive records, dating back to the 1930s, in innumerable file drawers in its most interesting parachute museum. The company-though no longer in the parachute business- still issues certificates to those who make application for Caterpillar Club membership. Membership is open only to persons who have made an emergency parachute jump to save one's life. It does NOT include persons who make an intentional parachute jump and then must deploy an auxiliary (a.k.a., "emergency" or "reserve") parachute because of a malfunction of the main parachute.) For those interested in details of applying for Caterpillar Club membership send an e-mail message to

Reprinted with permission from Jim Bates. The author can be contacted via e-mail: Copyright ©. All rights reserved.

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