Parachuting Pioneer: Leslie Irvin.
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Parachuting Pioneer: Leslie Irvin.



Leslie Irvin started and built the first parachute production line in 1919 and built it into a world-wide manufacturing empire. A jumper, balloonist and pilot, he spent his time in the shop and field ...

Leslie Irvin started and built the first parachute production line in 1919 and built it into a world-wide manufacturing empire. A jumper, balloonist and pilot, he spent his time in the shop and field rather than the office.

Dan traces the life of this modest, quiet man who turned his love for the air into a business that saved more than 80,000 lives.

Leslie Irvin was honored by the Parachute Industry Association in 2011 with the PIA Achievement Award (posthumously).

A tribute to a fascinating parachute businessman.

Dan Poynter is past president of the Parachute Industry Association, past chairman of the Board of the U.S. Parachute Association and past president of the International Hang Gliding Commission. He has written more than 120 books; seven on parachutes and skydiving. A pilot, skydiver and master parachute rigger, this Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) is a frequent speaker at aviation and other events.

S-27 Keynote, Multimedia with historic videos, photos & sound. 50 Minutes.



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  • 1976
  • 1986
  • 1991
  • PIA.COM, NOT PIA.ORGWE celebrate, foster and develop the parachute business.
  • Leslie Irvin started the parachute business.First to mass-produce parachutes. Assembly line. Henry Ford.Prior to him, pchts were one offs or made in small batches.
  • Irvin in the shop
  • Now some history of this founder of the parachute business.He was a Hollywood stunt man.He dived from high-boards into nets.He rode the Death-SlideHe drove a motorcycle around the ‘Globe of Death.”He love the adrenalin-fired exhilaration of physical danger. He learned from magicians such as Houdini. But he also learned about parachute design.
  • Hydrogen. No time to crank them back down.
  • Balloonists would jump at first sight of enemy plane.
  • Balloonists had S/L parachutes. Hydrogen.Pilots did not (S/L) until Germans used a Heineke parachute toward end of war. Major General Billy Mitchell wanted parachutes for pilots War ended. Mitchell's interest did not.Set up R& D team at McCook Field in Ohio to test and design a parachute for the Army.
  • Englishman. Came to the US at age 13. Worked for silk companies. 1909: open own shop.Understood cutting and sewing.Irvin visited. Waite recognized Irvin’s interest.
  • His wife – years later.
  • S: BrassiereS: Crutches
  • Leslie Irvin was a jumper, balloonist and pilot.If anything were less than perfect, Irvin insisted it be done again or he did I himself. He was a perfectionist, responsible and dedicated.
  • On his yacht, wife Velda would entertain the guests; Leslie was in the engine room.He disliked social events and speaking at them. Introverted and shy with no time for small talk.He like pilots, jumpers, & engineers over businesspeople and dignitaries. Some days he would leave the office for the factory floor. He would sit down and sew. Perhaps he was working on an idea. Perhaps he was enjoying himself.
  • Irving reputation for reliability was spreading.Units were ordered by Russia, Germany and the UK.
  • Irvin went to Letchworth, set up the factory and trained all the workers.Taught them the broader aspects of their work so they would understand the finished product.He taught them pride in the finished product. “Jumpers don’t get a second chance.” “We are dealing in human lives.”Irvin stayed in the UK. Not under the supervision of George Waite.By 1939, Irving had 6 factories: Buffalo, NY; Glendale, California; Fort Erie, Canada; Bucharest, Rumania; Stockholm, Sweden; Letchworth, England. Irving parachutes were adopted by 40 countries. 90% of all parachutes in the world bore the Irving label .
  • As a user, he was a celebrity.Others characterized the parachute as a daredevil's toy.Irvin’s mission was to depict it as a life-saving device. Waite ran Buffalo. Irvin ran the UK.
  • Difficult for other parachute companies to catch up.Irvin usually designed, set up the plants and trained the workforces. He insisted on meticulous workmanship. Deep feeling for the safety of men who took to the air.
  • Started by Milton St Clair and JV Mumma at McCook Field in 1922 after Harold Harris saved his life with a parachute. Irvin helped fund the Caterpillar Club. Printing and issuing of cards, pins and certificates. Later Irving Air Chute took over the program. It was a golden publicity opportunity for Irvin and for parachutes. Introvert Irvin avoided letter writing – except to Caterpillars who write him. Also disliked litigation. He was one of us.
  • George Waite ran Buffalo, Irvin ran Letchworth.
  • Irvin was in the plant every day; both shifts.Chatting, asking about families, sitting at machines.
  • Developed the sheepskin flying jacket.Flying was cold
  • Fort Erie. Near Buffalo. 1952. Parachute orders declined but seat belt orders increased.
  • 1965
  • Buffalo w near Fort Erie, Ontario.
  • 1966
  • Photo 1966

Parachuting Pioneer: Leslie Irvin. Presentation Transcript

  • 1. Parachuting Pioneer Leslie Irvin © 2010 with Dan Poynter, PIA Historian
  • 2. PIA Achievement Award ???
  • 3. Don Beck Memorial
  • 4. Don & Jean Met at Irving
  • 5. Don & Jean = DJ Associates
  • 6.
  • 7. Don Beck Memorial PIA Achievement Award For parachute or skydiving achievements that have stood the test of time Past Recipients: 1981 Russ Gunby 1982 Ken Coleman 1983 Bill Booth 1984 Bill Ottley 1987 Don Beck (posthumously) 1989 Ted Strong 1990 1993 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 Dan-San Abbott Lowell Bachman Helmet Cloth Paul Thompson Elek Puskas Dan Poynter Dave Dewolf J. Floyd Smith Leslie Irvin
  • 8. Means Business
  • 9. And This Year . . . The person who started it all
  • 10. Leslie Irvin Meant The Parachute Business
  • 11.
  • 12. Leslie Leroy Irvin Born 1895 in Los Angeles  First jump in 1909, age 14.  Soloed in 1911, age 16.  Stunt jumper for the film Sky High, 1914  Design a static-line parachute in 1918  Tested the Floyd Smith/Army parachute in 1919  Started Irving Air Chutes in 1919  Built the 1st order of 300 for the U.S. Army  40 air forces used Irving parachutes in the 1930s  WW-2 Irving parachutes saved more than 10,000 lives. 
  • 13. 1909 Leslie Irvin earned his balloon license at age 14
  • 14. Smoke Balloon Jump The Inflation
  • 15. The Ascent
  • 16. The Release
  • 17. Leslie in Basket
  • 18. 1914. Venice Pier
  • 19. Gas Balloon over L.A.
  • 20. 1918. Sky High Irvin
  • 21.
  • 22.
  • 23. Observation Balloon
  • 24.
  • 25. WW-I   Balloonists had parachutes Pilots did not  Major General Billy Mitchell came to the rescue
  • 26. 1919:Testing at McCook Field Floyd Smith inspects damage to a Heinicke canopy dropped with 200 lbs at 150 mph on June 9, 1919
  • 27. The Team Russell Smith Hoffman Bottriel Ball Irvin
  • 28. 1918-1920: The Army Years McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio        Floyd Smith, designer and pilot. Guy Ball, designer. Leslie Irvin, movie stunt man. Jimmy Russell, Jumper. J. J. Higgins Major E. L. Hoffman, Team Leader. Sgt Ralph Bottreil, Pilot & Jumper.
  • 29. Leslie Irvin’s 1st Patent A Static-Line-Operated Design Application Filed December 16, 1918
  • 30. Floyd Smith’s 1st Patent Filed July 27, 1918. He wore a manually-operated parachute of his own design while flying in late 1917.
  • 31. The U.S. Airplane Type “A” Parachute Guy Ball
  • 32.
  • 33. April 28, 1919 at McCook Field, Ohio. Leslie Irvin made a freefall jump to test the Type A parachute as Floyd Smith piloted the plane. The manually-operated parachute was basically the same one that Smith had designed earlier.
  • 34. Jimmy Russell Makes Test Jump #3 Fifteen days later, on May 12, 1919, Floyd Smith, Jimmy Russell and 2 others jumped the new parachute.
  • 35. George Waite, Silk Dealer
  • 36. George Waite & Leslie Irvin
  • 37. The Company Name Irvin immediately formed Irving Air Chutes and built the first 300 units for the Army. In a rush to print business cards, a ―g‖ was added to the Irvin name and the company was ―Irving Air Chutes‖ for 40 years. In 1999 *** Irvin UK and GQ merged ***
  • 38. ―The air was his whole life. He had no other ambition beyond the next jump, the next balloon trip. The air was his life.‖ --Velda Irvin
  • 39. Irvin the Man – Irving the Company
  • 40. Irvin’s 2nd Patent Filed January 9, 1920
  • 41. People who design products Should be condemned To use them
  • 42. Leslie Irvin, Parachute User “The man who may have to use this chute isn’t going to get a second chance.” --Leslie Irvin
  • 43.
  • 44. Irving Production 1922 – 430 parachutes  1923 - 812  1924 – 1,102 parachutes. 31 to foreign governments.  1,000 for U.S. and 685 shipped abroad. 
  • 45. Began in Buffalo--Expanded     UK, 1926. Sweden South Africa Italy 
  • 46. The ”Golden Age of Aviation”  The period between the wars     Heroic deeds Great public acclaim Expansion Leslie Irvin continued to improve his designs.
  • 47. Leslie Became the Chief Salesman    Sincerity Technical knowhow Recited the number of saves
  • 48. 1930’s Momentum  Good products   Well known    constantly improved Highly regarded UK was a springboard to rest of Europe Sales tours to other countries  Russia, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Holland, Germany and France wanted their own plants to assure supply in wartime.
  • 49. Caterpillar Club 1930s: 2-3 week 1939: 4,000 total WW-2: Up to 50 applications/day 1960: 80,000 total
  • 50. 1937 Catalog
  • 51. World War II  Irvin stayed in England. It was his home now.  The pilots of the Royal Air Force would need him   Did not profit from the war.   His work barely recognized in the UK   Could have returned to the US and put his money in the bank. He was a U.S. citizen Not recognized in the U.S.  He lived in Britain
  • 52. Battle of Britain  RAF lost 120 pilots/week    Running out of pilots Could only give them 2-weeks training Irvin parachutes saved 65/week  Many pilots returned to the air the same day.
  • 53. The Plant Expanded   80 to 400 workers All female   Some as young as 15 2-12-hour shifts. 7 days/week.
  • 54. Return of the Static Line For airborne troops  Tying a line to the ripcord did not work  Irvin consulted Raymond Quilter and James Gregory   Added bag to static line. Allowed  lines to deploy before canopy emerged. Still used today. 65,000 British and US troop lowered into battle  Next ―static line‖ use: Ejection seats 
  • 55. The Equipment Irvin in Letchworth Herts Note how the parachute pack is attached to the harness
  • 56. The Soviet ANT-6
  • 57. Russian Parachutists
  • 58.
  • 59. U.S. Expansion  Plant opened in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1942.
  • 60.  1946. George Waite retires  Irvin becomes president of the company   Must spend more time in the U.S. 1947. George Waite passes away  1948.   Lexington plant closed. 1949. Plant opened in Fort Erie, Ontario. 1950. Korean War.   Buffalo plant expanded. Lexington reopened.  1952. Seat belts
  • 61.
  • 62. 1949?. Plant opened in Glendale, California.  1953. Buffalo plant closed.     Older plant Labor union challenges. 1960s. Leslie and Velda moved to California.  Spent much time at El Centro and skydiving centers.
  • 63.
  • 64. Film of factory in the UK  d=44927 
  • 65. Company History     Irving Air Chute, 1919. Irvin Industries, 1970. Irvin Aerospace Co, 1996. Airborne Systems Global, 2007.     Irvin Aerospace GQ Parachutes Para-Flight Aircraft Materials
  • 66. 1964-Brought Family to UK
  • 67. Irvin’s Last Jump
  • 68.
  • 69.  (10 September 1895 — 9 October 1966)
  • 70. Leslie Irvin Jumper Manufacturer 2011 PIA Don Beck Memorial Achievement Award Mr. Parachute Manufacturer
  • 71. Leslie Irvin 2011 PIA Don Beck Memorial Achievement Award Mr. Parachute Mfgr End
  • 72.