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1st Ram Air Jump

Poppenhager Makes 1st Ram-Air Parachute Jump

By: Gary Corderman, D-2510

The book, Domina Jalbert: Brother of the Wind, Nothing More Than Cloth and Wind”, by Tal Streeter, p. 41, states that in 1957, Jalbert was returning to Boca Raton, FL after watching some skydivers. While refueling his Beechcraft, a light when on in Jalbert’s mind, and he took the fuel measuring stick and measured the inside of his Beechcraft wing and the concept of a non-rigid wing was born. Jalbert’s idea was to combine the airfoil form of his Beechcraft wing with the ram-air inflation of a tapered windsock. Jalbert obtained the first of several patents on his “Jalbert parafoil” in 1963.

Paul (Pop) Poppenger (D-47) and Pete Wenk (D-135) remember in 1961, Frank Dodd and Poppenhager jumping various canopies for Jalbert when their Club, South Florida Parachute Association (SFPA), was operating out of a field in Davie, FL, (just north of Miami). Jalbert had a contract with the USAF to design and provide canopies for recovering the instrumentation from weather balloons. In 1962, the commercial skydiving center, South Florida Parachute, Inc. (SFPI) was formed and in June 1962, moved to Airglades Airport in Clewiston, FL, (south of Lake Okeechobee).

[Below is from an interview with Paul Poppenhager in 2014, and my conversation with Pop in the winter of 1969.]

Believed to be the First Ram-Air Parachute Jump: In September 1962, when Poppenhager had about 600 jumps, Jalbert called and asked how much Pop would charge to jump a new design canopy that Jalbert was developing. This new canopy was the “Jalbert Parafoil”, and was the first ram-air parachute. Poppenhager quoted a price of $150 for the aircraft, pilot and jump. Jalbert being quite frugal, offered Pop $100 and said, he would fly his Beech Bonanza and Pop could jump from his Bonanza. Pop said he needed the money, and agreed to the $100 price. So Jalbert flies over from Boca Raton, FL where he had his workshop to SFPI at Airglades Airport in Clewiston, FL.

There was not a deployment device or pilot chute with Jalbert’s new canopy, but it did have risers and capwells. So Poppenhager, a Master Rigger, rolled the canopy up and put it in a “paper bag”, with the plan to hold the paper bag containing the canopy and lines to his chest as he climbed out the Bonanza’s door and jumped. The parafoil canopy also did not have any steering lines, but Jalbert told Pop, “just pull on the risers and it will turn”.

So Jalbert and Poppenhager took-off in the Bonanza and climbed to 2,000 ft., where Pop climbed out and jumped. Pop said, it was the hardest opening shock he had ever experienced. Pop had jumped other loose pack canopies, but the tremendous opening shock, even at sub-terminal velocity, convinced Pop that Jalbert’s canopy would never become a workable sport parachute.

Poppenhager said, he weighed all of 125 lbs, and the canopy was so large that when he tried to steer the canopy by pulling on the risers, as Jalbert recommended, all that resulted was him doing a chin-up. Equally as concerning was Poppenhager was not descending, saying his altimeter was hardly moving. At one point Pop became worried that with the canopy not being steerable it might fly all the way into the town of Clewiston and that he considered cutting-away a number of times. Eventually, Pop landed in a cow pasture about two miles from the intended target area. When asked about the landing, Poppenhager said, it was not coming down hard, but had considerable forward speed. During Poppenhager’s descent, Jalbert flew around his canopy in his Beech Bonanza and once Pop landed and gave the signal that he was OK, Jalbert flew back to the airport.

Poppenhager said, he was upset that Jalbert would not talk with his wife Carol, who was really worried. (Jalbert had a deep accent and at times was hard to understand.) Jalbert also did not send anyone to pick him up. Pop walked to a farm house and a women there, after hearing Pop’s story, offered to give him a ride to the airport.

Jalbert never paid Pop the $100 for the jump. Poppenhager billed him a couple of times and even visited Jalbert at his workshop in Boca Raton, but was always told the $100 would be sent shortly. With the opening shock being so bad, and Jalbert not paying Pop the $100 for his jump, that was the last jump Poppenhager ever made for Jalbert.

[In the winter of 1969, when I was employed at SFPI in Indiantown, I remember being out at the drop-zone when Pop was flying Rob Jenks (D-1693). It was during the week when there were no other jumpers at the DZ and Rob was test jumping Steve Snyder’s (D-5) early parafoil designs. Snyder was trying to develop a system to reduce the extremely hard opening shock. I distinctly remember Pop saying to me as we stood under the chickee shelter, “I jumped one of those out of a paper bag once and it almost killed me”. I also remember Pop making some comments about doing business with Jalbert.]