Floyd Smith filed a patent for the first unattached parachute on July 27, 1918. Born in Chicago, James Floyd Smith[a] and his wife, Hilder, worked as trapeze performers in a circus on the West Coast. He built an airplane and in June 1912 received License #207.
In April 1914, Glenn Martin needed a girl parachutist for two jumps in an exhibition. At the time, parachutes had a static-line attached to the aircraft which dragged the parachute out immediately after the jump. Floyd and Hilder agreed to do the jumps for Martin but Floyd decided he needed to make some jumps before Hilder. Her two jumps were successful, but problems on the second jump got Floyd thinking about improving parachuting.
During WWI, Smith served with the U.S. Army in Dayton. As the war was ending, Smith served in parachute development, working with static-line chutes, when he came up with an alternative.
Smith filed a patent on July 27, 1918, for the Floyd Smith Life Pack. Smith’s parachute was the first that was entirely self-contained in a pack on the aviator’s back. He or she was free to jump from either side of the aircraft and could free-fall until pulling the ripcord. The free-fall capability made this design extremely popular for barnstorming exhibitions and was an essential element for using the parachute in combat. The Smith Life Pack became the basis for the design of the Army Type A parachute in early 1919.
In 1919, Smith left the army and formed the Floyd Smith Aerial Equipment Co. with offices on Adams St. in Chicago. His parachute patent was granted on May 18, 1920.
[a]The National Air & Space Museum site gives his name as Floyd Kenton Smith.
Smithsonian Magazine;Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; "Early History of the Parachute;" by Jimmy Stamp; March 7, 2013.
National Air & Space Museum (online); Floyd Smith Collection; accessed 11/8/2017.
United States Army Aviators’ Equipment, 1917–1945;by C.G.Sweeting; Jefferson, NC: McFarland
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Skydiving Wiki—Skydiving Museum and Hall of Fame (online); "1919: Smith Aerial Life Pack"; by Pat Works; updated February 5, 2015; accessed 10/4/2017.
Aerial Age Weekly;New York;"Floyd Smith Life Pack Co. (advertisement)"; August 23, 1920 p. 818.
Early Aviators; Early Birds of Aviation (online); James Floyd Smith 1884–1956; accessed 11/8/2017.
Google Patent (online); Parachute US 1340423 A; accessed 11/8/2017