Published April 29, 2008
He conceived of the tank, the machine gun and the helicopter, but few of Leonardo da Vinci's sketched designs have truly been tested.
Except one: The prototypical Renaissance man's famous 1485 design for a rudimentary parachute.
On Saturday, in what appeared to be a first, Swiss adventurer Olivier Vietti-Teppa proved that Leonardo's pyramidal-design parachute could carry the weight of a man all the way to the ground.
Vietti-Teppa jumped out of a helicopter at about 2,000 feet above the Payerne military airport and safely landed, if a bit roughly.
"You come down at the whim of the wind," noted the parachutist.
But Vietta-Teppa's chute did not incorporate Leonardo's original design, which called for four equilateral fabric triangles anchored by a wood-frame base. Instead, his parachute was made of modern fabric and mosquito netting.
In 2000, however, a British parachutist, Adrian Nicholas, used the pyramidal design and the wooden frame for a chute used in a jump from a hot-air balloon 10,000 feet over South Africa.
Nicholas, however, feared the wooden frame might crush him upon landing, so he cut himself free at 3,000 feet and used a modern parachute to reach the ground.
So, was Vietti-Teppa's jump the first successful test of Leonardo's design, or was Nicholas'?