The Caterpillar Club

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    mk1rceme
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    The Caterpillar Club

    Post by mk1rceme on Tue Dec 29, 2009 1:14 am

    The Caterpillar Club is an informal association of people who have successfully used a parachute to bail out of a disabled aircraft. After authentication by the parachute maker, applicants receive a membership certificate and a distinctive lapel pin.

    History
    Before April 28, 1919, there was no way for a pilot to jump out of a plane and then to deploy a parachute. Parachutes were stored in a canister attached to the aircraft, and if the plane was spinning, the parachute could not deploy. Leslie Irvin developed a parachute that the pilot could deploy at will from a back-pack using a rip-cord. He joined the Army Air Service parachute research team, and in April 1919, he successfully tested his design, though he broke his ankle during the test. Irvin was the first person to make a premeditated free fall jump from an airplane. He went on to form the Irving Airchute Company which later became Irvin Aerospace. The Irvin brand is now a part of Airborne Systems.

    An early brochure of the Irvin Parachute Company credits William O'Connor 24 August 1920 at McCook Field near Dayton, Ohio as the first person to be saved by an Irvin parachute, but this feat was unrecognized. On 20 October 1922, Lieutenant Harold R. Harris, chief of the McCook Field Flying Station, jumped from a disabled Loening W-2A monoplane fighter. Shortly after, two reporters from the Dayton Herald, realizing that there would be more jumps in future, suggested that a club should be formed. 'Caterpillar Club' was suggested because the parachute canopy was made of silk, and because caterpillars have to climb out of their cocoons and fly away. Harris became the first member, and from that time forward any person who jumped from a disabled aircraft with a parachute became a member of the Caterpillar Club. Other famous members include General James Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh and (retired) astronaut John Glenn.

    In 1922, Leslie Irvin agreed to give a gold pin to every person whose life was saved by one of his parachutes. By 1945, the number of members with the Irvin pins had grown to over 34,000. In addition to the Irvin Air Chute Company (formerly Irvin Aerospace - now a brand of Airborne Systems), other parachute manufacturers have also issued caterpillar pins for successful jumps. Airborne Systems Canada (formerly Irvin Aerospace Canada) still provides pins to people who made their jump long ago and are just now applying for membership. Another of these is Switlik Parachute Company, which though it no longer makes parachutes, but still issues pins.

    Membership requirements
    The club has no meetings, officers, or formal organization, but the requirements for membership are rigid – members must have saved their lives by jumping with a parachute. In the early 21st century, only about ten people qualify each year, including military pilots who eject.

    RAF Sgt. Nicholas Alkemade, who during World War II bailed out of a RAF Avro Lancaster without a parachute and landed uninjured in a snow-drift, was refused membership because a parachute had not been used. More recently, a group of twelve skydivers were denied membership when one of them fouled the plane's tail and caused it to fall from the sky. He died in the crash, but the other eleven parachuted to safety. They did not qualify because it had been their original intention to jump from the plane. The pilot, however, was admitted to the club.

    Golden Caterpillar
    The club was founded by Irvin Airchute Company of Canada in 1922. Irvin were credited with inventing the first free-fall parachute in 1919. The name "Caterpillar Club" makes reference to the silk threads that made the original parachutes thus recognising the debt owed to the silk worm and the fact that the caterpillar lets itself down to earth by a silken thread.

    "Life depends on a silken thread" is the club’s motto.

    The identity of the first inductee is in dispute. Most researchers tend to agree that William O'Conner, who jumped from an aircraft over Dayton, OH on August 24, 1920, is the first person to have his life saved by a parachute. Lieutenant Harold R. Harris jumped from his Loening W-2A monoplane fighter roughly two years later and seems to receive most of the official recognition.

    Regardless, both of these men had their lives saved by a parachute manufactured by Leslie Irvin. In 1922, Irvin pledged to pin a gold caterpillar on any person whose life was saved by one of his parachutes. Thus, the origins the Caterpillar Club. Charles Lindbergh was a Caterpillar Club member. Parachutes saved his life four times in a span to two years. Two of those bailouts occurred while he was flying the St. Louis-Chicago mail route.

    There are no annual fees or meetings. Members only get a pin and a membership card. The "golden caterpillar" award is a tiny gold lapel pin with amethyst eyes. Prospective members must send documentation of the incident to Irvin Aerospace, which then conducts its own research.

    About 100,000 people saved by Irvin parachutes have become members of the club, more than a third of them during World War II. The exact number of living members is unknown, but it is estimated at around 4,000. Virtually all parachutes used by the Royal Airforce in WWII were manufactured at Irvin's factories in Letchworth in the UK. Although Irvin administer the club, membership was not restricted to those only saved by Irvin chutes.

    Other parachute manufacturers also had honors for those saved by their products. The Pioneer Parachute Co. in Skokie, Ill., donated plaques to people who packed parachutes that saved their lives, and The Switlik Parachute Company of Trenton, N.J. issued both gold and silver pins.


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    mk1rceme
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    Re: The Caterpillar Club

    Post by mk1rceme on Tue Dec 29, 2009 1:18 am

    Examples of club pins...

    Unknown origin, possibly from Switlik or Standard Parachute.
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    This one recently sold on Ebay and was from Irving Air Chute of Great Britain.
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    mk1rceme
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    Age : 45
    Location : Alberta, Canada

    Re: The Caterpillar Club

    Post by mk1rceme on Tue Dec 29, 2009 1:30 am

    Examples of membership cards and certificates...

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    F.O. E.F.G. Burrowes D.F.C
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