In the north western English country of Cumbria around Holker Hall, the local population has seen parachutists falling from the sky with never an aircraft in sight.
In the north western English country of Cumbria around Holker Hall, the local population has seen parachutists falling from the sky with never an aircraft in sight. In fact they are enthusiasts practising the increasingly popular sport of "parascending".
The basic idea is very similar to tow-gliding. The "flier" starts from the ground with a line attached to himself and a car or jeep. The vehicle begins to move forward and as it gains speed, air gathers in the parachute and the parascender takes off.
For many years the technique has been used to train parachutists in handling the lines of their chutes without them having to go up in an aircraft and jump. Now it is growing in popularity as a sport in its own right. Even youngsters are taking part. Venture Scouts from Warrington and Manchester recently formed a team to compete in a national championship meeting. They finished in ninth place.
Ascending by parachute was first developed in 1918 for lifting observers behind U-boats. It was not until 1960 that a Frenchman, M.P.M. Lemoigne, designed a parachute that would fly forwards and be as controllable as a glider so that a pilot could steer himself to a safe landing area. Two years later the Pioneer Parachute Company developed a chute along the Lemoigne principles as a world championship sports version.
Instructors currently teaching the sport to novices are quick to emphasise that the parachute is not a toy, and it is only safe if the proper techniques are followed closely. The parascender must always wear a helmet, and make sure his harness is secure. He must always check that his rigging lines are completely free, and the driver of the vehicle must always launch him into the wind.
Nevertheless, the enthusiasts claim that it is an exhilarating and comparatively cheap sport. They say that it not only helps to build confidence in prospective parachutists, but it is much safer than hang-gliding if the rules are followed closely.