A French Aviation Pioneer Establishes a New Record

October 12, 1799

An aviation milestone took place when Jeanne Geneviéve Labrosse Garnerin, who was flying in a hot-air balloon in the skies over France, became the first woman to make a parachute descent back to earth. The balloon was approximately 2,953 feet (900 meters) above the ground when she made this descent, with her remaining in the basket of the aircraft after the balloon itself was detached. The parachute, assuming control of the basket at that time, enabled her to land safely. This historic descent occurred about 16 years after inventor Louis-Sébastien Lenormand, jumping from an observatory, made the first documented landing with the help of a parachute.

Jeanne Garnerin, who had been born in 1775, was one of the first female balloonists. Her interest in that mode of transportation took definitive shape during the fall of 1797, when she was part of a crowd in Paris watching André-Jacques Garnerin as he soared up into the air in a balloon and then made it back to the ground via a parachute. An impressed Jeanne subsequently became one of his students, and the two eventually married. Just over 11 months before her historic parachute descent, Jeanne Garnerin became the first woman to fly solo in a balloon.

After her pioneering breakthroughs, Jeanne continued to travel up into the skies. She ultimately made a large number of balloon ascents and parachute descents not only in her native France but also elsewhere in Europe. Jeanne even joined her husband for a widely publicized series of demonstration flights in England, where at one point she made a parachute descent of approximately 8,000 feet (2,438.40 meters).

In 1802, Jeanne submitted a patent application on behalf of André-Jacques for a new type of parachute that he had created. “Its vital organs are a cap of cloth supporting the basket and a circle of wood beneath and outside of the parachute and used to hold it open while climbing,” stated the application. “[It] must perform its task at the moment of separation from the balloon, by maintaining a column of air.”

André-Jacques died in 1823, while Jeanne lived until 1847. It has been reported that one of her later-in-life endeavors (and a decidedly earthbound one at that) involved opening a table d’hôte restaurant with renowned French military heroine Marie-Thérèse Figueur. In 2006, a street in the French commune of Wissous was officially named after Jeanne Garnerin.

For more information on Jeanne Geneviéve Labrosse Garnnerin, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanne_Geneviève_Labrosse

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