I approached this investigation by following up on individuals identified as having
been associated with ParaFoils and ParaWings. This was a fairly convoluted trip,
with a certain amount of mildly contradictory information discovered (regarding
dates and individual roles played). For consistency, I have adopted the following
ParaWing: Typified by a single-sided, flexible surface, with minimal “hard”
structural stiffening elements.
ParaFoil: Typified by a two-sided, multi-celled, self-inflating, flexible lifting surface with essentially no structural stiffening elements.
ParaGliding: The sport of un-tethered, un-powered “soft lifting surface” flight,
strongly related to the developments of ParaWings and ParaFoils.
The paths to innovation frequently seemed intertwined and collaborative within
(and between) the ParaWing and the ParaFoil pioneers, as one would expect
when individuals share the exhilaration of working on the forefront of an
exciting new era. In addition, examples of identical, but apparently independent,
development seemed to have occurred: again, not unexpected, since, when
new enabling technologies are introduced, many are quick to see the way
to their application. Missing in the literature seems to be a Para-Foil/Wing
historical TimeLine; this may be because (as is common) essentially parallel
developments can be difficult to sort out and serialize. While the events shown
in my timeline reflect my personal perceptions as to what were important and/
or interesting events, I feel that I nevertheless have included the unanimously
agreed-upon pivotal events/persons (plus a lot of others that seemed
appropriate to me for this historical timeline).
It is reasonably clear to me that, while Jalbert and Rogallo might not have been
the ones most instrumental in pushing widespread sporting/kiting adoption
of parafoils, nevertheless, they must be acknowledged as the Co-parents of
the whole para-kiting genre. To me, it is a moot point as to which was the
pre-eminent inventor, since both made brilliant contributions in somewhat
Parafoil Development Timeline
Caveat: elements of this timeline are still being developed and verified. Dates,
individual credits, and orders of occurrence reflect my opinion and may be
inaccurate. So many diverse sources have been used, and interconnections
deduced (that were subject to interpretation), that it is unfeasible to accurately
correlate timeline events to specific references… This is a work in progress.
???? Note: some have conjectured that the folk kite form known as the“chirange” (of Greek and Puerto Rico origins) might be construed, at
least in terms of form, as a precursor to the Rogallo designs. Such
speculation, while maybe valid, can also precipitate an endless,
essentially unverifiable, pursuit of “roots.” I have chosen to draw
a line regarding parafoil lineage at a point where aerodynamic
sophistication in the form of systematic innovation within the genre
has been clearly applied.
1900 William Eddy is granted a patent for
his “invention” of applying dihedral to
kites (borrowed from the Javanese kite
makers); notwithstanding my above
proclamation, this might be conjectured
as a fomenting precursor to Rogallo’s
work, i.e. the application of overt
aerodynamic surface manipulation of
aerodynamic properties in kite design.
Maybe a stretch, since the innovation
in Rogallo’s work seems to lie in a kite’s“flexible, formlessness” (until subjected
to the forces of the wind).
1902 Silas Conyne is granted a patent for
the invention of cellular kites. In the
same fashion that Eddy may have
influenced Rogallo, Conyne’s ideas
could have opened Jalbert to the idea of
incorporating “cells” into kites.
1936 Francis M. Rogallo (with a degree
in Aeronautical engineering from
Stanford University) starts work as an
aerodynamicist at NACA Langley Research Center, ultimately to
become director of a large wind tunnel facility there.
late-1930s Domina Jalbert starts work with US Rubber Corp, involved with
development of static air-inflated balloons/fins for barrage
balloons. Before that he was involved with creating kites to display
1948 Francis and Gertrude Rogallo apply for a patent on the “Flexi-Kite”:
a single surface, double rhombus form, with an arched leading edge,
all of flexible fabric and using shroud lines to maintain a keel-line
and general aerodynamic shape.
1950 William Allison applies for patent on his“Flexible Soft Kite.”
This precursor to“curved” soft-kite configurations, when
combined with “Jalbert Cells,” manifests
itself in many “traction kite” designs
prevalent in today’s 4-line Arc-Parafoil
1951 Francis and Gertrude Rogallo are
granted patent #2,546,078 on the“Flexi-Kite.”
1952 Jalbert develops a new multi-celled
parachute concept (virtually the first
innovation in parachuting since its
1956 Allison is granted a patent for “Flexible Soft Kite” (above), the
delayed issuance explained by conflicts with Rogallo’s application
simultaneously under examination by the USPTO.
1961 M. Lemoigne (France) develops the “Inverted Apex ascending
parachute” (based on the Rogallo wing), inaugurating (towed) “parachute soaring.”
1962 Ryan Aircraft, as a result of internal studies (wishful thinking?),
publishes a well-known picture of a Gemini capsule suspended under
a Para-Wing coming in to land.
1963 Based on the famous Gemini photo, John Dickenson (more or less
isolated in a small town in Australia) invents and patents a singlehang-
point, A-frame, water skiing hang glider (to be towed for
exhibitions); this is the elemental prototype of virtually all hanggliding
that was to follow.
1964 Dickenson sends the plans of his man-carrying A-Frame Para- Wing
invention to Langley Research Center (at Rogallo’s request).
1964 The first Jalbert Parafoil is successfully flown (privately).
1964 Dr. John Nicolaides, head of the Notre Dame Aeronautics
department, plays an instrumental role in testing Jalbert’s Parafoil
early designs, also developing the concept of the “Powered
Parachute” under a military contract.
1965 David Barish, one of the developers of Para-Wing concepts (similar
to Rogallo’s for bringing spacecraft back to landing) test flies what
might be considered the first incarnation of the modern “Hang-
mid-1960s This is a period of intense US
Government-sponsored Contractor development and innovation, with
multiple patents issued relating to aerospace engineering applications.
mid-1960s NASA makes the engineering decision
to use conventional parachutes for
all capsule recovery, thus ending the
golden era of Government sponsored
1966 Jalbert patents the Parafoil; a self
inflating, flexible fabric, air foil Patent
#3,285,546 assigned to Space Recovery
Research Center, Inc, Palm Beach, FL.
1966 Irvin Industries starts marketing a
commercial version of the Rogallo Wing to sport parachuting
1966 The Pioneer Parachute Co. develops a commercial version of the
Lemoigne design and markets to parachuting enthusiasts.
late-1960s Richard Miller (CA) spearheads the introduction of hang-gliding to
American sportsmen, working independently of John Dickenson’s
late-1960s Bill Moyes and Bill Bennett of Australia also spearhead the
introduction of hang-gliding to American as well as Australian
sportsmen, their work based largely on John Dickenson’s inventions
(to which they were a witness).
mid-1970s Dr. Nicolaides, now a department head at California Polytechnic,
conducts tests to advance uses of Jalbert’s Parafoil in areas other
than “conventional parachute replacement.”
1983 Harry Osborne (WA) builds and attempts to fly the largest ParaFoil
in the world (over 10,000 sq ft) at Long Beach WA, resulting
tragically in the death of Steve Edeiken, his flight coordinator, due
to a fluke accident. While the flight met
the requirements to achieve the record,
Harry apparently declines to submit the
application due to the tragic outcome of
1980s-90s The 1980s and 90s are the heyday of
the development of sport kiting genres
such as surfing, buggying and sailing
(not to mention rogue sports such as“kite-jumping”). I have not attempted
to sort this out yet, as I feel I need to
understand better what I am trying to
achieve in this overall effort.
© 2005 The Drachen Foundation
Kite Timeline Parafoil Development
Reproduction Conyne kite Greg Kono
Eddy the boy Courtesy of Eden Maxwell
Jalbert with parafoil DF Archive
Kiteboarder Naish International
(a work in progress by Dave Lang, October 2005)
Francis Rogallo and his kite Drachen