Photo of the Day

On April 19, 1919, Leslie Irvin, made the world’s first free fall parachute descent using a rip cord, rather than using a canister or tether line attached to the aircraft to pull open the parachute.

On April 19, 1919, Leslie Irvin, made the world’s first free fall parachute descent using a rip cord, rather than using a canister or tether line attached to the aircraft to pull open the parachute.

The Caterpillar Club

“Life depends on a silken thread”

” It remains a club without a charter, without membership fees, without meetings. Yet it is the most exclusive in aviation, for there is only one way to join. It is a way that appeals to few…….! “

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. The nationality of the person saving their life by parachute and ownership of the aircraft are not factors in determining qualification for membership; anybody who has saved their life by using a parachute after bailing out of a disabled aircraft is eligible. The requirement that the aircraft is disabled naturally excludes parachuting enthusiasts in the normal course of a recreational jump, or those involved in military training jumps.

In 1922, Leslie Leroy Irvin founded the Caterpillar Club. Membership is only open to those whose life has been saved by an Irvin designed or manufactured parachute. The Caterpillar name was chosen for the pure silk from which parachutes (at that time) were made, and also because a caterpillar lowers itself to earth by the silken thread it spins. The Club slogan is “Life depends on a silken thread.” After acceptance into the Caterpillar Club, members receive a certificate of membership, and a Caterpillar pin with the member’s name and rank.

Almost every country on earth that has a military presence has some form of parachute capability. Much of the credit for creating the parachute industry that provides these life preservers of the air is owed to a true industry pioneer, Leslie Leroy Irvin.

On 19 April 1919, Leslie Leroy Irvin made the world’s first recorded premeditated free fall parachute descent using a ripcord to open the parachute. Later in 1919, he established the Irvin Airchute Company.

Thousands of airmen, and a few airwomen, number among the most highly treasured souvenirs of their service a tiny Caterpillar Badge. It is their passport to one of the most famous flying clubs in the world – The International Caterpillar Club, all of whose members have saved their lives by parachute.  (Though Leslie Irvin is credited with inventing the first free-fall parachute in 1919, parachutes stored in canisters had saved the lives of observers in balloons and several German, Austro-Hungarian pilots of disabled military aircraft in the First World War. The name “Caterpillar Club” simply makes reference to the silk threads that made the original parachutes thus recognising the debt owed to the silk worm. Other people have taken the metaphor further by comparing the act of baling out with that of the caterpillar letting itself down to earth by a silken thread. Another metaphor is that caterpillars have to climb out of their cocoons to escape.

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 unrecognised. 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, realising that there would be more jumps in future, suggested that a club should be formed. 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.

Leslie L. Irvin, 1925. Irvin did not invent the parachute, but he worked ambitiously on developing a parachute that could be worn by the user and operated by a manual ripcord, the opposite of the static-line "automatic" parachutes of the day. Original title of photo is "Historical Sky Hi Irvin". and the photo has a faint hand-written annotation of "1925".

Leslie L. Irvin, 1925. Irvin did not invent the parachute, but he worked ambitiously on developing a parachute that could be worn by the user and operated by a manual ripcord, the opposite of the static-line “automatic” parachutes of the day.
Original title of photo is “Historical Sky Hi Irvin”. and the photo has a faint hand-written annotation of “1925”.

Backlit photo showing the design of the Irving parachute. "For U.S. Government use Irving must use, whenever possible, domestic materials. Ordinarily, Japanese silk is preferred. Last year Irving used 125,500 yards of silk and a ton of silk thread in filling its orders. Its peack production was 124 parachutes a week, each one worth about $350. Net sales for 1936 totaled $1,345,418." In July 1940, as part of its promise to end U.S. dependence on silk (and Japan), Irving Air Chute delivered to the government an experimental order of parachutes made from DuPont nylon. Prior to World War II, the Army required each Irving parachute to be drop-tested before shipped. In the early 1930s the Kenny Flying Serivce had the contract for two drop-tests of every parachute. Later the Buffalo Aeronautical Corporation was awarded the contract, using a Ryan monoplane with a hole cut in the floor, through which the 180-lb solid rubber dummies were dropped. The plane made as many as 50 trips per day. Pressure to supply large quantities for the war forced a shift to new testing methods and better quality control, thus eliminating the need to drop-test each parachute. Photo taken for Life by Margaret Bourke-White, 1937.

Backlit photo showing the design of the Irving parachute. “For U.S. Government use Irving must use, whenever possible, domestic materials. Ordinarily, Japanese silk is preferred. In 1936 Irving used 125,500 yards of silk and a ton of silk thread in filling its orders. Its peak production was 124 parachutes a week, each one worth about $350. Net sales for 1936 totaled $1,345,418.” In July 1940, as part of its promise to end U.S. dependence on silk (and Japan), Irving Air Chute delivered to the government an experimental order of parachutes made from DuPont nylon. Prior to World War II, the Army required each Irving parachute to be drop-tested before shipped. In the early 1930s the Kenny Flying Service had the contract for two drop-tests of every parachute. Later the Buffalo Aeronautical Corporation was awarded the contract, using a Ryan monoplane with a hole cut in the floor, through which the 180-lb solid rubber dummies were dropped. The plane made as many as 50 trips per day.
Pressure to supply large quantities for the war forced a shift to new testing methods and better quality control, thus eliminating the need to drop-test each parachute. Photo taken for Life by Margaret Bourke-White, 1937.

Caterpillar Pin

Caterpillar Pin

Membership certificate issued 1957.

Membership certificate issued 1957.

Cover of LIfe Magazine, March 22, 1937, featuring Irving Air Chute Company.

Cover of LIfe Magazine, March 22, 1937, featuring Irving Air Chute Company.

One evening in the early 1920s, Irvin, inventor, sat talking over a drink at McCook Field, (near the site of Wright-Patterson AFB) with two American pilots – the first two airmen ever to save their lives with parachutes of his design. “You know, Leslie,” remarked one of the pilots, “we ought to start a club for guys like us. As time goes by more and more fliers all over the world will owe their lives to your ‘chutes, it should be quite a thing in years to come …”.

Today in the 21st Century, the Club boasts of tens of thousands of Caterpillar Club members of all nations who have escaped death by jumping with an IRVIN parachute. Files of the American and Canadian members are kept at the Irvin Aerospace plant in Belleville, Ontario, Canada, and a count taken back in 1977 showed a membership of 11,332 men and 12 women. Each one has been given a gold Caterpillar Badge and Membership to the International Caterpillar Club, honouring the pledge, which Leslie Irvin gave to those first two fliers who saved their lives with his parachutes many years ago. (The Caterpillar is symbolic of the silk worm, which lets it descend gently to earth from heights by spinning a silk thread upon which to hang. Parachutes in the early days were made from pure silk.)

By 1939, Caterpillar Club Membership had risen to 4,000 and included fliers from China to Peru and nearly 50 countries in between. Among the famous personalities wearing the treasured badges were America’s General Doolittle – who bailed out three times and once telegraphed Leslie Irvin: “Airplane failed. Chute worked.” – Germany’s ace flier Ernst Udet, Britain’s Lord Douglas Hamilton, and a score of test pilots including Alec Henshaw, Geoffery de Havilland and John Cunningham.

"Irving Air Chute's chief asset is its patented folding technique which insures the parachute's opening. Its bias construction gives it more strength than other types and is its distinguishing feature. A 24-ft. Irving chute is made of 24 panels, each manufactured in four sections cut on a bias. Thus if a rip starts it must go across all threads and will quickly dead-end against a seam. All seams consist of four thicknesses of material sewn together with a very strong thread (tensile strength: 8 1/2 lb.). When all the seams are joined together, two rows of one-inch silk tape (tensile strength: 300 lb.) are put around the top (or vent) of the chute, one row around its skirt. Shroud or ratlines are brought down through each seam but before they are inserted, they must be pulled to a uniform tension. This is done by laying them on a table and pulling them around rollers to a tension of 625 lb., thus assuring an equal pull all over. When completed, each chute is tested twice before packing and numbering." (Life article, March 22, 1937)

“Irving Air Chute’s chief asset is its patented folding technique which insures the parachute’s opening. Its bias construction gives it more strength than other types and is its distinguishing feature. A 24-ft. Irving chute is made of 24 panels, each manufactured in four sections cut on a bias. Thus if a rip starts it must go across all threads and will quickly dead-end against a seam. All seams consist of four thicknesses of material sewn together with a very strong thread (tensile strength: 8 1/2 lb.). When all the seams are joined together, two rows of one-inch silk tape (tensile strength: 300 lb.) are put around the top (or vent) of the chute, one row around its skirt. Shroud or ratlines are brought down through each seam but before they are inserted, they must be pulled to a uniform tension. This is done by laying them on a table and pulling them around rollers to a tension of 625 lb., thus assuring an equal pull all over. When completed, each chute is tested twice before packing and numbering.” (Life article, March 22, 1937)

Silk parachutes were susceptible to decay when stored packed and so they had to be aired every two or three months to prevent mold or sweating. This photo is of the interior of the Buffalo factory. By 1939, 45 foreign countries were using Irving parachutes, including Germany, which had confiscated an Irving plant and bought its patents in 1936. The paratrooper landings of the Allied forces on D-Day were made using Irivng parachutes.

Silk parachutes were susceptible to decay when stored packed and so they had to be aired every two or three months to prevent mold or sweating. This photo is of the interior of the Buffalo factory. By 1939, 45 foreign countries were using Irving parachutes, including Germany, which had confiscated an Irving plant and bought its patents in 1936. The paratrooper landings of the Allied forces on D-Day were made using Irivng parachutes.

Buffalo Irving Air Chute employees at work sewing silk parachute sections. Leslie Irvin is standing, center. Image source: "Buffalo Airport, 1926-1976".

Buffalo Irving Air Chute employees at work sewing silk parachute sections. Leslie Irvin is standing, center.
Image source: “Buffalo Airport, 1926-1976”.

At the outbreak of the Second World War a shortage of gold – and reasons of economy – made it necessary to substitute the gold Caterpillar Badge for a gilt one, but no person who applied, and could substantiate his claim to own one, was disappointed. Into the trays of the filing cabinets went the names of some of the greatest air aces of the war – “Cobber” Kain, Sir Douglas Bader, “Bluey” Truscott, “Pathfinder” Don Bennett and hundreds of others. With them, too, each in its own individual and carefully indexed folder went stories of escape, some so amazing that to read them makes the adventures of James Bond seem like child’s play. Some of the fliers were blown bodily out of their aircraft during combat; some floated safely to earth with their parachute canopy ripped by enemy bullets; some jumped at 30,000 feet; others at 200 feet – or less. More than 13,000 R.A.F. officers and airmen wrote from prisoner-of-war camps to apply for their badges after parachuting from crippled bombers and fighters over enemy territory. Two brothers in Bomber Command bailed out over Germany within twelve months of each other to qualify for membership and one sergeant-pilot wrote on a P.O.W. postcard to thank Leslie Irvin for an easy let down “on behalf of my future – as yet unknown – wife and children.” Among these thousands of R.A.F. men only one airwoman received the coveted Caterpillar badge during the war – Corporal F.H. Poser, who jumped from 600 feet while serving with a meteorological unit in the Middle East. Since then several other women have become fully qualified members of the Club.

The official membership of the Caterpillar Club is only a fraction of the total number who are eligible. It does not include, for example, the thousands of Americans who parachuted safely in the Pacific War, nor, of course, the Luftwaffe airmen, most of who carried an Irvin – designed parachute, made at a factory bought out by the NAZIS in 1936. Altogether it is estimated that at least 100,000 persons – as many as would fill Wembley Stadium or the Rose Bowl – have saved their lives by IRVIN parachutes.

“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

Leonardo da Vinci

A letter from the Irvin Air Chute Co. to Ed's mother thanking her for the details of Lt. Tovrea's emergency parachute jump. The Caterpillar club consists of airmen saved by the use of a Irvin parachute. Also included is his membership card.

A letter from the Irvin Air Chute Co. to Ed’s mother thanking her for the details of Lt. Tovrea’s emergency parachute jump. The Caterpillar club consists of airmen saved by the use of a Irvin parachute. Also included is his membership card.

14K gold Caterpillar Club pin inscribed on the reverse "Presented by Irvin To E.A. Tovrea 9-19-42 ".

14K gold Caterpillar Club pin inscribed on the reverse “Presented by Irvin To E.A. Tovrea 9-19-42 “.

“If anyone had told me on July 5, 1919, that the very next day I was to vonuntarily make a parachute jump from an airplane, I would surely have thought them to have been a complete nut." Frank Ellis, just before his first jump 1919. Frank is a pioneer Canadian pilot, who built and flew his own aircraft at Calgary prior to August 1914, thus qualifying as a member of the Early Birds of America. He subsequently spent years in military and commercial flying in Canada, ranging from Ontario to Manitoba and farther West. He become the first Canadian to parachute from a plane in Canada, when he jumped at Crystal Beach, Lake Erie, in July 1919.

“If anyone had told me on July 5, 1919, that the very next day I was to voluntarily make a parachute jump from an airplane, I would surely have thought them to have been a complete nut.” Frank Ellis, just before his first jump 1919. Frank is a pioneer Canadian pilot, who built and flew his own aircraft at Calgary prior to August 1914, thus qualifying as a member of the Early Birds of America. He subsequently spent years in military and commercial flying in Canada, ranging from Ontario to Manitoba and farther West. He become the first Canadian to parachute from a plane in Canada, when he jumped at Crystal Beach, Lake Erie, in July 1919.

Leslie L. Irvin, developer of the innovative Irvin Air Chute, was the first aviator to make a parachute descent with a free type, manually operated parachute. This type of parachute is complete in one unit and attached to the body of the wearer. Mr. Irvin was to become the President and Chief Engineer of the Irving Air Chute Company, manufacturers of "The Lifesaver of the Air." Photo: Irving Air Chute Company Collection

Leslie L. Irvin, developer of the innovative Irvin Air Chute, was the first aviator to make a parachute descent with a free type, manually operated parachute. This type of parachute is complete in one unit and attached to the body of the wearer. Mr. Irvin was to become the President and Chief Engineer of the Irving Air Chute Company, manufacturers of “The Lifesaver of the Air.” Photo: Irving Air Chute Company Collection.

Who the heck is making all that racket?

Who the heck is making all that racket?

Leslie Leroy Irvin was born in Los Angeles and grew up to become a stunt-man for the fledgling Californian film industry; he had performed acrobatics on trapezes from balloons and then make descents using a parachute.

Irvin made his first jump when aged fourteen, for a film called Sky High, he first jumped from an aircraft from 1,000 feet in 1914.

In 1915, Irvin joined the Universal Film Company as a stunt man for the fledging Californian film industry where he performed acrobatics on trapezes from balloons and made descents using parachutes. His experience as a stunt man contributed to his later belief that a jumper in a free fall descent would not lose consciousness.

After World War I, Major E. L. Hoffman of the Army Air Service led an effort to develop an improved parachute for exiting airplanes by bringing together the best elements of multiple parachute designs. Participants included Irvin and James Floyd Smith. The team eventually created the Airplane Parachute Type-A. This incorporated three key elements:

  • storing the parachute in a soft pack worn on the back, as demonstrated by Charles Broadwick in 1906;
  • a ripcord for manually deploying the parachute at a safe distance from the airplane, from a design by Albert Leo Stevens; and
  • a pilot chute that draws the main canopy from the pack.

Irvin developed his own static line parachute as a life-saving device in 1918 and jumped with it several times, and then on April 19th, 1919, made the first premeditated free-fall parachute jump by jumping from an airplane.

The Type-A parachute was put into production and over time saved a number of lives. This was the first premeditated free-fall parachute descent. Irving made the jump, and the new chute performed flawlessly, although Irvin broke his ankle on landing.

Less than two months later, The Irving Air Chute Company was formed in Buffalo, New York, the world’s first parachute designer and manufacturer. Legend has it that ‘Irvin’ was inadvertently changed to ‘Irving’ by a secretary who mistakenly tacked a ‘g’ on the end of the name, and the company never bothered to correct the mistake until 1970.

An early brochure of the Irving Air Chute Company credits William O’Connor August 24th, 1920 at McCook Field as the first person to be saved by an Irving parachute. Two years later, Irvin’s company instituted the Caterpillar Club, awarding a gold pin to pilots who successfully bailed out of disabled aircraft using an Irving parachute.

Irving Air Chute had become the largest parachute manufacturer in the world. By 1939, 45 foreign countries were using Irving parachutes, including Germany, which had confiscated an Irving plant and bought its patents in 1936.

pp-caterpillarclub-hallum

When Irvin, made the world’s first free fall parachute descent using a rip cord, rather than using a canister or tether line attached to the aircraft to pull open the parachute, Irvin believed that a free fall jump would be safer because an aircraft spinning out of control could interfere with the deployment of the earlier chutes.

Working with the US Army’s Air Service parachute research team, Irvin made the historic jump from a plane over McCook field near Dayton, Ohio. During the jump, Irvin broke his ankle but was inspired to start his own parachute business.

Later that year, he opened the Irvin Air Chute Company in Buffalo, NY. What became known as the Irvin parachute gained rapid acceptance, and by the early 1930’s was in service with some 40 air forces around the world. With the start of World War II, Irvin became a major manufacturer of parachutes. During the war, Irvin parachutes saved over 10,000 lives. The Irvin name had become the world standard for innovation, reliability, and quality.

Bob Frost, now 93, from Sandwich, in Kent, was just 19 years old when he jumped from a Wellington Bomber in World War II.The air gunner was returning home from a bombing mission over Essen, in Germany, when the engines died on the plane and the captain ordered his crew to bail out. Mr Frost said: "It wasn't [a question of] if you got shot down, it was when you got shot down. Most crews never got beyond 14 ops, we were on our 22nd."I came down through a cloud, cold and wet, and the ground came up and hit me... a great big Belgian field." Retired RAF navigator John Nichol, who ejected from his Tornado during the Gulf War and was captured by Saddam Hussein's forces, was made an honorary member of the club. He praised the bravery of the World War II pilots who only had a parachute on their backs and had to physically jump out of the aeroplane. "You've got the flames, you've got the fear, the confusion, the shells exploding around. "Your aircraft is on fire and then you simply have to dive out. "You're diving out into the unknown, trusting your life to your parachute and then floating down into enemy territory." And Mr Frost, who was smuggled out of mainland Europe through Spain with help of Resistance fighters, said fear was a constant companion during the bombing raids over Nazi-occupied Europe. "If you weren't frightened you were thick," he said. "I never met anybody who enjoyed bombing."

Bob Frost, now 93, from Sandwich, in Kent, was just 19 years old when he jumped from a Wellington Bomber in World War II.The air gunner was returning home from a bombing mission over Essen, in Germany, when the engines died on the plane and the captain ordered his crew to bail out. Mr Frost said: “It wasn’t [a question of] if you got shot down, it was when you got shot down. Most crews never got beyond 14 ops, we were on our 22nd.”I came down through a cloud, cold and wet, and the ground came up and hit me… a great big Belgian field.” Retired RAF navigator John Nichol, who ejected from his Tornado during the Gulf War and was captured by Saddam Hussein’s forces, was made an honorary member of the club. He praised the bravery of the World War II pilots who only had a parachute on their backs and had to physically jump out of the aeroplane.
“You’ve got the flames, you’ve got the fear, the confusion, the shells exploding around.
“Your aircraft is on fire and then you simply have to dive out.
“You’re diving out into the unknown, trusting your life to your parachute and then floating down into enemy territory.”
And Mr Frost, who was smuggled out of mainland Europe through Spain with help of Resistance fighters, said fear was a constant companion during the bombing raids over Nazi-occupied Europe.
“If you weren’t frightened you were thick,” he said.
“I never met anybody who enjoyed bombing.”

raf-w-officer-s-caterpillar-club-pin-in-ww2-raf-documents

The 9 carat gold caterpillar badge is just 2cm in length, has ruby/amethyst gemstone eyes and other than being lightly tarnished, is in excellent condition and engraved to the rear 'W/O R GULLIFORD'.

The 9 carat gold caterpillar badge is just 2cm in length, has ruby/amethyst gemstone eyes and other than being lightly tarnished, is in excellent condition and engraved to the rear ‘W/O R GULLIFORD’.

There are no annual fees, though the Switlik club charges a nominal enrollment fee. Both the Irvin and Switlik clubs issue gold and silver pins depicting caterpillars. The Irvin ‘Golden Caterpillar has amethyst eyes. Prospective members must send documentation of the incident to the manufacturer, which then conducts its own research.

The requirements for membership are rigid – members must have saved their lives by jumping with a parachute. Consequently, 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.

Irvin designed and manufactured the classic leather and sheepskin flying jacket which became recognized during the Second World War.

Irvin designed and manufactured the classic leather and sheepskin flying jacket which became recognized during the Second World War.

Leslie Irvin’s design innovations weren’t limited to parachutes. With aircraft flying at increasing altitudes, pilots were subjected to lowering temperatures. To address this requirement, Irvin designed and manufactured the classic leather and sheepskin flying jacket which became recognized during the Second World War.

In later years, Irvin’s company also made car seat belts, slings for cargo handling and even canning machinery. The company later changed its name to Irvin Aerospace to reflect the change to the newer markets it served. Today, Irvin Aerospace is a brand of Airborne Systems, a leading designer and one of the world’s largest manufacturers of parachutes and related equipment.

As a humanitarian, Irvin was obsessed with saving lives with his equipment. In 1922, he founded the Caterpillar Club to recognize individuals that had their lives saved by a parachute. Today, the Caterpillar Club is one of the most famous flying clubs in the world and has awarded thousands of airmen, and a few airwomen with a gold caterpillar pin, symbolizing the silk from which early parachutes were made.

Up to the time of his death on October 9, 1966, Leslie Irvin was Honorary Secretary of the Caterpillar Club ever since its inception, but despite the fact that he made more than 300 parachutes jumps he did not become eligible for membership – he never had to jump to save his life.

The company expanded, opening a plant in Lexington, Kentucky in 1942, Fort Erie, Ontario in 1945, Glendale California in 1949. The Buffalo factory was expanded in 1950 and then closed in 1953; the age of the plant and union challenges were cited as reasons for the closure. Local production was moved to the Fort Erie factory. Leslie Irvin, who had moved back to the U.S. to manage the company after George Waite's retirement in 1946, moved home to California with his wife in the 1960s. When he died in 1966 at age 71, his obituary called him, "Father of the Parachute." The Irvin Air Chutes company became Irvin Industries in 1970, Irvin Aerospace in 1996, and then merged with other companies in 2007 to become Airborn Systems. Among many other products related to the aviation industry, the company still makes parachutes.

The company expanded, opening a plant in Lexington, Kentucky in 1942, Fort Erie, Ontario in 1945, Glendale California in 1949. The Buffalo factory was expanded in 1950 and then closed in 1953; the age of the plant and union challenges were cited as reasons for the closure. Local production was moved to the Fort Erie factory. Leslie Irvin, who had moved back to the U.S. to manage the company after George Waite’s retirement in 1946, moved home to California with his wife in the 1960s. When he died in 1966 at age 71, his obituary called him, “Father of the Parachute.” The Irvin Air Chutes company became Irvin Industries in 1970, Irvin Aerospace in 1996, and then merged with other companies in 2007 to become Airborn Systems. Among many other products related to the aviation industry, the company still makes parachutes.

Pin Lapel, The Caterpiller Club.

Pin Lapel, The Caterpiller Club.

Pin Lapel, The Caterpiller Club.

Pin Lapel, The Caterpiller Club.

The successor to the original Irvin company still provides pins to people who have made a jump. In addition to the Irvin Air Chute Company, other parachute manufacturers have also issued caterpillar pins for successful jumps. GC Parachutes formed their Gold Club in 1940. The Switlik Parachute Company of Trenton, New Jersey issued both gold and silver caterpillar pins. The Pioneer Parachute Co. in Skokie, Illinois, also presented plaques to people who packed the parachutes that saved lives.

The Irvin Air Chutes Company became Irvin Industries in 1970, Irvin Aerospace in 1996, and then merged with other companies in 2007 to become Airborn Systems. Among many other products related to the aviation industry, the company still makes parachutes.

The Caterpillar Club may be less relevant now—the initial enthusiasm for it, at least among the parachute manufacturers who issued pins, was to promote their products, which were little-trusted. With parachutes now standard, and made of nylon rather than silk, caterpillar pins have become scarce.

That said, if you’ve ever bailed from a failing aircraft, parachuted to safety using an Irvin product, and want something to show for it beyond the glory of being alive, get in touch with Airborne Systems, which owns the parachute producers Irvin Aerospace, GQ Parachutes, Para-Flite and AML (Aircraft Materials, Ltd).

In accordance with the Irvin protocols established in the 1920s, the company still issues gold pins and membership cards to Caterpillar Club members.

Caterpillar Club – A Brief History

The Caterpillar Club Story

WESTERN NEW YORK HISTORY

M.J.Hibberd’s Caterpillar Club memorabilia and photos.

Leslie Irvin (parachutist) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Pandora Society » April 19th, 1919 – Man Survives Jumping Out …

F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd Caterpillar Club – 462 Squadron RAAF

Parachuting Pioneer: Leslie Irvin.


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