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Australia's first RAAF Parachute Jumps - 1926.

Another 3 Squadron “FIRST"


3 Squadron DH9A A1-10, modified for the RAAF's parachute experiments in 1926. 
Flight Lieutenant Ellis Wackett [brother of Lawrence who had served in 3AFC] made the first freefall parachute jump from A1-10,
over Richmond air base, NSW. 
In 1925 Wackett had been on a posting in England, spending time at the RAF station at Andover
where he learned to pack and use the new life-preserving equipment. 
Upon return to Australia, he began the introduction of parachutes into the RAAF. 

From the Sydney Morning Herald, of Saturday 29 May 1926, comes a report of the newly-formed RAAF's first parachute experiments.  These were also the very first "freefall" parachute jumps from an aeroplane ever conducted in Australia

[NB: However parachute technology itself had been used in Australia from as early as 1879, when one had been deployed to slow the emergency descent of a burst balloon, and a "static line" jump had been made from an aircraft on Boxing Day 1919 on the outskirts of Melbourne, by Captain Gordon C. Wilson MC DCM - formerly of 2AFC and 8AFC.]

THRILLING TRIALS.

Parachute Descents.

RICHMOND AERODROME [26 May 1926].

The first parachute descents to be carried out in Australia by the Royal Australian Air Force were conducted at the Richmond aerodrome this week, by members of No.3 Squadron, under the supervision of Flight-Lieutenant [Ellis] Wackett, who was sent up specially to instruct the unit in this form of aeronautics.  The first actual descent was made by Flight-Lieutenant Wackett, who was followed by Flight Officer V. H. Augerson.  He was taken up in a DH9 and climbed to a ladder on the side of the 'plane, preparatory to leaping off at 3000 feet.

A signal was given by the pilot, and Flight Lieutenant Augerson leapt into the air.  After falling about 50 feet, his parachute opened, and he made a graceful descent, finally landing in a ploughed field.  He was in the air for approximately two and a half minutes.

Interviewed, he declared that the descent was thrilling before the parachute opened.  The sensation of falling through space was a trifle weird, and when the parachute was released, his feet were over his head.  He felt no sudden jerk, and afterwards felt perfectly safe, making a perfect descent.  The equipment carried weighed 40lb., and consisted of a trainer's parachute, carried on the back, with a reserve one in front of the body.  The chute is released by a spring, which lets out a miniature parachute, which, when filled with air, automatically releases the main one.  Flying Officer Augerson said that in his descent he wriggled and fully tested out the harness.

Today, Flying Officers Sutherland and Duncan both made descents, the latter unfortunately spraining his ankle through landing in an awkward position.  

[Another first!]

Photo from the Airpower Development Centre:


The modified 3 Squadron DH9A. 

Wackett later recalled: “It was a beautiful morning at Richmond and ideal for this type of exercise.  The DH9A aircraft that we were using for parachute training had to be modified.  The rear cockpit, which was the gunner’s position, [normally] had a Scarff Ring [gun mounting] around its perimeter.  This was replaced with a tubular steel ring to which a small ladder was attached, leading over the side of the aircraft fuselage. The cockpit was bare, except for a box used as a seat.  My pilot on that morning was Flying Officer Bill Duncan.  When we had reached 2000 feet I got up and stood on the box as the first step to scrambling over the side, then step by step I made my way gingerly down the ladder to the last rung.  I waited until the aircraft was over that section of airfield I gauged to be just right to jump.  Then with one hand on the rip cord and the other holding firmly onto the ladder rung I gave the pilot the nod and jumped.  My landing was without incident.  It was the blind leading the blind you know.”

Hawkesbury historian Michelle Nichols has sent in the wonderful illustrated article below.

Sydney Sun.  Fri 28 May 1926

2,000ft. DROP - PARACHUTE THRILLS AT RICHMOND - FIRST IN N.S.W. - FLYING SCHOOL PUPILS LEAP FROM 'PLANE

When the whole world swings and wobbles, when a landscape of green and brown rushes at you and a fierce wind screams in your ear, how does it feel?  When you step off a light ladder and tread in space and when the landscape suddenly stops rushing at you, and you swing lazily in mid-air, what is it like?  Ask Flying-Officer Valdemar AUGENSON, a young graduate from Duntroon.  He experienced all these thrills yesterday afternoon when he leapt from a 'plane travelling at 80 miles an hour, 2,000 feet above the flat, green paddocks of Richmond. 

(Actually Captain Wilson, of Newcastle, formerly of the Australian Flying Corps, was the first to descend from an aeroplane by [static line] parachute in Australia.  He did it twice in Melbourne in 1920.)

Flight-Lieutenant [Ellis Charles] Wackett, a brother of the designer of the "Widgeon," was the first to make such a descent from a speeding plane in N.S.W.  But today FLTLT Wackett is the instructor of a class of airmen at Richmond Aerodrome, and, with the experience of numerous parachute descents in England, he is a hardened bird-man in the most literal sense of the term.  Flight-Lieut. Wackett yesterday gave his class a lead.  He went up in a DH9a 'plane, which was piloted by Flying-Officer Sutherland.  After circling around the aerodrome, 2,000 ft. above ground, Wackett flung himself from the tiny ladder hanging at the side of the 'plane.  He plunged through space at a terrific rate!  Hearts of the watchers pounded for thirty seconds!

Then above the tiny brown figure in the air billowed a huge umbrella of white silk that flashed and glinted in the sunlight.  The headlong plunge stopped short.  The parachute drifted easily in the light breeze, and many feet below, Wackett swung to-and-fro as comfortably as if he were in an arm-chair. 

He landed amid the cheers of his colleagues almost in the centre of the flying ground.  To Flight Lieutenant Wackett, however, the experience was not new, and he disclaimed any special thrill, looking on It as all part of the day's job.  But when the time arrived for the first of his pupils to make a similar descent, the whole aerodrome buzzed with pent-up excitement.  Not only were the officers eager to fling themselves into space 2,000 feet above the hangar, but four air-craftsmen volunteered to make a descent.  Flying-Officer Augenson and Flying-Officer Sutherland went out in front of the hangar and solemnly tossed a coin for the honour of being first "up".  - Or "down"!

PARACHUTE DRIFTS WITH THE WIND

Officers crowded around, and the spin of the coin was watched as intently as if Collins and Carr were tossing for the first Test.  The toss favoured Augenson.  With his face wreathed in smiles, he climbed into a padded brown Sidcot suit.  The parachute, which had taken an hour to fold, was attached to his shoulders.  Meticulous care has to be taken with the folding of parachutes because one ruffle may impede a cord which is tugged by the wearer to release the silken cloud above his head.

Flight-Lieut. Wackett took charge of the D.H.9a, from which his first pupil was to spring.  The plane mounted to 2,000 feet.  It swept out over the hangar, followed the shining ribbon of the railway line running from Richmond to Clarendon, and turned north in the direction of the mist-shrouded foothills that lead to the rampart of the Blue Mountains.

Thirty keen eyes watched the flight of the 'plane, which diminished to a black smudge against banks of ashen clouds which came bowling across the neighbouring hills.

Then, just as a spear of sunlight had turned the 'plane into a bird of silver, a little brown figure seemed suddenly to make a side jump and to be left treading on air, with legs and arms waving against a grey back ground of cloud.

Almost immediately, however, the parachute opened-out under the setting sun, like the blossoming of a huge white rose.

A stronger breeze was now sifting across the flying ground, and Augenson, after swaying this way and that, 1,500 feet above the ground, was carried rapidly almost due south.  A military ambulance raced across the green paddock after the drifting parachute.  Augenson swept right out of the flying area.

It looked as if he would descend amidst a clump of trees near the main railway line to Sydney.  But the flight of a parachute is deceptive.  He skimmed easily over the topmost branches and dropped fast towards a ploughed paddock.  Clearing the barbed wire fence, he landed 20 yards further on, and the tug of the parachute pulled him on to his back.

A man was harrowing in the paddock, and he pulled up his horse with a jerk as the silken umbrella raced at him.  He took his pipe from his mouth and murmured,
"Strike me!"

Augenson was the hero of the hour at the flying school.  Everyone at the Flying School was agreed that the first [“free fall”] parachute descents in Australia from a speeding 'plane had been eminently successful.  Lieut. Lukis, who is in charge of the Richmond aerodrome, was highly pleased.

Lieut. Lukis explained that the object of the course was to permit pilots to escape from a machine which suddenly caught fire, or which was irrevocably disabled.

Flying-Lieut. Wackett [who became a leading figure in RAAF Engineering over the next three decades] took the precaution of first having dropped from the 'plane a dummy approximating the weight of a man.  Six more airmen have yet to win their spurs in parachute descents before the end of next week.  - It will be Flying-Officer Ducan's turn today for the first descent and Flying-Officer Sutherland will follow.


A newspaper photograph of Sutherland’s first jump from A1-10.

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