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FALLING FREE

By LYLE D. GUNN

Perhaps everyone who has ever witnessed a parachute jump has wondered how it actually feels to fall from such a great height, and plummet down in a free fall.

You've asked yourself: "What if I jumped out from high up and didn't pull the ripcord for some time, until my falling speed grew so great that...?"

You leave the question unfinished because you wonder then: "Just how fast would I fall? Would my speed increase constantly, until I was dropping at a tremendous rate? And what would happen to me? Would I lose consciousness, and be unable to pull the ripcord at all, to open the parachute?"

These are all good questions, and the kind that everyone asks, and no one seems to be able to answer definitely.

However, the fact is, the answer has been supplied by a medical officer of the United States Army Air Corps, who, in an effort to solve the question for once and for all, stepped out of a plane at an altitude of 2,200 feet and let himself plummet straight down for a distance equivalent to two city blocks, or more than half the distance of his total fall!

Which is quite a way to tumble through empty space.

He got himself a real thrill, and reached some definite conclusions. Briefly, they are:

Speed of fall. We know that wind resistance to a falling body builds up with the increase in speed. That is to say, that the air pressure increases with the velocity until it equals in pounds, the weight of the body. When this point is reached, the speed of the falling body is constant; it no longer increases. Our knowledge on this point was supported by the experiment, because the Army officer didn't keep falling fasterónot after he had reached a speed of 120 miles per hour!

Now, since this experiment, others have measured the speed, and we have several different figures, one as high as 180 miles per hour. But as an average, we find a constant speed of about 120 m.p.h. is the constant in normal atmospheric pressure.

Considering the question of loss of consciousness, this officer stated he felt absolutely no sensation of "blackout" at all. He retained full possession of his senses. But there were plenty of other surprises on the way down.

In the first place, though there were twelve planes flying near him, he couldn't hear a sound! At least he recalled no noise, and it wasn't because of the rush of air past his ears, because at no time was he aware of that!

Also, in the first second or two his eyes closed involuntarily, and all sense of motion ceased at once. He felt suspended at rest in midair.

Only after his eyes were open was there any sense of falling. It increased rapidly after that, but there was no unpleasant sensation.

It took no effort to breathe, and he had no sick, empty feeling.

Immediately after jumping, the forward motion of the plane turned his body over. But that leisurely somersault in space was a pleasant contribution.

Long before he pulled the ripcord at 1,200 feet, he could feel the air resistance. It felt like soft pressure on the lower parts of his body. He felt as though he were being lowered into a bed of softest down! And that's how it really feels. If you don't believe it, try it yourself some time!