November 9 in Russian history


Gleb Kotelnikov patented the first knapsack parachute.

Gleb Yevgenyevich Kotelnikov was born in 1872 in St.Petersburg. His father was a mathematician, a teacher of math and physics. His mother was a daughter of a serf peasant. She was a good painter and singer. Gleb, probably, inherited her artistic inclinations. He sang and played violin. On the other hand, he was a fencer and liked working with mechanical devices. In 1894 he graduated from the Kiev military school of artillery. He was in the military service till 1910, when he understood that he always dreamed of an artistic career and went to St.Petersburg to become an actor. He joined the company of the theatre Narodny Dom.

These were the years of the dawn of aviation. Aeroplanes and air shows were very visited by thousands of people, the pilots were more popular than artists. Kotelnikov was also interested in aviation. In September 1910, on one of these air shows, Kotelnikov became a witness of the death of captain Matsiyevich, whose aeroplane fell apart at the altitude of 400 meters. Kotelnikov was so deeply impressed by the event that he recalled the lessons of his father and began contemplating on the devices that could save the life of the pilot.

The umbrella-like parachutes used by early ballooners, like Blanchard and Garnerin, were unusable in the tiny cockpits of the aeroplanes. Something else had to be invented. Once Kotelnikov saw how a woman produced from her doll-bag a huge shawl made of thin silk. It gave him and idea and in some days he made a model. A toy man had a helmet with a dome-like parachute inside. Kotelnikov took his eleven year old son and they went to their suburban house, where they tested the system. It worked perfectly. However, when he calculated the size of the parachute necessary to save a man should be no less than 7.5 meters in diameter (50.7 m2). It was too much for a helmet. Curiously enough, this helmet scheme was patented in Germany in 1919.

Finally, Kotelnikov came up with the idea of the knapsack parachute. He made a metal knapsack where the parachute was located on a shelf supported by two springs, which had to push the parachute away when released. Kotelnikov also invented an effective and safe suspension system with suspension lines and risers, which provided a way to control the descent. The edge of the canopy was enforced with a metal wire, which helped the canopy to open faster.

The military officials, though, were quite sceptical about the invention. Some of them said that the pilots legs will be torn away at the moment the canopy opens. Others argued that the system was not reliable. The model tests were not convincing and in summer 1912 Kotelnikov built a full-scale model, named RK-1. The military "specialists" refused to test the parachute on a aeroplane, insisting that the aeroplane would go out of control after the jump. Finally, Kotelnikov convinced them, but prior to the final tests, he decided to check if the parachute is strong enough. He attached it to a car and used it to halt the running machine. It gave him an idea to used the parachute as an emergency brake for cars and aeroplanes, but the aviation "specialists" ridiculed him out and he didn't claim this patent.

At last, in June 1912, in a village named Salizi, near from Gatchina, a 76-kilogram mannequin survived a number of tests when released from an aerostate at various altitudes. On October 9, the first tests from an aeroplane were held. In spite of this success, the Russian air forces refused to use the invention. In January 1913, Kotelnikov's business partner, half-Russian, half-German Wilhelm Augustovich Lomach, presents the parachute at a competition in France. A Russian student Ossovsky jumped with the parachute from a 53-meter high bridge and landed safely. The jump was repeated several times. Kotelnikov could not attend the competition and Lomach used the opportunity to sell the two test parachutes to an unknown country. Since mid-1913, the copies of the RK-1 were already widely used in Europe.

During the WWI the Russian government finally decided to order a large lot of RK-1. In 1923 Kotelnikov modernized his parachute and patented RK-2. Then came RK-3 with the soft knapsack. In 1924 he made RK-4 for cargo. In 1926 Gleb Kotelnikov presented all his inventions to the Soviet government.

During the WWII, Kotelnikov lived in Leningrad, where he survived the blockade. He moved to Moscow, where he died on November 22, 1944. The village Salizi, where the first test took place, was renamed in 1949 to Kotelnikovo.


Ralf Wokan said...

Hallo Dmitri !
Now we can see what happens when one part in your soul is a math teacher & the other is a singer of dreams...
Thanks !

Dimitri said...

Thanks for a link in your blog, Ralf! Feel free to use my articles posted here in any way.

Kyle and Svet Keeton said...

That is a great article. The metal container would make you skeptical at first. But the idea was great. Had no idea myself who invented the parachute. Now I know!


Dimitri said...

> Had no idea myself who invented the parachute

Neither had I :). Running a history blog has turned out to be an educating activity.

Anonymous said...

Gleb Kotelnikov was my great, great grandfather on my mother's side. I knew he invented the parachute, but i never knew people actually blogged about him! WOW, lol

Dimitri said...

Great, great and grand men deserve to be blogged about :). And your great great grandfather was one of them.

It was one of those coincidences that make life such a curious thing. Especially the life in the Net.

Anonymous said...

So, what would you call the device that Charles Leroux jumped with in April 1889 from a balloon?

Dimitri said...

A parachute, of course :), like many others (Blanchard's and Garnierin's). What Kotelnikov invented was the knapsack parachute. The early parachutes for balloons could not be used as a rescue system on airplanes. It was the job for the compact knapsack parachutes.

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Anonymous said...


I am a visual researcher on a show for The Discovery Channel called INVENTIONS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD.

I am interested in the photos I saw on your blog at this link:


Do you know the source of the lower two photos?

Thanking you in advance for any assistance you can provide,

Caitriona Cantillon
Visual Researcher
409 King St. W. Suite 201
Toronto, Ont. M5V 1K1
ph: 416.598.2500 x.297
fx: 416.598.2550

Dimitri said...

Dear Caitriona,

It took me quite some time to recall the source of those photos, but at last I found it. They are taken from the book titled "Создатель авиационного парашюта" (The creator of the aviation parachute) by A. Glebov (А. Глебов) and G. Zalutski (Г. Залуцкий), published in 1951 by DOSARM publishers in Moscow.

The full Russian text of the book with the photos (those I borrowed and more) is available here:

The pictures you asked about are found in chapter 3:

If there's anything I can do for you (more info, translation of the titles, and so on), let me know, I'll be glad to help.

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