AidSpace Blog

Obscure Objects: Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick’s Parachute

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In 1964, a woman named Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick donated this parachute, which was handmade by Charles Broadwick and consists of 110 yards of silk, to the Smithsonian’s National Air Museum, precursor to the National Air and Space Museum. Just who was Tiny Broadwick and what is her connection to parachuting?

Tiny Broadwick said that unlike modern parachutes, which are shaped from bias strips to give them the strength to withstand jumps from speeding aircraft without tearing, this parachute is shaped from straight pieces of material. This back-pack parachute was used for exhibition jumps in the early-1900s. Photo by Carolyn Russo, National Air and Space Museum

Tiny got her nickname when she was born Georgia Ann Thompson in North Carolina on April 8, 1893 weighing just 1.4 kilos (3 lbs.). Even when fully grown, she was just over 1.2 meters tall (4 feet) and weighed about 36 kilos (80 lbs.), so the nickname stuck.

Tiny was just 15 years old when she jumped from a hot-air balloon at the 1908 North Carolina State Fair. Describing her feelings later, she said, “I tell you, honey, it was the most wonderful sensation in the world!” It was a thrill she would come to experience some 1,000 times in her life.

Tiny first became interested in jumping in 1907 when she saw an act called, “The Broadwicks and their Famous French Aeronauts,” in which performers would ascend in a balloon and then parachute out. “I knew that’s all I ever wanted to do!” she commented after seeing the show. She approached the owner of the troupe, Charles Broadwick, and convinced him to hire her. Her diminutive size worked to her advantage, since Broadwick saw the potential in billing her as the “Doll Girl,” dressing her in ruffled bloomers, a silk dress, ribbons in her ringlets, and a bonnet. Although she hated the name and the costume, she soon became the star of the show.

Formal, posed, full-length studio portrait of Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick, “Youngest Girl Aeronaut,” 1911. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM 98-16301)

Charles Broadwick legally adopted Tiny and her name became Tiny Broadwick. They traveled all over the United States with the popular balloon act, during which the dauntless Tiny performed daring jumps, sometimes with flares or torches. She had several harrowing mishaps during her career. She once landed on top of the caboose of a train, and got tangled in a windmill and high tension wires. She also had many rough landings in which she broke bones and dislocated her shoulder on several occasions, but she never lost her enthusiasm for jumping.

One day at a Los Angeles air meet she and Charles Broadwick met famed stunt flyer and airplane manufacturer Glenn L. Martin, who had seen her jump. He proposed that she jump from one of his airplanes, a chance she seized without hesitation, making her the first woman to parachute from an airplane on June 21, 1913.

To perform this feat, Tiny hung from a trapeze-like swing suspended beneath Martin’s airplane just behind the wing. Her parachute, which was developed by Charles Broadwick, was on a shelf above her, and when the plane was at 2,000 feet over Los Angeles, Tiny released a lever that made the seat drop out from under her. The parachute, which was attached to the airplane by a string, opened automatically, and she floated safely to earth, landing in Griffith Park.

Tiny Broadwick shown seated in a sling which is hanging from the side of Glenn Martin’s plane, probably over Chicago, 1913. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM 77-716)

Later that year, Tiny became the first woman to parachute into a body of water, namely, Lake Michigan.

In 1914, her reputation as a parachutist led to the U.S. Army contacting her. World War I was raging in Europe, and many pilots were lost because they had no way to escape from a falling airplane. Tiny was asked to demonstrate jumping from a military airplane, and she made four jumps at San Diego’s North Island. After three successful jumps, her fourth didn’t go so well. Her parachute’s line became tangled in the airplane’s tail assembly and the strong winds prevented her from getting back in the airplane. But Tiny did not panic; instead she had the idea to cut the line to a short length and free fall toward the ground, then pulling the line by hand to open the parachute. This was, in essence, the first planned free-fall descent, and the first demonstration of what would later be called the “rip cord.” She had proven that a pilot could return to the ground safely by bailing out of an airplane.

Tiny Broadwick posing beside an airplane in flying gear, with parachute. Charles Broadwick invented the back-pack parachute she is wearing. When the wearer jumped, the chute was automatically pulled from the pack by a line attached to the balloon or airplane. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM 87-13559).

Tiny’s last jump was in 1922, when she was just 29 years old. Sadly for her, problems with her ankles prevented her from continuing as a parachutist. She stated at the time, “I breathe so much better up there, and it’s so peaceful being that near to God.”

Tiny received many honors and awards in her lifetime. Among them are the U.S. Government Pioneer Aviation award and the John Glenn Medal. She is one of the few women in the Early Birds of Aviation. She also received the Gold Wings of the Adventurer’s Club in Los Angeles, and was made an honorary member of the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg. With that honor, she was told she could jump any time she chose.

At the May 5, 1964 Tiny Broadwick Night dinner during which Tiny donated her parachute, National Air Museum Director Philip S. Hopkins said, “Measured in feet and inches, her nickname ‘Tiny’ is obviously appropriate. Measured by her courage and by her accomplishments, she stands tall among her many colleagues — the pioneers of flight. And her contributions to flight history have helped to make America stand tall as the nation which gave wings to the world.”

Tiny Broadwick died in 1978 at age 85 and was buried in her home state of North Carolina.

Watch a 1963 interview with Tiny Broadwick from the state archives of North Carolina, conducted by news reporter Ben Runkle of WRAL.

For more information on Tiny, read Tiny Broadwick: First Lady of Parachuting by Elizabeth Whitley Roberson.

Kathleen Hanser is a writer-editor in the Office of Communications at the National Air and Space Museum.

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Happy Birthday to the World’s First Woman in Space

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Happy birthday Valentina Tereshkova! March 6th marks the 78th birthday of the world’s first woman to fly in space.

Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Vladmirovna Tereshkova in the Vostok 6 spacecraft.

Valentina Vladmirovna Tereshkova

Nearly 52 years ago, beginning on June 16, 1963, Tereshkova became the first woman to orbit the Earth for two days inside her Vostok 6 spacecraft—a similar spacecraft to the one that carried Yuri Gagarin into space. She had been selected from among five finalists. Their names, Tatyana Kuznetsova, Irina Solovyova, Zhanna Yorkina, and Valentina Ponomaryova, remain obscure to all but the most acute observers of the Soviet human spaceflight program. Tereshkov trained with these women for a little over a year before her flight in 1963 and into the 1970s until the hope of sending an all-woman, multi-person crew to orbit the Earth was abandoned. The Vostok 6 flight was a co-orbiting flight with Soviet cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky and his Vostok 5 spacecraft. Tereshkova’s flight remains controversial in some Russian circles as engineers at the time complained that she had not properly executed her assignments in flight. In the United States, her flight was controversial because a Soviet woman flew in space at a time when women were not even considered to take part in the astronaut program. Five months after her flight, Valentina Tereshkova married a fellow cosmonaut, Andrian Nikolayev—they separated and divorced soon after the birth of their daughter, Elena. Tereshkova went on to assume political and diplomatic roles throughout her career. Even today she makes occasional appearances throughout the world as one of the last two surviving Vostok cosmonauts.

This birthday is especially significant for Valentina Tereshkova. For the first time in almost 17 years, there is another Russian woman in space. It might seem odd to some that the country that led by launching the first woman in space has fallen so far behind the United States. To date, the U.S. has sent 43 women into space. Twelve women have represented other nations through either single or dual citizenship, including two women “Taikonauts” from China. Only four Russian or Soviet women have flown in space.

What happened to the promise of equal opportunity in space for Russian women?


The first six cosmonauts, left to right: Pavel Popovich, Yuri Gagarin, Valentina Tereshkova, Adrian Nikolaev, Valery Bykovsky, German Titov.

Valentina Tershkova’s flight in 1963 was initially one of opportunity. Unlike her male counterparts, Tereshkova was not selected based on her flying skills; she had thrived at parachute training but had never operated an aircraft before her selection. Only one of her colleagues in the women’s brigade was an accomplished pilot and possessed a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. None of the Soviet women pilots from World War II, who were known as “Night Witches,” had been included in the ad hoc recruitment. After the group was disbanded, there was no thought of reconstituting a women’s brigade or of recruiting women for the regular cosmonaut program. This was until NASA announced the “Astronaut Group 8″ in 1978; the first class of astronauts selected exclusively for the Space Shuttle program. Among them were six women, three black men, and one Asian man. As an almost knee-jerk response, Soviet space planners plucked Svetlana Savitskaya from a career as an aerobatic sports pilot and sent her to the Salyut 7 Soviet space station after two years of training. Almost a year before Sally Ride became the first American woman in space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, Savitskaya became the second Soviet woman in space. Two years later, Savitskaya returned to space, this time to perform a spacewalk three months before Kathryn Sullivan’s announced spacewalk on board the shuttle. In the years after Savitskaya’s spacewalk, there was some lip service paid to recruiting female cosmonauts to the Soviet program, but none flew again for a decade. Finally, Elena Kondakova made a five-month stay on board the space station Mir in 1994-5. Kondakova continued her spaceflight career when she flew on board the space shuttle in 1997 as part of US-Russian cooperative planning for building the International Space Station (ISS).

The last 17 years have witnessed a reorganization of the Russian space program. Funding has declined, the Russians no longer have their own space station, and Russian Soyuz rockets now carry crews exclusively to the ISS. During this time there have been a few Russian women cosmonaut candidates—perhaps one in every other entering class—but none had actually made it to space in almost 17 years.

The one successful candidate was Elena Serova, who was in the selection class of 2006. She made her first spaceflight in September 2014, flying in the Soyuz TMA 14M to become a part of Expedition 41 on board the ISS. She remains in orbit today, planning for a return to Earth later this month. The significance of Serova’s flight, returning Russian women to orbit, was not lost on Russian television audiences. At the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2012, Tereshkova and Serova joined together to represent the past and present of women cosmonauts in the Russian and Soviet space programs. This picture shows them together at the Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City near Moscow. However, this photograph might be a fleeting image of the progress that Russian women are making in the cosmonaut corps. The Russian cosmonaut class of 2014 has only one woman, Anna Kikina.


Elena Serova (left) and Valentina Tereshkova at the Cosmonaut Training Center.

I anticipate that Elena Serova will join us all in wishing Tereshkova a happy birthday. Perhaps there will no longer be a decade-long break between her return to Earth later this month and the next Russian woman cosmonaut.

In the meantime, we’re happy to celebrate the birth of the first woman in space. Here is to you Valentina! We all hope that there will be more Russian women to continue your legacy in the near future. С Днем Рождения!

Cathleen Lewis is a curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum.


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Celebrating “Star Trek,” Remembering Nimoy

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News of Lenoard Nimoy’s passing was felt far and wide at the National Air and Space Museum. It may come as no surprise that many members of our staff—the same folks who have dedicated their careers to inspiring and educating the public about aerospace history—are also huge Star Trek fans.

As we remember Nimoy’s legacy, we can’t help but recall our own experiences meeting the man and celebrating the series. In 1992, the Museum opened a temporary exhibition on Star Trek and cast and crew of the beloved show descended upon the Museum throughout its run. Two staff members, past and present, reflect on that experience.

From left to right, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley at a panel discussion at the 1992 Star Trek exhibition opening.

Marilyn Kozak retired from the Smithsonian as director of donor relations in 2011, but in 1992 she was asked to serve as the gallery supervisor of the Museum’s Star Trek exhibition.

They kept coming. Sometimes over 4,000 a day. Some wore uniforms, others had memorized entire scripts, many were just curious. The president of Mozambique, Sonny Bono, Chelsea Clinton, David Copperfield, and Gary Busey all came to see. But the usually crowded Star Trek gallery at the National Air and Space Museum was quiet and empty early one morning when Leonard and Adam Nimoy came to visit. How can a fan (me) NOT be excited about standing under the model of the Starship Enterprise with Spock in the flesh. But my role that morning was gallery supervisor, not “fan.” That meant no pictures, no autographs, just a casual conversation about how the ears took SO long to get JUST right, the raging controversy over that first bi-racial kiss, and the “state-of-the-art” special effects that, well, just didn’t look quite that special anymore. We ended the visit watching the video clip of Joan Collins getting killed by a car as a devastated James T. Kirk looks on. The Nimoys smiled, it was time for them to move on. As we exited the gallery, I showed them the guest book with the names of, and comments from, thousands of visitors. Mr. Nimoy seemed genuinely moved as he paused to read the many pages of tributes, recollections, and expressions of appreciation from fans of a low-rated, often panned, sometimes cheesy but highly relevant television show.

Not everyone at the Smithsonian thought the Star Trek gallery was a good idea and they were unprepared for the huge crowds that visited every day during its short run. Leonard Nimoy was initially conflicted about his role as Spock and I suspect he was just as unprepared for the intense notoriety that waned and waxed over the years.

But just as the Smithsonian remains a much beloved institution, Nimoy, as an actor, artist, musician, director, and of course as Spock continues to inspire. Thank you for encouraging us to go boldly and allowing us to join you on your journey to explore strange new worlds. It’s been a blast!

Those famous Spock ears that took, “SO long to get JUST right.”

Linda King currently serves as a project manager at the Museum, but in 1992 she found herself momentarily stuck in a freight elevator with the cast of Star Trek.

The Museum hosted two events before opening the Star Trek exhibition—a morning press conference and an evening reception. For these events, each Star Trek cast member was paired with a staff escort; I was paired with Nichelle Nichols who played Lieutenant Uhura. I remember the evening event in particular. We all assembled in the parking garage and then boarded the freight elevator on our way to the second floor where the exhibition was on display. Before the elevator ascended to the second floor, it abruptly stopped. That’s right, the freight elevator momentarily stopped operating. To this day I don’t remember who said it, but within moments one lone voice on the elevator said, “Scotty, we have engine trouble.” The elevator roared with laughter. Moments later it became operational again and we were taken up to the second floor to attend the opening reception.

As I was looking through some of my project files, I stumbled across the logistics memo for that day and wanted to share with you who attended and who in the Museum served as escort.

Star Trek Cast Member …. Staff Escort

William Shatner (Captain Kirk) ….. Valerie Neal/Kathie Spraggins
Leonard Nimoy  (Mr. Spock) ….. Bob Craddock/Patti Woodside
DeForest Kelly (Dr. McCoy) ….. Bea Matkovic (Mowry)
Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura) ….. Linda King
James Doohan   (“Scotty”) ….. Mandy Young
Walter Koenig (“Chekov”) ….. Mike Tuttle
George Takei  (“Sulu”) ….. Priscilla Strain
Majel Barrett Rodenberry ….. Raymond Stephens
Bill Theiss (costume designer) ….. Barbara Brennan
Robert Justman ….. Jack Van Ness
Martin Davis
& Brandon Tartikoff,
Larry Levinson
Harry Anderson
(all Paramount execs) ….. Susan Beaudette

Star Trek artifacts on display in the Museum’s 1992 exhibition.


You’ve heard from Marilyn, Linda, and previously from Bob. Now, we encourage you to share your own stories here in the comments. What did Mr. Spock mean to you? 


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To Me, Mr. Nimoy Was Mr. Spock

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All actors create characters. Some of these characters even achieve iconic status. However, what Leonard Nimoy created was legendary. Spock appeals to so many different people in so many different ways.

Leonard Nimoy (right) and William Shatner at a panel discussion with fellow cast mates at the opening of the Museum’s Star Trek exhibition in 1992. Photo: Mark Avino (SI-92-1547-28A)

Prior to Star Trek, most television characters were formulaic. Dad wore a hat, mom wore a dress, and the children were all sugar coated. Spock was alien not only because he had pointed ears, but because he was smart. Very smart! Spock knew thousands of years of world history as well as any form of higher math and physics. Spock was so endearing because he was one of television’s first true intellectuals. And Nimoy was so convincingly smart as Spock that he often had scientists ask him for his opinion about things. Nimoy made it cool to be smart.

In a crew as diverse as the Enterprise’s, Spock was also different, and the struggle Spock had with his identity (both on screen and in real life it seems) is something everyone feels at some times in their lives. To find peace, we must accept who we are and appreciate that our differences are what make us special. There were so many times where Nimoy showed us that this was the case.

It was Nimoy’s idea to make Spock and the Vulcan culture focused on logic and to control all emotions. In our own culture men and even boys are taught not to show any emotions (“boy’s don’t cry”). It is no wonder Spock was so appealing, particularly to males. Even Spock cried sometimes.

Sometimes Spock needed rescuing. Sometimes it was Spock who did the rescuing. Whatever the circumstances, it was obvious that Spock was a true friend who his crewmates could always count on. What’s not to like about that? Through Spock, Nimoy created someone all of us can identify with and admire.

My late mother, who was also an avid Spock fan, used to say, “Star Trek is about hope.” I think she was right. However, that hope is set in the future. While I appreciate the optimistic outlook Star Trek portrayed about the future, the underlying message that we can apply to today is that we should treat everyone with dignity no matter how different or alien they are.

The author, Bob Craddock (center), and Leonard Nimoy (right) at the opening of the Museum’s 1992 Star Trek exhibition. Photo: Carolyn Russo

The entrance to the Museum’s Star Trek exhibition in 1992. Photo: Mark Avino (SI-92-7742)

I had the opportunity to serve as Mr. Nimoy’s escort when the Smithsonian opened the Star Trek exhibit in 1992. I spent the better part of two days with him and his wife, Susan Bay. Probably the thing that impressed me the most about him was that he always had time to talk to a fan. Despite hearing the same questions or comments over and over all day, he never lost patience. He treated everyone with dignity. In that short time I had the privilege of being with him, it was obvious that he lived the message of Star Trek. Mr. Nimoy was indeed Mr. Spock.

Bob Craddock is a planetary scientist and avid Star Trek fan in the Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies.

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Vance Marchbanks’ Contribution to Public Health Policy on Sickle Cell Disease

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Dr. Vance Marchbanks, Jr. is famous in both the black history and aerospace history communities for his accomplishments as one of the first in his field. He was one of two black MDs to complete the United States Army Air Corps School in Aerospace Medicine at the beginning of World War II. His fame continued through his association with the 99th and 301st Fighter Groups, who later became known as the Tuskegee Airmen. He served as their flight doctor during the war. His fame among the black community continued through the early years of the American Mercury space program when he was detailed to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to monitor the health of John Glenn in orbit from a listening station in Kano, Northern Nigeria. Even after he retired from the Air Force as a colonel, Marchbanks’ fame rebounded with each new accomplishment as an employee at Hamilton Standard, where he worked on the life support systems for the Apollo program. Nevertheless, one of Vance Marchbanks’ greatest accomplishments was less frequently heralded. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, he used his considerable political and personal clout to challenge the U.S. Air Force on one of its medical dogmas.

Dr. Vance Marchbanks, Jr., served on the flight control team in Kano, Northern Nigeria.

Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) gained its name from its initial medical identification in 1910. A young doctor coined the term after examining a blood sample from a patient who had complained of both chronic and acute pain and anemia. Instead of the round donut shaped red bloods cells that he expected, the doctor saw cells that were shaped like sickles, a hand-held agricultural tool with a curved blade. The disease that he described had existed for thousands of years under various local names among people in Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Near East—largely in regions where Malaria is endemic. It was not until the late 1940s and early 1950s that the genetic nature of the disease began to be clear to doctors in the U.S. and Britain. In 1949, two articles appeared independently showing conclusively that SCD was an inherited, recessive gene. During the 1950s, it became possible to screen for SCD. This was a life-saver for those who inherited two copies of the gene and the ability to identify those who carried single copies of the gene made genetic counseling possible for SCD. Carrying a single copy of the gene was dubbed as having Sickle Cell Trait (SCT).

Once scientists had identified the molecular expression of SCD, they sought to identify the causes of the periodic acute episodes like the ones that the 1910 patient had suffered. Looking at the anecdotal evidence, scientists surmised that stress and hypoxia caused attacks. Doctors further speculated that even those who carried a single copy of the gene could be subject to sickle cell attacks. The United States Air Force (USAF), using an overabundance of caution, acquiesced to preliminary hypotheses of biologists and geneticists and declared that no pilot-candidate with the single gene for SCD and known as having Sickle Celt Trait would be allowed to participate in any altitude duties. They argued that the limited medical knowledge concerning the effects of stress and the environment on individuals with SCT justified this action. The result was that any man screened as having SCT could not become a pilot.  What had been characterized as a caution within medical circles had become USAF doctrine. The doctrine became public in 1979, when a candidate to the Air Force Academy with SCT was dismissed from the academy because of his genetic trait. The young man sued.

When it came to the attention of the community of black doctors in the U.S. that the USAF had instituted this policy based on the unproven belief that the trait alone could cause health issues for pilots, they went to Vance Marchbanks for any data that might have been recorded during World War II to either prove or disprove the Air Force’s justification for excluding pilot candidates with SCT. Of course, the USAF did not have the capacity to screen for SCD during the war, but Marchbanks had maintained contact with his fighter pilot colleagues and was able to assemble a contact list from which doctors could determine the prevalence of SCT among the Tuskegee Airmen. Dr. Oswaldo Castro at the Howard University Center for Sickle Cell Disease conducted the testing and Dr. Marchbanks determined that out of 154 veterans of World War II, 10 were found to have SCT. All had flown in unpressurized aircraft without evidence of any hazard. One of the 10 had amassed a total of 600 flying hours in combat. Marchbanks published his data in the Aviation, Space and Environmental Medical journal in March 1980, and reprinted the results in the Journal of the National Medical Association the following year.

Effective on May 26, 1981, the Air Force rescinded its policy on flight crews and Sickle Cell Trait. The Department of Defense issued guidance to all the military services to do likewise. Today, we know much more about SCD, its causes, treatment, and screening. But it is thanks to Vance Marchbanks and his long career that screening for the trait ceased to be a United States Air Force dogma.

Vance Marchbanks died in Connecticut in 1988.

Cathleen Lewis is a curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum.


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