As pilot Tony Jannus and his passenger Army Captain Albert Berry neared Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, in their Benoist pusher biplane, Berry spotted an insane asylum in the distance. He told Jannus, “That’s where we both belong.”
Jannus too. Berry was about to leap from the plane in a silk parachute, the first such leap from an airplane. The biplane was a frail thing. On the centennial of the leap, the National guard issued a press release:
“Nobody thought you could parachute from a plane without having the plane crash,” said Art Schuermann in a National Guard release. Schuermann is from the Jefferson Barracks Historic Preservation Office. “People thought the plane would go out of whack when the jump was made. So this proved the concept – that you can parachute from an airplane and that the plane and the jumper will be fine.”But both pilot and passenger were brave men who on March 1, 1912, took one giant leap of faith for man, one big step for mankind. Due to concerns about the change in weight, Berry dropped from directly below the pilot.
This was not the first time Berry parachuted. The New York Times reported:
"Albert Berry is 33 years old and was born in Philadelphia. He is the son of Capt. John Berry, a St. Louis balloonist. The younger Berry made his first parachute jump [from a balloon] when he was 16 years of age, and has continued the work since."But this fall was like no other. Asked if he would ever repeat the performance, Berry replied: “Never again! I believe I turned five somersaults on my way down…My course downward… was like a crazy arrow. I was not prepared for the violent sensation that I felt when I broke away from the aeroplane.”
Upon landing, his fellow soldiers cheered and half-carried him to the commanding officer's office.
Of the two men, Jannus would become the more famous. In 1914, he became the first airline pilot for the the St. Petersburg Tampa Airboat Line.
Jannus was born on July 22, 1889, to a patent attorney and his wife in the nation's capital. His grandfather had been mayor of Washington, D.C. He saw an airshow in Baltimore in November 1910 and became hooked on flying. It was a dangerous and invigorating time. These men had derring-do. They were willing to die to advance aviation.
And on October 12, 1916, he did just that, crashing his Curtiss H-7 in the Black Sea. He had been training two Russian passengers when the plane developed engine trouble.
On the 50th anniversary of his first commercial flight, the Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society inn Tampa, Florida, awarded it first Tony Jannus Award -- to him. Other winners include Eddie Rickenbacker, Donald Douglas, Jimmy Doolittle, C. R. Smith (the founder of American Airlines), William A. Patterson (president of United Airlines 1934–1966), and Chuck Yeager.
As for Albert Berry, despite his earlier promise of "never again," 10 days later he made his second jump.