A little diversity goes a long way

  • Published
  • By Col. Dale Andrews
  • 433rd Airlift Wing
One of the many badges worn by Air Force personnel is the military parachutist's badge. It is a set of outstretched, upward curving wings centered on an inflated parachute canopy with extended shroud lines. In the Air Force, this badge is most often found on combat controllers, pararescue personnel or graduates of the Air Force Academy. During WWI, U.S. Air Service pilots were not equipped with parachutes. Many lives were lost due to this shortcoming.

Shortly after WWI, military aviators were issued parachutes, not only in the U.S. Air Services but in air forces all over the world. According to research data, those first parachutes, made by the Irvin Air Chute Company were credited with saving about 100,000 lives, most of those during WWII. The first military member credited with successfully using a parachute to escape a disabled aircraft was Lt. Harold R. Harris on October 20, 1922.

While the previous facts may seem somewhat normal in the narrative of our military history, the following narrative proves that the normal pieces of history are more amazing when investigated. Those 100,000 or so Airmen owe a great deal to a tiny woman who stood only four feet tall and weighed only 85 pounds. That woman was "Tiny Broadwick", or Georgia Ann Thompson.

Ms. Broadwick, or Thompson, if you prefer, became the first woman to parachute from an airplane on June 21, 1913. She was part of a barnstorming troupe called "Charles Broadwick's World Famous Aeronauts". The legend goes that the troupe owner, Charles Broadwick, claimed Ms. Thompson was his adopted daughter, hence the stage name. In 1914, at the outset of WWI, Ms. Broadwick took part in a parachute demonstration for the U.S. Army Air Service.
The philosophy at the time was to deploy the pilot's parachute by attaching a 'static' line to the aircraft. During her fourth demonstration of this concept that day, Ms. Broadwick's chute became entangled in the tail assembly of the aircraft. After she extricated herself from this predicament, she made a successful parachute landing. In preparation for the next demonstration, Ms. Broadwick cut the static line just long enough to use to manually deploy the parachute after she left the aircraft. Consequently, she became the first person in history to make an intentional free-fall parachute jump. Although impressed, it would take the Army a few more years before they equipped Army fliers with this life saving device. Ms. Broadwick retired from parachute jumping in 1922 after making a reported 1,100 successful parachute jumps. She is one of the few female members of the Early Birds of Aviation. She passed away quietly in 1978 at the age of 85 in Henderson, N.C. In 2006, Vance County, North Carolina officials named a portion of the Henderson Outer Loop highway in her honor.

The 433rd Airlift Wing Human Resource Development Council believes that excellence and courage are found in the most diverse of places, and in the most diverse people. The previous story illustrates the validity of that belief. Intrepid aviators and daring airborne soldiers all owe a deep debt of gratitude to the most unlikely of individuals, 'Tiny' Broadwick.