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Tuesday, 27 June, 2000, 13:04 GMT 14:04 UK
Da Vinci's parachute flies
By BBC News Online's Dr Damian Carrington

Leonardo Da Vinci was proved right on Monday, over 500 years after he sketched the design for the first parachute.

A British man, Adrian Nicholas, dropped from a hot air balloon 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) above the ground, after ignoring expert advice that the canvas and wood contraption would not fly.

Attempts to fully test the parachute in the UK earlier this year failed due problems of wind and safety near populated areas - it weighs a hefty 85 kilograms (187 pounds).

But in the wide open spaces of Mpumalanga, South Africa, Mr Nicholas safely floated down, saying the ride was smoother than with modern parachutes.

Beautiful drop

Heathcliff O'Malley, who photographed the drop from a helicopter, told BBC News Online: "It was amazing, really beautiful. But none of us knew if it would fold up and Adrian would plummet to Earth."

He added: "It works, and everyone thought it wouldn't."

Da Vinci's sketch was in a notebook margin
Mr Nicholas cut himself free when he reached 600m (2,000 ft) and deployed a second modern parachute.

This ensured the heavy device did not crash down on top of him on landing.

The parachute's great weight was due to the use of materials that would have been available in medieval Milan, rather than modern fabrics. Period tools were also used.

The original design was scribbled by Da Vinci in a notebook in 1483. An accompanying note read: "If a man is provided with a length of gummed linen cloth with a length of 12 yards on each side and 12 yards high, he can jump from any great height whatsoever without injury."

Mr Nicholas said he thought Da Vinci would have been pleased, even if the vindication of his idea came five centuries late.

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