ROYAL INSTITUTION OF GREAT BRITAIN / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY ROYAL INSTITUTION OF GREAT BRITAIN / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Robert Cocking (1776-1837), British artist and inventor. Although a professional watercolourist, Cocking was a keen amateur scientist. He witnessed Garnerin making the first parachute descent in England in 1802. Garnerin used a canopy akin to an umbrella that was relatively unstable. George Cayley proposed that a conical design would be more stable, and Cocking studied Cayley's plans and spent years developing his own improvements. In 1837 Cocking persuaded balloonists Green and Spencer to take him aloft under their balloon, the parachute slung beneath with Cocking in a wicker basket below. At 1500 metres above Greenwich, Cocking released the parachute, but it quickly picked up speed and started to break up. About 90 metres above the ground finally fell apart. Cocking was killed instantly in the crash which was witnessed by a large crowd.
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