Tonawanda News

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May 6, 2012

Ken-Ton has rich aviation history

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"That was the best airplane we had at the beginning of the war," he said. "It wasn't as fast, as maneuverable as a (Japanese) Zero ... but it could take a lot of punishment."

While aviation history was being made in the area, so were rises in aviation safety — and that's where Leslie Irvin of Kenmore made his mark, Percy said.

"He came up with the first reliable parachute ... the one that opened all the time," Percy said. "The other ones weren't so good. He's the one who invented the ripcord."

The Irving Air Chute Company (legend has it that Irvin was changed to Irving by a secretary who mistakenly tacked a "g" on the end of the name) was founded in Buffalo in 1919, Percy said. He recalled how the parachutes were routinely tested ... by taking a batch of dummies up at the Buffalo airport and shoving them out while the planes were in the air. 

History tells that one observer for the company, watching from his car, got a very rude surprise from the experience when he parked a little too close, Percy said. 

"A dummy went right through his car roof, into the backseat," Percy said. "He must have been scared witless."

Other topics of the lecture will include a look at Bell Aircraft Corp., which produced many military aircraft — and even a jet pack — at its plant in Wheatfield.

Adamczyk said the next lecture, the last of the spring series, will take place June 12, when he will present "Culture and Entertainment in Kenmore and Tonawanda."

"This is how we reach out to the community: a monthly presentation, open to the public," he said.

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