OBX Airplanes: Tiny Broadwick, the First Women to Parachute from an Airplane

Sep 1, 2021

​This is the story of Tiny Broadwick, the first woman to parachute from an airplane. Born in 1893 and weighing only 3 pounds, Georgia (Tiny) was the last of seven daughters to George and Emma Ross in Greenville County, NC.

​This is the story of Tiny Broadwick, the first woman to parachute from an airplane. Born in 1893 and weighing only 3 pounds, Georgia (Tiny) was the last of seven daughters to George and Emma Ross in Greenville County, NC. By age 12 she stood at a height of 5 feet and only 85 pounds, thus the nickname “Tiny” was given and stuck. At age 15, Tiny was a single mom working twelve- to fourteen-hour shifts in a cotton mill hoping for a better job and a more meaningful life. As the Jones Carnival arrived in nearby Raleigh, Tiny was astounded by Charles Broadwick’s World Famous French Aeronauts parachuting from a hot air balloon. Performers would ascend in balloons and parachute down towards the watchful crowds. She shortly joined the traveling troupe after approaching Charles and convincing him of her potential. In 1908 Tiny jumped from her first hot air balloon at the North Carolina State Fair, later to complete over 1,000 jumps in her life while traveling around the United States.

Charles Broadwick soon adopted Tiny as his daughter, to ease travel arrangements and thus the creation of her stage name, Tiny Broadwick. Announced as the “doll girl” during performances, she began her career as an aerial skydiver and stunt girl while wearing a homemade “life preserver” dressed in ruffled bloomers, a silk dress, ribbons in her ringlets, and a bonnet. Tiny became the star of the show and claimed to love the troupe because her act was “very neat and fast” as they performed in parks, fairs, and carnivals.

The dauntless Tiny would add daring elements of surprise to her jumps including torches and flares. During her career, she completed many successful jumps but not without a few mishaps. Never losing her enthusiasm, Tiny broke several bones during rough landings and became entangled in high tension wires and a windmill. After one of her performances at a Los Angeles air meet, Glenn L. Martin approached Tiny to jump from one of his planes. Glenn L. Martin, the founder of current aircraft company Lockheed Martin (after several mergers), was an active stunt pilot and aviation pioneer who built his own planes at the time. Without hesitation, Tiny agreed and became the first woman to parachute from an airplane publicly in 1913 above Los Angeles, California. This feat included a trapeze-like swing just behind and beneath Martin’s airplane wing. Wearing a parachute developed by Broadwick, Tiny’s seat was released from below her, dropping the tiny performer some 2,000 feet to land safely at Griffith Park.

Her other firsts include parachuting into water, namely Lake Michigan, and completing the first free-fall descent after an accidental entanglement during a display for the army. While WWI was raging, many pilots were not able to escape from a falling airplane so Tiny was asked to display jumps from the Army’s fleet of aircraft. On her fourth jump, Tiny’s static line became tangled in the tail assembly of the airplane. Tiny cut the static line to a short length, free-falling to the ground and manually deploying her chute, proving that pilots could escape planes using a ripcord and return to the ground safely after bailing.

Tiny’s last jump was at age 29 due to problems with her ankles preventing her to continue her parachuting career. National Air Museum Director Philip S. Hopkins said, “Measured in feet and inches, her nickname ‘Tiny’ is obviously appropriate. Measured by her courage and by her accomplishments, she stands tall among her many colleagues — the pioneers of flight. And her contributions to flight history have helped to make America stand tall as the nation which gave wings to the world.” Tiny Broadwick died in 1978 at age 85 and was buried in her home state of North Carolina. 

(Photos from the State Archives of North Carolina. 1. Tiny with parachute pack/”life preserver” 2.Tiny with Glenn L. Martin 3.Tiny with deployed chute )

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