Parachute displays have been popular events at air shows for many decades. The parachutists jump out of aircraft and float to earth, making exciting banks and turns on the way down and enthralling the public below. One problem is that the parachutists themselves are quite small and difficult to see on a dull day until they are very close to the ground. To make them more visible, and to add to the aerial showcase, smoke generators are often strapped to their ankles that produce trails of coloured smoke in the sky that not only looks spectacular, but also makes it easier to see what is going on from the ground. Today we are looking at one of these smoke generators from the 1970s. This example is for orange smoke and is a large cylinder, two or three times the size of a normal smoke grenade:
The generator is painted in the standard pale green of smoke munitions of the time period, with a screwed on top painted orange to clearly identify what coloured smoke it generated. A circular hole at the top is the aperture from which the smoke would have been expelled, with a screw cap to protect it until it was time to be used:
The exterior of the generator is clearly marked and indicates that this is a ‘Smoke, Signal, Parachutists No1 Mk 2’ and dates from 1976. It was manufactured by Pains Wessex of Salisbury in Wiltshire:
The Falcons were the RAF’s parachute display team and in these images from the 1960s the smoke generators can be seen strapped to the ankle before a jump:
And in use in mid air:
In 1970 the unit made a memorable display jump in Hong Kong:
“We waddled out to the choppers at Kai Tak about nine o’clock in the evening for our first demo, festooned with ‘chutes, life jackets, smoke brackets, torches to illuminate the canopies when they were open, lights to illuminate the altimeters – all the paraphernalia pertaining to a night demo close to deep water. As the aircraft flew over the harbour towards Hong Kong the view from the open door was dramatically spectacular; the whole waterfront of Wan Chai was a blaze of lights with bejewelled towers jutting up from the illuminated ribbons that were the main highways, while the mountainside of the 1600 foot Peak loomed in the background, totally black.
From the lead chopper I could see at least six floodlit stadiums. Which was mine? I hoped the pilot knew… . Then I recognised it as he made straight for it. I started my stopwatch as I left the aircraft over the mountainside about 800 metres past the stadium, tucked up into fast fall, and pulled on exactly eleven seconds. As the canopy came out, I saw the shape of Snowy going past me, still in freefall. Wrong. He should have been above me. He opened below me and started running hard for the stadium, with the sodium flare in the centre and its smoke blowing towards us. Wrong again, especially as I was by then right over it at 1000 feet facing into the upper wind and being blown backwards towards the harbour. Worrying moments, but all at once, as we came below the level of the ridgeline, the 20-knot uppers decreased to zero and we were left with a gentle approach to the bowl and we could take those Para Commanders just wherever we wanted. As we came into the radius of the stadium lighting we pulled the smokes and slid comfortably one after the other into the centre circle of the soccer pitch in a series of light running standups. Judging by the din, thirty thousand highly vocal Orientals thought it was magic. We were a bit impressed ourselves… .”