Have you ever heard of the Caterpillar Club? The Caterpillar Club is an association of people who have successfully used a parachute to jump out of a disabled aircraft. The club began in the 1920s, and though not limited to military personnel, many club members received admittance while serving in the military. Those admitted to the club received a caterpillar lapel pin identifying them as members. The Irvin Airchute Company was one of the companies that claimed to have founded the Caterpillar Club and created pins to award to members saved by Irvin parachutes. Other parachute makers followed suit. Branches of the Caterpillar Club still exist today. The club’s name refers to the silk threads used to make original parachutes, and though it’s a club that nobody wants to join, once admitted, membership comes with bragging rights and a sense of pride.
The origins of the Caterpillar Club aren’t known, with several different people or organizations claiming to be the original founders. Our Fold3® collections contain declassified microfilm made available from a private donor. The microfilm dates from the 1920s and contains records from the US Army Air Corps related to the Caterpillar Club. You’ll find remarkable stories of Airmen who survived jumping from a disabled aircraft.
Charles Lindberg was an early member of the Caterpillar Club with four jumps to his credit. One jump came after a mid-air collision in 1925. While practicing formations and diving attacks over Kelley Field, Texas, Lindberg collided with Lt. C.D. McAllister. “My head was thrown forward against the cowling, and my plane seemed to turn around. Our ships were locked together…I jumped backwards as far from the ship as possible. Fearing the wreckage might fall on me, I did not pull the rip cord until I had dropped several hundred feet. The parachute functioned perfectly,” said Lindberg. Lt. McAllister also jumped from his disabled aircraft, and he, too, earned admission to the Caterpillar Club.
During WWII, the Caterpillar Club was incorporated as an official organization, and membership increased dramatically. T/Sgt. Russell B. Graham earned his membership when his B-17 Flying Fortress was shot down on February 26, 1945, after a bombing raid on Berlin. Graham and the rest of the crew bailed out. They could not see the ground until just before landing. Graham landed in a tree and survived. He kept the parachute that saved his life and, following the war, brought it home. His mother used the fabric to sew a small blessing gown, and many of Graham’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were blessed in that gown.
Would you like to learn more about the Caterpillar Club? Read more accounts of the heroic jumps that earned admission to the Caterpillar Club and see additional records and Memorials for Caterpillar Club members on Fold3® today.