Safran and the D-Day GIs
Parachute maker Pioneer which is now part of Safran Electronics & Defense, played an essential role during World War II, especially in the Operation Overlord. Many american airborne division paratroopers used parachutes made by the company from Connecticut.
Operation Overlord was unleashed on 6 June 1944. On that day, 150,000 men attacked the Normandy coast. Of them, around 13,000 American paratroopers jumped into Normandy, landing in Cotentin. In their backpacks, the GIs carried items that were unfamiliar in Europe, such as chewing gum, Coca-Cola or nylon stockings! This new material was used to sew parachutes used on D-Day.
DuPont created the first nylon material parachutes in 1938. Pioneer adopted the new material very quickly. Parachutes used to be made of silk and cotton, both very heavy materials. Nylon offered multiple benefits: it was stronger, easy to work, light and relatively cheap. And it was easy to get hold of. So then, Pioneer set about creating a new type of parachute that could be produced at large scale, and at low cost.
On 6 June 1942, 24-year-old Adeline Gray performed the first significant test jump of the new Pioneer parachute. A few years earlier, this Oxford student had become the first American woman to obtain a parachute license and was already the head of the company's parachute division. Her jump from a height of 760 meters in front of a crowd of 50 US officers was a resounding success. The product was then adopted across the whole US Army.
At the peak of wartime production, the company employed over 3,000 people just to make parachutes. Up to 300 chutes were leaving the workshops every day. Most of them kitted out the paratroopers landing in Normandy, others were used to deliver equipment and supplies for troops.
According to the Connecticut History Society, when a reporter asked paratrooper Lieutenant Robert Hillman why he was so confident in his parachute, Hillman responded, "Because my mother works for Pioneer Parachute Co., and her initials are on my chute! ". Although anecdotal, this story symbolizes the important role played by Pioneer in the combat that would lead to the Liberation of France.