Muzeo // Public Domain
Muzeo // Public Domain

Why Is This Little-Known American Parachutist Famous in Estonia?

Muzeo // Public Domain
Muzeo // Public Domain

What’s a modern, abstract sculpture in honor of an obscure American balloonist doing in the capital of Estonia? Good question. The man in question was named Charles Leroux, and though you probably have no idea who he was, he once found fame in the U.S. and abroad demonstrating something that seems commonplace today: parachutes.

Leroux was rumored to be the grandson or great-nephew of Abraham Lincoln (he wasn’t). He wasn’t even named Leroux—his birth name was reportedly the rather more prosaic Joseph Johnson. He appears to have been born in Connecticut in the 1850s. At some point, Leroux must have realized that it would be more profitable and exotic to take on a French-sounding name—especially because he adopted a French-seeming sport that had been making waves worldwide since the late 1700s.

By the time Leroux started tinkering with parachutes and balloons around the 1880s, the French were the undisputed kings of aviation. From the Montgolfier brothers, who invented the first hot air balloon anyone could actually use, to Jean-Pierre Blanchard, who managed to cross the English channel by balloon in 1785, the French had pioneered early flight.

Parachutes, though, were another story. Leonardo da Vinci designed an early prototype, but it took until the early 20th century for the modern version to get a patent. Meanwhile, parachuting was anyone’s game—and, like balloons before it, it was a game for daring showmen.

With a spiffy new name and an apparent daredevil streak, Leroux began to test a parachute of his own design. He was already an accomplished East Coast trapeze artist and gymnast, and he designed a breathtaking parachute to top off his performances. In 1886, for example, he shut down traffic in Philadelphia (performing as “Prof. Charles Leroux”) by climbing 100 feet up the Dime Museum, clad in “light blue silk tights and satin trunks.” Before a packed and terrified audience, he jumped off of the building holding a 16-foot-wide parachute and nearly running into a lamp post (a nearby man wasn’t so lucky—Leroux ran right into him instead). The New York Times report of his feat notes that it was Leroux’s 38th ascent, and that his other accomplishments included jumping off of New York’s High Bridge.

The monument to Charles Leroux in Tallinn, Estonia. Image credit: John Menard via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

 
That was just one of Leroux’s leaps. His feats took him all over the world. In 1889, for example, he demonstrated the parachute he had designed—complete with backpack-style straps—to a group of impressed German officers. (Given that he jumped 1000 meters from a balloon, the equivalent of about 3280 feet, they had reason to be dazzled.) And in 1887, Leroux lent his design to Charles Broadwick, who would become one of the most famous parachutists of all time.

But eventually, Leroux’s derring-do got the best of him. On September 24, 1889, he braved a difficult jump from an airborne hot air balloon in front of an audience of onlookers in Tallinn, Estonia, which was then called Reval. An errant wind swept him away toward the Baltic. A woman supposedly died of heart failure just watching the tragedy. Leroux died, too—his body was recovered by fishermen two days later. Today, a modernist monument in his honor stands in Tallinn, a strange and little-known testament to a man who managed to withstand 238 jumps before his untimely death—and whose daredevil acts with a parachute helped inspire interest in more modern versions of the lifesaving invention.

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The Secret to a More Pleasant Flight? Urinals
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iStock

Even if you can deal with the lack of legroom, privacy, and decent meal options on airplanes, your patience may start to wear thin when it comes time to pee. Being stuck waiting in long bathroom lines on planes may feel like one of life's unavoidable annoyances, but according to WIRED, there's a way to make the experience more tolerable. The secret involves urinals and a bit of math.

At last month's Crystal Cabin Awards, a competition that recognizes innovation in aircraft interiors, Zodiac Aerospace introduced the Durinal, a two-urinal plane bathroom that takes the place of one toilet. Replacing a bathroom that serves all passengers with one that's made for only half the population may seem like a quick way to make the long-line problem worse, but there's some logic behind the proposed solution.

As Wouter Rogiest, a mathematician at Ghent University in Belgium, tells WIRED, gender-neutral bathroom lines are shortest when men have the option to head straight for a urinal. That's because it's quicker to use a urinal than a stall, and when men opt for the urinal, it frees up stalls for women. When he drew up an equation looking at hypothetical bathroom wait times at a concert, he found that a ratio of 14 toilets to eight urinals produced the most desirable wait times: one minute, 27 seconds for women and slightly under a minute for men. On a commercial plane, this ratio would come out to one or two Durinals per six conventional bathrooms.

Rogiest's concert equation isn't a perfect stand-in for airplane scenarios, so a more specific study would be needed before airlines could consider installing urinals. Unfortunately, if bathrooms with urinals do show up on airplanes, you can expect the spaces to be just as tight as they are now.

[h/t WIRED]

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United Airlines Has Gotten Rid of Tomato Juice, and Customers Are Freaking Out
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Lovers of tomato juice are a small camp, but a vocal one. And they're furious that United Airlines has replaced their beloved Mott's tomato juice with Mr. and Mrs. T Bloody Mary Mix on all flights under four hours, which includes most of its domestic runs. United said these changes are part of efforts to “streamline” its food service, the Chicago Business Journal reports.

The stealth substitution has fueled a rebellion among loyal tomato juice fans, as The Week points out.

There is some truth to the claim that tomato juice tastes better on flights. One study revealed that the noise level on an airplane affects our perception of taste, making savory or umami flavors more delicious. Another industry-funded study said the air pressure and humidity levels make bolder drinks seem more appealing.

Premium and economy passengers flying United can also say goodbye to Sprite Zero, Jim Beam, Courvoisier, and Amaretto, which were cut from the menu. And although airlines are not exactly known for their cuisine to begin with, passengers will likely start to see a difference in the types of meals being offered. The Chicago Business Journal writes:

"The reduction in food being offered in many instances in first-class and business-class cabins is not insignificant. Hot breakfasts are being replaced on some routes with only fruit plates and muffins, and more substantial lunches are being switched out for wraps and chocolate slabs."

The airline has said it is "monitoring customer feedback."

[h/t The Week]

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