Watching Felix Baumgartner take a 127,000 foot leap of faith was inspiring, but this article is reminds me of what really drove me initially into the aerospace field at the beginning of my career. As so many stories from early 20th century aerospace illustrate, the 'old days' involved a lot of work that was primarily about taking your best guess and seeing what happened. In today's data rich world we sometimes forget how innovation comes from doing and learning, and not just thinking.
The story in the article is about the harrowing test jump by a Russian test pilot at the onset of World War II. Where Felix's suit was a test bed for next generation space and pressure suits, so was Yakov Solodovnik's, but Yako's state-of-the-art was silk, wool and squirrel skins -- yes squirrel skins! The story is a classic of near-death heroism in the advancement of the art of flight, but it serves as a reminder that all true innovation only happens when you put the idea to the test in meat-space. Whether you love or hate Apple, one of the pillars to their success has been to incorporate real-world prototyping as a core part of their design process. Until you hold an i-thing in your hand and try to use it in real life you don't really know if it will work or not.
So just this story serves as a reminder of the days when we didn't have the option to simulate a problem and solution virtually, and how that actually has it's advantages in final product design.
Congratulations to both Yakov and Felix...