The Exclusive Caterpillar Club Is Composed Of?
Answer: Emergency Parachutists
Some exclusive clubs you get into by merit of your hard work, lavish wealth, academic achievements, or other factors. The Caterpillar Club is a rarer sort of club, however, and one you can’t work, buy, or study your way into; and, frankly, we’re sure you’ll be happy to never join.
The only way into the Caterpillar Club is to survive a parachute bailout of a disabled aircraft. Military trainees, recreational jumpers, and thrill seekers alike need not apply: it needs to be a legitimate the-plane-is-going-down experience wherein you survive by bailing from the aircraft and landing, alive and well, thanks to a parachute.
Beware that the entrance requirements are very strict and very clearly delineated. You must have your life saved by the parachute and you must use the parachute with no original intention of using the parachute. For example, in instances where a skydiving plane has malfunctioned and the pilot and skydivers all bailed from the plane, only the pilot is inducted into the Caterpillar Club because the pilot is the only one on the craft who boarded the plane with no intention of leaving it until it was safely back on the ground. Likewise, those very rare cases of people surviving falls from planes without parachutes (such as Royal Air Force Sgt. Nicholas Alkemade who survived a fall in World War II by landing in a huge snow drift) don’t qualify because they weren’t saved by a parachute.
The club was founded by Leslie Irvin, owner of Irvin Airchute Company of Canada, in 1922. To promote his parachutes and highlight how valuable they were to the people who needed them most, Irvin gave a gold pin, shaped like a caterpillar of course, to every person who survived a jump from a disabled plane while wearing one of his company’s parachutes. By the end of World War II, Irvin had handed out over 34,000 pins.
Although the specific reason Irvin selected the caterpillar as a mascot for the club was never formally recorded, given that early parachutes were made from silk and the motto of the club is “life depends on a silken thread,” it’s safe to assume that the name, mascot, and pin are all homages to the significant role the silkworm, the caterpillar form of the silk moth Bombyx mori, played in the role of parachute production.
The successor of the Irvin Airchute Company continues to this day to induct new members into the club and other major parachute manufacturers have adopted similar policies of acknowledging those who have survived catastrophic airplane failures thanks to their parachutes.
Image courtesy of the United States Army.