The Caterpillar Club

By Roger Stanton

Many members will have noticed that some aircrew evaders wear a gold caterpillar badge. The badge indicates that the wearer is a member of an elite club – The Caterpillar Club.

Leslie Irvin was a member of the American Air Corps Parachute Research Team. On April 28 1919, Irvin would test the parachute he had designed to deploy at the will of the user. It was thought at that stage that an individual would not have control, descending at speed, to deploy his own parachute. Travelling at 100mph, 1000ft in the air, Irvin proved them wrong. With a good tug on his rip cord his 28ft canopy deployed. He had proved the doubters wrong. His excitement from the jump, and the fact that he was still alive, caused him to make a careless landing, and he broke his ankle

From that date, any person who jumped from a disabled aircraft using a parachute to save their life, could apply to be a member of the Caterpillar Club.

The name of ‘Caterpillar Club’ had been chosen for the following reasons:

  • The parachute main canopy and lines were woven from the finest silk.
  • The lowly worm spins a cocoon, crawls out, and flies away from certain death.

In 1922, Leslie Irvin, of the Irvin Parachute, made a pledge to donate a gold caterpillar pin to every person whose life had been saved by one of his parachutes, together with a club membership certificate. After the Second World War membership had grown to over 80,000; many RAF aircrew were included in that figure.