Andrew Kiddis has been working as an aeronautical engineer for the U.S. Air Force for more than 30 years, focusing much of his career on parachute systems, including air-drop systems and ejection seats. Due to his work with parachutes, Kiddis has always been interested in learning more about parachute materials as well as textiles in general.
“I had picked up some basic knowledge along the way but still wanted to learn more,” Kiddis said.
For Kiddis, an Ohio resident, many local colleges were not within commuting distance and going back to school full time was not an option. As a result, he enrolled in the online Master of Textiles program at the Wilson College of Textiles at NC State.
“While searching the internet, I ran across the NC State online program and it looked like a good option for me,” Kiddis added.
He said the online program offered through the Wilson College of Textiles opened up the possibility of getting a more specialized education that wasn’t available to him locally. It also allowed him to continue to work full-time.
Before earning his Master of Textiles in 2014, Kiddis earned a degree at The Ohio State University. Kiddis grew up in Clayton, Ohio, near Dayton, which is home to the Wright brothers, who are known for making the first successful powered flight in Kitty Hawk, N.C.
Kiddis said Dayton has a rich history of aviation development, from the Wright brothers to the present-day work being done at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Aside from the career benefits Kiddis has gained from his online degree, his master’s degree gave him the opportunity to apply his textiles background in his volunteer work.
In November 2000, a former supervisor helped Kiddis get involved with assessing a collection of parachutes for what would become Aviation Trail Inc. (ATI) and the David Gold Parachute Museum in Dayton.
“ATI is a local Dayton not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the local historical aviation sites in the Dayton area. At the time, the collection consisted of 139 cardboard boxes full of books, papers, films, photographs, parachutes and associated hardware,” Kiddis explained.
David Gold, whom the museum is named after, was a parachute jumper, rigger and engineer who collected parachute paraphernalia.
“When he passed away, his collection of parachute documents and equipment was donated to ATI with the understanding that eventually a parachute museum would be created around the collection,” Kiddis said.
In the years since his initial involvement with the Gold collection, Kiddis and a small group of volunteers have helped manage the museum and collection.
In 2010, ATI officially opened the David Gold Parachute Museum in a gallery on the second floor of a building they share with the National Park Service. The building is located in the Wright Brother’s old neighborhood on the west side of Dayton and serves as the headquarters for the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. While some of the parachute equipment from the collection is on display, Kiddis said the museum gallery is small and so most of the equipment is in storage.
“The big challenge for a non-profit organization with a small budget is to try and be good stewards of the collection and preserve the artifacts as well as possible,” Kiddis said.
Each item tells a story. Kiddis is not only preserving the individual items themselves, but the history behind them.
“The collection is a mix of military and civilian parachutes,” Kiddis said.
He says most of the artifacts are textile items like parachutes, but also include canopies, harnesses, containers and packs.
Most of the parachutes range from pre-World War II and through the 1980s. Materials range from silk on the older parachutes, to cotton and nylon as well as lightweight canopy fabric to heavier container fabrics, cord, tape, and webbing.
Kiddis said despite the size of some of the parachutes, they need to be preserved and stored properly.
“The collection’s storage containers and facility are not ideal for textiles, but the committee is striving to make improvements,” Kiddis said.
In his effort to provide ideal conditions for the artifacts, Kiddis reached out to his contacts at NC State’s Wilson College of Textiles to gain new knowledge about proper textile conservation. He also contacted conservators at the Smithsonian Institution for best practices.
Kiddis is hopeful that these connections will help him better preserve not only the parachute collection, but the history behind each one.