Parachute maker Precision Aerodynamics reaches new heights serving a global clientele in Dunlap, Tennessee

Contributed photo / Precision Aerodynamics owner George Galloway
Contributed photo / Precision Aerodynamics owner George Galloway

The most dangerous part about jumping out of an airplane, says George Galloway, is the drive to the airport.

He should know. At 74 years old, he's been doing both since high school.

"Aviation and sky diving are things you want to treat with respect," he says. "But the truth is, most fatalities come from operator error as opposed to parachute design."

Galloway is the owner of Precision Aerodynamics in Dunlap, Tennessee -- at one time reported by the Times Free Press as being the largest parachute manufacturer in the world. His interest in skydiving dates back to the 1970s, when he wanted to learn how to fly airplanes. During his first lessons, Galloway's instructor began to review emergency scenarios.

"Then he got to the part about the airplane catching fire," he recalls. "And I thought, 'If it catches fire ... I want to be not in the plane.'"

And his love of parachuting began.

From his first jumps, Galloway noticed something: Parachuting gear was designed for smaller guys. So, for him, at 6 feet, 3 inches tall, weighing over 200 pounds, this presented a bit of a quandary.

"I got to thinking, 'Why can't this be for a big person?'" So he sat down to solve the problem -- which took him a couple of years and a lot of trial and error.

"And my brand started. I decided parachutes, like shoe or hat sizes, you can't just say 'I want large shoes or small shoes or medium shoes.' You need a specific size, like an 8.5 B. ... So I started building parachutes tuned for a person's weight, so big people and small people could jump the same.

"Today, that's how parachutes are made," he says. "But back in those days, that was unheard of."

Galloway grew up on the bluffs of Signal Mountain and "spent some time" at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

"When I was being taught trigonometry and calculus in high school, it seemed so dumb. There never seemed to be a practical use for them, until I started scaling parachutes," he says. "But now I use them every single day."

Galloway began his business in his home on Signal Mountain, later moving operations to Dunlap during the 1980s due to the region's thriving sewing industry. By 2016, Precision Aerodynamics shifted to a 200,000-square-foot facility, employing over 100 people and serving a global clientele.

Life as a parachute manufacturer has brought some historic moments that have surprised even Galloway -- like the time he was called on to assist former President George H. W. Bush jump from an airplane on his 72nd birthday.

Galloway stood next to former First Lady Barbara Bush during the Yuma, Arizona jump, with winds howling across the desert landscape. At one point, wild winds cracked a fiberglass pole of an American flag in two. The first lady was visibly nervous. Galloway, feeling obligated to comfort her, suggested that was the signal for the president's jump.

"And at that moment, I swear, the wind stopped blowing," he humorously recalls. "It was the calmest moment. ... And I'm thinking to myself, 'I've just got to keep this guy from blowing away.'"

After that, Galloway swore off risky, high-profile jumps. That was until he got a call from Red Bull to design a parachute for a history-making 24-mile jump from a helium balloon on the edge of outer space.

And once again, Precision Aerodynamics had a part in skydiving legend.

Precision Aerodynamics continues to operate out of Dunlap, but times have changed.

The company now concentrates solely on tailored products. They design for sports and military to industrial and recreational sectors, as well as specialized needs like tandem jumping. And they are focusing more on specialized designs, like parachutes that can withstand pyrotechnics, as well as a model that could be used to help land an entire airplane with passengers inside.

"That's what keeps my attention these days -- long-term design development," Galloway says. "It's the love of experimenting."

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