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Fantastically Freefalling

While I was growing up and playing with my favorite toy, GI Joe, I always wanted the Adventures of GI Joe Air Adventurer Fantastic Freefall.

The first GI Joe released was the GI Joe Fighter Pilot Outfit with Working Parachute in 1967. There were variations in different boxes, then as a test pilot and other variations from GI Joe conventions. But the Fantastic Freefall is still the one burned in the back of my brain from staring at it longingly in the toy stores.  As the youngest in a large family just above the poverty line, I did not get many new toys.

That did not stop me from making my own parachutes for GI Joe using parts from old sheets and yarn.  And they were also not as effective. I still remember the day I broke my first GI Joe when he made an unsafe landing on the sidewalk after his parachute cords(yarn) had twisted up when I threw him up in the air. From then on, that Marine was known as “Joe of the Nine Fingers.”

Anytime I played with parachute toys, they always had the same problem – when you tossed the figure up in the air, the parachute would deploy and the figure would flip through one or more parachute cords. The result was that you always spent more time untangling your figure than watching him float down.

The advantage of growing up (okay… I get it, that’s debatable) to be a toy designer, is that you learn how to remake your old favorite toys to be even better. After I had worked at Mattel for ten years and before working on GI Joe, I was sewing my own parachutes based on the shape of half of a beach ball.  But I still had the same problem. After enough tossed up in the air, the answer came to me – make the ends of the cords easily removable to untangle and put back on. I also made it about 50% larger than the vintage GI Joe parachutes.  This worked great! My kids and I played with that parachute quite often. We even dressed Joe in scuba gear, took him to our pool, and kept tossing him to land in the water as a paradiver.

A year or so later, I was contracted to do design work on GI Joe which lasted about five years. When the concept was suggested to create a Classic Collection GI Joe with an updated parachute, I brought in my home parachute and demonstrated it for the Joe team off the three-story parking structure at the Kenner building.  I made them into believers.  From the GI Joe Airborne at Normandy, most of the parachutes were based on my pattern – but reduced some for manufacturing efficiency. We also adapted the parachute harnesses to have a clip with an elastic strap in most cases to make it easier to slip off the cords, untangle them and then slide the loops back on.

Here are a few of the variations we shipped:

GI Joe US Air Force HALO jumper

GI Joe 101st Airborne paratrooper

GI Joe Navy Seal Paradiver

I want to also mention the GI Joe Normandy Pathfinder.

It is very expensive to add a parachute so we could never afford all the cool gear that a paratrooper uses. With that in mind, we decided against adding a working parachute to make the figure look as accurate as possible. See the original concept model and the final version in the package. If you are looking for a more accurate paratrooper and do not care about a real parachute, this is the figure for you.

Another wonderful exception to this story was the first Classic Collection GI Joe with a parachute – GI Joe Army Golden Knight FAO Swartz figure.  This was very complex and expensive. The parachute with this Joe is not the typical WWll round parachute but the flying wing version that the modern Army Golden Knights parachute team uses. When deployed, it is more of a rectangle shape that slopes smaller in the back. In the front are open channels that grab air to inflate the hollow shape. This shape achieves the Bernuli effect which forces lower pressure on top of the parachute like an airplane wing to create lift. It makes these parachutes to be more manuverable and stay aloft longer.  I must confess – I have never seen a Golden Knight Joe floating down but I am told it is amazing.  I have one of the parachutes and I am long overdue to try it myself.

If you have read many of my posts, there are always fun stories about products that did not ship or changed in development. This article will be no exception.

Many of you know about the GI Joe Joe vs Cobra Spy troops Air Assault with Barrel Roll. It has the smallest parachute that was shipped.  The established price point for that segment was very tight and I kept having to remove parts and shrink it a bit to make it achieve the cost margin.  This one still has loops and they slide onto the shoulder straps of a rubbery molded vest.  This figure is similar to what we played with as a paradiver. It has fins, and a mask with an air hose that connects to the vest. 

The original concept was the GI Joe Ripcord Cobra Infiltrator with a working parachute. The play pattern was to have Ripcord parachute behind enemy lines in the water, scuba in the rest of the way in stealth, and then dress as a Cobra soldier to gain intel. Although I tried to make it as inexpensive as possible, it was just too expensive. But it is still a fun toy without the Cobra uniform. Feel free to play out that scenario with other parts in your own backyard battles.

We developed one more Classic Collection GI Joe with a working parachute. This was a very detailed GI Joe Desert Paratrooper. It was in development, but cancelled when the entire 12” line was cancelled. Enjoy the pictures.

While Hasbro is not selling any 12” GI Joes currently, there are still parachutes available.  Check out the parachutes on the Etsy page for my new company Greg Play Creative:

These have a detailed harness made mostly of flat elastic so it fits almost any 12” figure.  If you prefer more of the vintage look with the plastic backpacks, there are versions available at Cotswold Collectables with metal rings that attach to the plastic backpacks:

We have black and white ones in stock now and we will have other colors available again later.  If you are looking more a specific color, send a message with your needs.

With Covid issues more relaxed now, there will be more parachute drops at toy conventions. Don’t forget to come prepared to watch your figure soar Fantastically Freefall.

What is your favorite 1/6th scale parachute?

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  1. Greg I love your articles. It’s always cool seeing stuff I’ve never seen before and you always manage to get something into each article that I’ve never seen. And at Joelanta during the paradrop a few times, Scott Beckmann tossed his Army Golden Knight Figure and it was glorious to watch it float down.