A parachute, or canopy, is a device used to slow down an object that is falling towards the ground. Two forces are acting on this falling object: gravity and air resistance. Without an open parachute, gravity is stronger than air resistance. However, once the canopy has been opened, the air resistance increases, slowing down the object that is falling and helping it to land safely on the ground.

There is a sensation that I want you to try. It’s very hard to explain how people feel during a skydive but I promise you, it will be unforgettable.

The parachutes of the past were round and very difficult to control. Nowadays, we have modern square parachutes made of semi-rigid material with low or zero-porosity.

In the front of the canopy are 7 or 9 open windows, called cells. These cells allow air to enter into the parachute and become a “wing” that the skydiver can fly. The conditions inside of the canopy help to shape the parachute and also increase the drag, creating more resistance and further reducing the speed of the descent.

Augusto Bartelle skydiving and flying his canopy in California

Under Canopy

There are two options to try skydiving. First and most common, tandem jump. Second, Accelerated Free Fall (AFF) course to become a licensed jumper.

When I was deciding which one to pick a long time ago, I was researching all over the internet for videos and photos, myths about skydiving and also safety. What I found out was that doesn’t matter if I’m doing a tandem skydive or the AFF course, I want to know how that thing (parachute) that will save my life works and period. Lucky you, I learned and now I’ll tell you a little bit about it.

Canopy Check

We had fun during the free fall time and now we are ready to open our parachute. We did a great job with altitude awareness, body position and our parachute is getting out smoothly from our container. Now, that we have a canopy over our head, we need to proceed to the canopy check. I follow these steps:

  • Rectangular
  • No rips or tears
  • All cells inflated
  • No broken lines
  • The slider is down
  • No twisted lines
  • The parachute is steerable
  • Parachute is flying straight

Draw of parachutes with explanation of the main parts and what a skydiver needs to check before decide if it is a good canopy or not.Image: Skydive Seven

Flying a canopy

When our parachute is fully opened and issues free, we need to look around. A very important thing to remember when moving a parachute towards the landing area is to pay attention to other canopies, try your best to follow the right pattern, and be aware of the weather. Wind speed and direction changes all the time. There are differences in air pressure created by hot or cold days. We need to be responsible and be aware of all of these factors before jumping from an airplane.

How Can I Turn a Parachute?

There are lines running through the canopy that are connected to the container (backpack). The steering lines are connected to the back of the canopy and when we pull them the parachute changes in shape. This is the way we exercise control over our parachutes. To turn to the right we pull down the right toggle and the parachute starts turning towards the right. If we pull the left toggle, the parachute starts turning to the left. It’s critical to make gentle turns until we are more comfortable with our wing.

How Do I Land a Canopy?

In theory, lading a parachute is very simple. Once you are close to the ground (between 2 and 3 feet) you pull both toggles in an harmonic and symmetric movement and the canopy will flare, which reduces its forward speed, allowing the canopy pilot to reach the ground and walk back to the hangar.

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