Parachutes are as integral to a skydive as the bright, blue sky, but there’s more to a parachute than meets the eye. The modern parachute is an engineering marvel that is constantly evolving. Parachute manufacturers today spend countless hours revisiting the “drawing boards” to create parachute canopies with increased flight characteristics and improved performance. In the skydiving and aeronautics industry, parachutes are designed with different functions in mind. In the military sector, certain parachutes are meticulously designed to maximize air resistance, reduce the rate of descent, and safely deliver heavy cargo, like humvees, to the earth below. In the civilian sector, parachutes have been designed to appeal to specific types of skydivers, like demonstration jumpers: the jumpers you see landing in football fields and other public arenas. These parachutes have been engineered to open as softly as possible and with a decreased angle of descent to improve accuracy. Regardless of the specific design, parachutes operate around a few basic tenets.
Parachutes rely primarily on one aerodynamic feat of physics: air resistance. Terminal velocity is the point of maximum acceleration. It is a constant speed reached when the force of gravity is countered and balanced by the resistance of a medium. In our case, the medium is air. Parachutes dramatically lower your terminal velocity by increasing air resistance.
What exactly sets a parachute apart from any other colorful bundle of fabric and stitches? What makes a parachute so special?
Parachutes used in modern, civilian sport parachuting are rectangular ram-air canopies. These canopies are constructed of a ripstop nylon woven with a sturdy thread as a series of small squares. The pattern increases structural stability and prevents small tears from spreading. The nylon has also been chemically treated to be less porous, which allows the open parachute to have greater air resistance.
Parachutes open with a staged deployment sequence. In this sequence, the main parachute is deployed by a “miniature” parachute. This mini-parachute is called the pilot chute. When it is time to deploy the main parachute, the pilot chute is extracted from an elastic pouch sewn on the bottom of the container, where it is securely stored during the skydive. Once extracted, the pilot chute inflates. As it inflates, the pilot chute creates enough drag force to extract the main parachute from the container. The main parachute inflates as each of the ram-air foils fills with air in a slow, efficient manner.
Rarely, something will go awry during the opening sequence or an issue will arise with the main parachute that requires emergency procedures to be enacted. Though, the chances of a main parachute failing are low. So, how often do parachutes fail? Data gathered in 2017 by the United States Parachute Association, found that about 1 in 1,000 parachute deployments had an issue that required the reserve parachute to be utilized.
In the unlikely event of parachute failure, the reserve parachute is ready for action. What makes the reserve parachute so special? The reserve parachute is designed specifically to be both reliable and docile. In addition to the specialty design, only very qualified hands can work with a reserve parachute. Reserve parachutes can only be inspected and packed by certified parachute riggers. In order to be a senior parachute rigger, individuals must go through in-depth training and receive certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. The reserve parachutes are inspected and repacked every 180 days and each is issued approval in the form of a Technical Standard Order from the FAA.
Now that you’ve got the scientific savvy surrounding parachutes, allow us to show you how parachutes work in person! Schedule your trip to Skydive Orange today.
The largest tandem skydiving center near Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland.