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Canopy Control Basics


How Your Canopy Flies

The parachute you will be jumping is a “wing”, or Ram-Air parachute.  Upon inflation, the parachute takes on a wing profile.  Thus giving lift, producing the characteristics of an actual wing.   

Student Canopy

The unique characteristic about a “wing” type canopy is the relationship between the canopy and the suspended skydiver.  Due to the distance between the skydiver and the canopy and line length, there are unique control inputs and canopy reactions to be aware of.  When we are suspended under a canopy we have a “pendulum” relationship with the parachute.

The pitch (leaning forward or backward) is affected by our inputs.  Also, when we turn the canopy to the side, we refer to that as our bank or bank angle. And when we slow or flare the canopy, it pitches back and swings the skydiver forward.  First we will look at how to simply turn the parachute:


Turning the Canopy

Steering a parachute can be compared to steering your car, turn right you go right, turn left you go left.  The further you turn your steering wheel, or pull down on a steering toggle, the sharper and quicker the turn is.  For your first jump and during your final approach to landing we suggest performing turn inputs from what we refer to as the green zone. This type of turn will change the canopy’s heading with a minimal amount of bank and increased descent rate.  The most important objective on your first jump is to steer with predictable turns with a minimum loss of altitude.  This helps you to land the canopy in a safe area softly. 


To better illustrate the effect of over-steering or adding more brake input we will look more closely at the control zones.

Control Zones

There are three general control zones, Green, Yellow, and Red.  Use the following control ranges or “zones” to increase your safety awareness.

Control Zones
Canopy Control Zone Bank Angles – Green, Yellow, and Red

The Green Control Zone  

  1. The normal control response zone.  
  2. Toggle operation between the hands all the way up position and the hands at the shoulder level position.  
  3. Light to medium centrifugal turns with the canopy above the jumper.

Steering the canopy in the Green Control Zone produces awareness of the canopy traffic around you as well as the most predictable flight. The entire flight to landing can be operated in this range. This is referred to as the “conservative control zone.”

The Yellow Control Zone

  1. The rapid control response zone.  
  2. Toggle operation between the hands at the shoulder level position and the hands at the middle chest level position.  
  3. Heavy centrifugal turns with the outer tip of the canopy on level with the jumper.

Steering the canopy in the Yellow Control Zone produces rapid diving turns with great loss of altitude and a high-speed, accelerating descent.  Clearance of other canopy traffic must be confirmed before initiating these turns. This degree of control inputs may be performed safely until 2,000 feet above the ground. This is referred to as the “aggressive control zone.” 

The Red Control Zone 

  1. The radical control response zone.  
  2. Toggle operation between the hands at the middle chest level position and hands at the hips level or fully extended position.  
  3. Very heavy centrifugal turns with the outer tip of the canopy below the jumper.

Steering the canopy in the Red Control Zone produces the greatest loss of altitude and pitch at the ground. Even the visual clearance of other canopies does not provide the ability to safely predict convergence with others.  Experimentation and control input in this zone should be performed at least 2,500 feet above the ground on solo jumps or jumps from 5,500 feet with minimal other traffic.  These type of turns should be avoided when flying in traffic. This is the “drastic control zone.”


Flaring the Canopy

The canopy is slowed or flared for your landing by pulling down on both toggles symmetrically until a zero rate of descent is achieved with minimal forward speed. 

To learn to flare effectively we suggest a two-stage flare technique.  The two-stage flare is performed by:

  1. Pull the toggles down to your chest strap, smoothly and evenly, pause for a second and…
  2. Slowly and equally depress the toggles all the way down toward your thighs, fully extending your arms.

Flare Practice

To assist locating the depth of “stage one” you can judge this by looking up bringing your toggles down until you identify the “locking loops” on the steering lines.  Once identified slowing return the toggles up until the “locking loops” are back at the steering line rings on the risers. Note the position against your chest.  This is your flare position for “stage one.”

Stage One Flare

To maintain strength during the flare begin by pulling the toggles through stage one then roll wrists forward to “push” the toggles to finish your flare into stage two

Practice this flare technique during the time of descent prior to landing. Flare the canopy at various speeds noting the change in your position under the canopy, the change in speed, and feeling the pressure in the leg straps.  Your awareness to feel the change in pitch as well as the changing “G” force (gravity) through your leg straps will help you to feel the flare your canopy. 

During the jump either on the way to the holding area or in the holding area Take note of how long it seems to take for the slowing to occur and the arm strength required to flare the canopy.  

Full Flare

When Landing

  1. Keep your toggles up, place your feet and knees together.
  2. Look out forward at 45°.
  3. Begin flare at 10-12 feet above the ground to stage one.
  4. You will then either feel and see the canopy flatten, in which you will pause a second and continue with stage two slowly and smoothly, or:
  5. Continue the flare until the toggles are fully extended when you reach a foot or two above the ground.

Canopy Stall 

A stall is when the canopy loses lift or pressurization and dramatically increases your decent rate.  A stall occurs when the wing loses its speed or your forward swing reversing the canopy’s pitch causing the you to drop. The stall occurs following flaring too high and holding the toggles down too long or a very quick flare action pitching you forward too much.  This is usually accompanied with a sensation of rocking backwards.  If you do experience this: perform a stall recovery, get into your “protective landing position” (feet and knees together), or PLF.  


Stall Recovery  

When you feel the sensation of a stall, the safest recovery method is to ease your toggles up slightly (6-8 inches or top of hips) moving the canopy directly over your head. As forward speed is gained the toggles can be eased up to the full flight position if desired. The gentle easing up of the toggles allows the jumper to remain directly underneath the parachute.  Be prepared to do a PLF.  

Note:  Todays student canopies have their steering lines trimmed to a length that usually prevents any possibility of stalling.

Surging

A surge is when the canopy recovers too quickly from a deeply braked or stall configuration. A surge occurs when the toggles are rapidly returned to the full flight position and the canopy dives forward pitching you back behind the canopy.  In other words, relating to the pendulum situation, the canopy will charge forward and dive toward the ground swinging the jumper out behind. A surge can be aggressive enough to place you out horizontal to your canopy with the suspension lines going slack.  A surge close to the ground can result in impact sufficient to cause a serious injury.  A well executed “stall recovery” will prevent this.  Stalling and stall recovery will be practiced during the following jumps.


Summary

The primary parachute we use in skydiving is the Ram-Air Parachute – usually referred to as a canopy.

Turning the canopy with slow and controlled movements is the best way to become familiar with predictable canopy control.

There are 3 control zones: Green, Yellow, and Red. For your first jump training, it is important to keep your control inputs in the Green Zone.

Flare practice is an important part of your training – use your altitude to perform several practice flares to start getting used to the amount of effort is required to slow and land your canopy safely.