Flying The Pattern and Landing

A flight plan is the strategy each skydiver applies after their canopy has opened and been inspected for flight controllability.  It is through the application of the flight plan that we will steer ourselves back to our landing zone. 

The flight plan strategy is called “Flying The Pattern”. 

Flying The Pattern 

Flying the Pattern or “Approach Pattern” are terms used to define the canopy’s ground track and descent angle approaching the targeted landing area. A ground track is our actual path of travel or drift over the ground.  The approach pattern starts from a holding area, has a rectangular ground track, and consists of three named legs:  downwind, base, and final approach. These three legs are part of a strategy to predictably lose altitude in stages to make a more precise landing in the “center” of the landing zone.

Landing Approach Pattern


  • Run: Canopy flight heading directly downwind  
  • Hold: Canopy flight heading directly into the wind 
  • Crab: Canopy flight is perpendicular to wind, ground track becomes diagonal, showing the effect of the direction of the wind  
  • Ground Track: The actual path over the ground in which you are flying

Holding Area  

The “Holding Area” is an area set just on the edge of the upwind side of your intended landing zone. Following your canopy inspection, fly directly to the holding area. If you arrive above 2,000 feet you can practice some green zone turns and basic canopy maneuvers.


The downwind leg is started at 1,000 feet and flown parallel to the existing wind direction. Your canopy’s ground track will be with the wind at some distance past the target.  


The base leg begins close to 600 feet and is the crosswind portion of the pattern that will bring you to the set up point for final approach. To have the correct ground track on a base leg in windy conditions, it might be necessary to crab into the wind to counteract drift.  The base leg is the transitional part of the approach pattern since it is here that adjustments are made for the wind, and spacing is established with other canopies on approach. While on base leg, you then need to be particularly alert to see and avoid traffic which may present a conflict or collision hazard on your final approach.


The final leg begins close to 300 feet, and no lower than 250 feet. You will turn the canopy until it is faced into the wind line toward the intended landing area and continue until flare and touch down.  The wind line is defined as the imaginary line parallel with the wind, extending through the target.  Once set up on the wind line a constant heading should be maintained until landing, although minor heading changes may be required to maintain a straight-ahead ground track.

Standard Left Handed Landing Pattern

Flight Plan 

Once you have deployed your canopy, the canopy flight portion of the jump begins.  There are the steps to a good “flight plan” sequence :                   

  1. Inspect your canopy (“Three S’s”)  
  2. Locate the landing zone (LZ)  
  3. Steer towards the LZ  
  4. Play in the “Holding Area” until 2000’  
  5. Checkpoint #1: Fly downwind leg towards checkpoint 2.  
  6. Checkpoint #2: Fly crosswind (Base) Leg  
  7. Fly final Approach  
  8. Land the canopy      

Flight Plan sequence specifics:

  1. Perform the canopy inspection, the three “S’s”
  2. Locate the Landing Zone (L.Z.):  
    • First locate the airport, slowly make a turn to locate the airport remembering to also look straight down.  
    • Locate the primary or designated L.Z. (landing zone)  
    • Locate the “holding area
  3. Turn and steer towards the L.Z. (Landing Zone):  
    • Fly directly to your “holding area”
    • Fly with toggles at a comfortable position (ear level) in the “green zone.”
  4. Play: have fun in the holding area until you descend to 2000 feet: you can perform maneuvers if arrived above 2000 feet  
    • Discover the parameters of the canopy’s performance, practice flares and green zone turns  
    • Pay attention to remain in the holding area as well as your altitude  
    • At 2000 feet start proceeding to check point #1
  5. Checkpoint 1;  Fly Downwind Leg:  
    • Focus on arriving at checkpoint 1 specifically by 1,000 feet.
    • Start the downwind leg of your pattern as you reach 1,000 feet, no earlier, no later.
  6. Checkpoint 2;  Fly Base Leg:  
    • Turn directly over your planned corner which should be approximately at 600 feet.
    • Fly a 90° ground track to intersect with the wind line and the center of the intended landing zone/field/target.
    • You may have to crab your canopy to achieve the desired “ground track”
  7. Fly Final Leg of your Approach:  
    • Your turn onto final should be at about 300 feet and no lower than 250 feet.
    • Fly the canopy with toggles at ear level or all the way up  
    • Put your feet and knees together  
    • Fly the canopy all of the way to the ground.  Maintain heading into the wind with green zone turns ONLY.
    • Start your flare at approximately 10-12 feet above the ground so you complete your flare 1-2 feet above the ground and slow your canopy as much as possible.
  8. Landing  
    • The ideal landing results in ground contact with a minimum rate of descent and ground speed.  The softest landings are achieved from a full glide utilizing a two-stage flare. It is important to keep the toggles equal during the flare therefore keeping the parachute directly overhead.  The optimal flare is the point at which a “zero” rate of descent has been achieved.    

For the best and safest landings, the following minimums apply:  

  • Below 1,000 feet, green zone turns only
  • No turns greater than 90° degrees once in the pattern
  • Turn final no lower than 250 feet
  • Below 300 feet, make only minor corrections to keep the canopy into the wind.  


PLF – Parachute Landing Fall

The PLF – Parachute Landing Fall – is used by skydivers as a way to absorb the shock of a hard landing.

Good PLF technique specifics are as follows:

  • Prepare for landing, feet and knees together with your knees slightly bent,
  • Flare the canopy with both hands together and close to the front of your body,
  • When you impact the ground, Roll to the side favoring right or left, or either side if landing straight ahead,
  • Above all: Be patient. Let the ground approach you, avoid reaching or breaking your protective PLF position,

The roll sequence is:

  • Contact balls of your feet first,
  • Twist to present the side of one calf, then
  • Thigh,
  • Hip,
  • Roll diagonally across your back to the opposite shoulder, Legs flow overhead.
PLF – Parachute Landing Fall

It is best to practice the PLF several times with your instructor to get a sense of what it feels like to execute the maneuver successfully.

Collapsing Parachute after Landing

Just following your landing, it is possible that the canopy remains inflated above you pulling you backwards. To collapse the parachute:

  • If still standing; release one toggle while pulling all the way down with the other one turning the canopy to dive into the ground.
  • Turn towards the canopy in the direction of the depressed toggle and walk directly towards the parachute. The canopy will lay flat on the ground allowing you to step on the pilot cute, bag, or parachute.
  • If you performed a PLF and are on the ground; release one toggle while aggressively pulling in on the other until all the way until you have canopy fabric.
  • If on the ground and being pulled across the ground quickly; pull the cutaway handle releasing the parachute. It is better to release the parachute quickly under this circumstance as you could suffer minor injury and the equipment could be damaged.

Alternate Landing Strategy

Occasionally an alternate landing area will be used when the primary LZ is out of reach. There are two methods that are commonly used when preparing to land in an alternate LZ:

  • Holding area:
    • Monitor altitude to arrive at the holding area above 1,500 feet,
    • Failure to arrive at the holding area by 1,500 feet may be a decision factor in selecting an alternate landing area,
    • Locate an open area and transfer your pattern plan to it,
    • Apply your landing priorities to your strategy.
  • Half way back:
    • Monitor your opening altitude and assess where what you perceive the halfway back landmark is, you should arrive higher than half of your altitude.
    • If you reach the landmark you are most likely good to continue, if you are under the half way altitude, look for a clear open space closer,
    • Transfer your pattern and apply landing priorities,
    • Perform a PLF on landing.

Landing Off Field

  • Follow radio communication from your instructor if possible, realize that they cannot clearly judge position and you must over-ride their commands if there are any obstacles present.
  • Land in the middle of an open area, avoid obstacles, and protect yourself.
  • Wait for assistance or further instructions if the radio is on.
  • Be polite to property owners,
  • Contact the drop zone ASAP to report that you are okay.

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