Flying and Landing High Performance Parachutes SafelyBy John LeBlanc on 2003-08-21
I. Working on Conservative Approach Techniques
A well planned approach makes good landings easier to accomplish, while most bad landings come after a poor approach. It follows then, that working on improving a variety of approach techniques is the first step.
A. Control your canopy with smooth toggle movements.
Fly your downwind, base, and final approach smoothly, keeping control inputs to an absolute minimum. This makes it easier for others to predict what you are doing. The canopy will fly more efficiently, and it also helps to make the canopy more stable in turbulence.
B. Once you're pleased with your landings, experiment with making approaches at various speeds.
Getting a good landing with less float after the flare will help you land in small areas. Doing this requires a slower approach. But if you are too slow, you will land hard! It takes considerable skill to land softly after a slower approach, so practicing this in an open area is important.
C. Learn how slowly you can approach and still get a reasonable landing.
Again, landing well after a slow approach requires practice and considerable work on flaring technique. How slow you can make a safe approach depends on your wing-loading, the design of the parachute, and how good your technique is. It takes a lot of practice to get good landings after a slow approach, but the result is more options for different landings, and greater safety.
D. Even if you are conservative, learn how to make a straight-in approach using a small amount of front risers.
Make sure your canopy is very stable in this flight mode first. Just 1 to 3 inches of riser will produce quite a change in the approach speed and landing. By becoming familiar with the slightly higher speeds of this approach, you will be better prepared should the unexpected happen and you find yourself screaming along after making an evasive maneuver to avoid traffic near the ground.
E. If you are an aggressive canopy pilot and like SWOOP landings, it is very important to practice straight-in approaches at various speeds.
You may have to make a slow approach one day, and you need to stay good at it. You may not even realize how slow you can approach and still be safe. Its better to practice in good conditions so that you are prepared for the worst. Most new canopies can be flown straight in, even at very high wing-loadings, with proper technique. If you can't do it, you probably need to work on technique.
II. Working on High-Speed Approaches
A. Learn when to say no to a high-speed approach.
There are times when high-speed approaches are unsafe, due to heavy traffic in the air or on the ground, when you are angry or tired, when you are disappointed with your performance, or when the weather conditions are marginal. Make sure you err on the cautious side! You can make that swoop landing on a later jump when conditions improve only if you survive this jump!
B. Verify that the technique you wish to use works well with the canopy you are using.
Some canopies have unusual flight characteristics that can take hundreds of jumps to fully explore. Do this exploration up high away from other traffic. Some canopies can become unstable using certain techniques.
C. Stay with straight-in approaches, working on flaring technique for many jumps to obtain the longest swoop possible before attempting any turning approaches.
Many people do not work on improving their technique long enough before trying aggressive turning approaches. Many tend to react too late to changing circumstances, and then over control afterwards. The result is reduced canopy efficiency, which reduces the distance of the resulting swoop. It also indicates that the jumper is over his limit of safety.
D. If you are doing turning approaches, try to develop several different techniques for controlling the rate of altitude Ioss compared to the rate of turn.
1. Over a period of many jumps, find out how much you can vary the altitude loss in a turn by using different control inputs.
2. In these experiments you will find that some techniques will produce extremely high altitude loss with only a moderate rate of turn (Example: Steep front riser spiral).
3. In these experiments you will also find that some techniques will produce low altitude loss, even with a fairly high rate of turn (Example: Carving toggle turn).
E. When setting up for your turning approach, try to set up for a turn that will allow for a great altitude loss with very little turn rate being required.
1. If you're sure you've set up your approach high enough, start the high altitude loss turning technique. As you make the turn, evaluate the altitude loss. Always be ready to change the turn into one that produces less altitude loss. Starting real high and knowing many turning techniques allows you to have plenty of outs. Try to start all your turning approaches with enough altitude to make the high altitude loss turn safe. Choose the turning method you feel is appropriate. If you notice during the turn that you do not have sufficient safety margin, change the turn technique to one that allows for less altitude loss. Now you have your margin for safety back again.
2. If you are sure you are too low to try the high altitude loss turn, and even a medium altitude loss turn does not look like a good possibility, consider landing slightly crosswind, if traffic permits. Avoid the low turn! If it looks like you need to start with a low altitude loss turn method, you are in a dangerous situation! If you turn anyway, and you do survive, slap yourself for being so stupid! Vow to never get caught in that situation again! Don't judge your approach technique as good just because you walked away from the landing!
F. Avoid becoming trapped into the habit of using only one turning technique that requires an exact starting altitude for success.
Favoring one turning technique, especially a low altitude method such as a sharp snapping toggle turn followed by burying both toggles, is very risky. Because the canopy tends to pull out of the dive almost the same way each time, you require an exact starting altitude and perfect judgement each time. Nobody can be that perfect! One day your judgement will be a little bit off, and you will crash. Or you may have some turbulent air, which will affect your approach, and you will crash. Do not fall into the too common trap of thinking that you've completed the learning process! No one has!
G. Learn the concept of the "corner" and stay out of it.
The corner represents the change from a vertical diving approach to a horizontal swoop. Make that corner as round as possible. (A large radius pullout started higher is safer than a sharp pullout started lower).
1. If the canopy's natural tendency to pull out gets you to level flight without pulling any toggles at all, then you were not very far into the corner. This is the safer method.
2. If you need to pull the toggles down to get out of the vertical part of the approach before you can start your flare, then you were too vertical too close to the ground! This is better than hitting the ground, but its very dangerous and should be taken as a severe warning. The biggest problem with this is that the average experienced jumper does not see this as being as dangerous as it really is. Slap yourself for being so stupid, and promise not to get caught like that again. Instead, do everything higher, and start the pullout earlier. Again, the idea is to prevent having to be perfect just to survive.
3. As you can see, the measure of safety on your swoop is how little toggle it takes to get to level flight. If you are pulling toggles down hard and late, you need to start the turn much higher, so that you will need less toggle to pull out of the dive. You may also need to learn how to perceive, far sooner, that you are getting too far into the corner. This way you can apply a little toggle up higher, rather than a lot of toggle at the last instant. In other words, you need to work more on better planning of the approach. Probably a less steep approach would help!
H. Avoid these hook turn traps.
1. The courtesy trap.
You can only pay so much attention to being courteous to others while under canopy. Do not pay so much attention to others that you forget to leave yourself plenty of safe options too.
2 The dropping winds trap.
This is one example of failing to adjust for the changing conditions as the day progresses. People who have been flying the same downwind approach to the landing area all day tend to get very used to the sight picture that they have. As the wind drops, this sight picture will change, as the wind will no longer be helping you get back to the landing area so quickly. But you may continue to try and fly the old sight picture. If you are getting caught by this, you will feel you are sinking faster than you expected while on downwind, so you try and float in the brakes a bit more than previously. In an attempt to keep the same landing spot as earlier, you may find yourself trying to float downwind a little farther as well. All this adjusting eats up airspeed and altitude, both of which are needed to turn into the wind. If you are also tired from a day of jumping, you might find yourself ignoring these signs, turning too low to survive.
3. The "I'm really Gonna swoop this time" trap.
This is a situation where the jumper is so enthusiastic about his swoop landings, that they forget about everything else! They see their desired approach as the only possibility and will attempt that approach regardless of whether there are problems with traffic, spectators, winds, or turbulence. They forget that other options exist, and are very likely to have an accident.
4. The race horse trap.
Jumper making mistake number three (above) has fallen into the race horse trap. Race horses sometimes wear blinders on their eyes to restrict their vision. Sometimes jumpers pay so much attention to their own approach that they don't see anything else, just like the race horse. Collisions near the ground are often caused by this, so its very dangerous.
III. Working on Improving Landings
A. Altitude control is the key to no-wind landings.
It is not so important to be at an exact specific altitude when starting the flare, but it is very important how high you are when you finish the flare. You should finish the flare so that you have no rate of descent (or at least your minimum rate of descent) when your feet are at ground level.
B. For the best landings, transfer the weight from harness to ground gently and gradually.
If you are at zero rate of descent with feet at ground level, you can gently press your feet on the ground while you continue to sit in the harness. With the first step, you can remove a little weight from the harness, by stepping only lightly on the ground, and more heavily on the next steps, until all your weight is transferred from the harness to the ground. To do this you must have the zero rate of descent at ground level, not higher. You must also maintain adequate flying speed during this time. No parachute or any other wing is capable of supporting you at no foward airspeed!
C. Be careful to avoid using your hands and arms for balancing or protecting yourself during the flare and landing.
As you will see in the video, the canopy will respond to every toggle movement (or shifting in the harness), even when you are well into the transition to the ground.
D. Watch the landings of other people and get video of your landings. Look for these common errors.
1. Lifting one toggle at touchdown.
This is the balance trap. If you feel like you are falling to one side, you may try to stick an arm out for balance, which turns the canopy. You may think it was a side gust.
2. Extending a hand out to protect yourself.
This is the protection trap. By extending your hand out to the ground to protect yourself, you unknowingly steer the canopy that direction.
3. Stabbing the ground with your feet.
This is done usually in anticipation of a hard landing. It hurts the legs and feet, and is usually accompanied by lifting both toggles backwards and upwards, which compounds the situation by causing the canopy to dive harder at the ground.
4. Fighting the wind.
This is letting one toggle come up and pushing the other one down prematurely, in anticipation of difficulties in getting the canopy on the ground in high winds. This can produce some really ugly accidents. Make sure you're really on the ground first, then get the canopy on the ground.
5. Tunnel vision.
Though we try our best to avoid it, all of us tend to concentrate more on our flight path as we get closer to landing time. Sometimes swoopers or accuracy jumpers start having this problem much higher up. This is very dangerous! Try to keep looking around and seeing people!
6. Flaring too slowly, too high, or too far, etc...
Experiment more while up high. Watch other peoples landings and watch videos of your own landings. Usually this is a perception problem.
A. Acknowledge your current limitations.
B. Constantly play "what if" situations when you're flying.
C. If in doubt choose the conservative option.
D. Create safe situations for yourself and others.
E. VOW TO BECOME A STUDENT OF CANOPY CONTROL AGAIN.
F. Have fun!
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