It's Not Only Size That Matters - Thoughts on Canopy Upsizing
At 66 years of age and with a one year old hip replacement, it decided that it was time to upsize my main canopy. I currently jump an Aerodyne Triathlon 210, so I purchased a Performance Designs Spectre 230. I had heard good things about the Spectre, although I had not yet jumped a demo Spectre.
Of course, I did not need any advice on how to use this canopy. I have almost 2300 jumps, a USPA Pro Exhibition rating, and have owned dozens of canopies. I thought I could land anything, especially my nice new big 230 square foot canopy.
Little did I know that a "slightly elliptical" canopy would be so drastically different when making turns and in recovery than the more traditional Triathlons I have always jumped. So, my first mistake was that I never read the flight characteristics information in the sales literature, in particular, about the dive characteristics of this canopy. Many of the reviews said that the Spectre is described as “ground hungry”, and needs a deeper and faster flare to land well.
My jumps on my new canopy:
Jump #1: I tested my turns and my old style two-stage flares. Oh well. Not much of a stall. Maybe I just have to "learn" this new canopy. I used a straight-in approach on grass, but hit rather hard in very fast, sliding landing. Good thing the grass was damp.
Jump #2: I decided to land into the pea gravel pit. A 10 mph crosswind at 45 degrees caused me to make a small correction on landing, then the wind side started to dive, a I pushed my flare, nothing, I hit hard, drove my right shoulder into the pea gravel pit, plowed a deep furrow through it, and went into a belly slide as I exited the peas. But this still counts for accuracy, right?
Jump #3: After breakoff from a 15-way formation, and after too long of a track, I opened, and saw that I was rather far from the landing area. I decided to land in a small green field. I fortunately noticed the chain-link fence on all four sides of the field. Now I needed to burn off some altitude to get into this spot. I used one carving S-turn at quarter brakes, and then a last second turn to come straight in. However my canopy started to dive into the ground so fast that I never had a chance to get the “fast deep flare” that this canopy requires. I hit so hard that I caused six breaks in my leg and a partial shoulder dislocation. Rotor cuff surgery is now in my future too. It seems that in an stressful situation, I reverted to my old landing and flaring habits from my other canopies.
So here are my comments and recommendation when jumping a new canopy (even when upsizing.)
If most of your experience is on some of the more docile rectangular canopies, be careful if you change to even a slightly elliptical canopy, even if it is bigger. It will surprise you how differently it responds in turns, dives, and recovery.
Bigger is not always enough to be better. (Sorry guys.) Read all of the reviews written about the canopy, and all about the flight characteristics. Talk to others who have owned one. Ask your Safety and Training Advisor and Rigger about the canopy and how it fits your style and experience.
Open high and test everything you can up high. Practice steep as well as shallow turns. Test your flare and note the toggle pressure and location needed to find your stall point and "sweet spot". (Your brake settings may be different than on other canopies you have jumped.) Observe the dive speed and recovery traits at all brake locations, plan a straight in landing until you get experience, and that means more than one jump.
Even if you have 2300 jumps like I do, read all of the articles you can find on canopy skills. At the very least, you will wind up with a checklist of things to look for to prepare for your first landings.
I was careless but lucky. I have gone through many "could have - should have" thoughts, and offer my personal experience and observations as food for thought, and hope it may help others when changing canopy style or size.
Thanks for sharing your "school of hard knocks" story, Dave.
From reading your notes about jump #3, it looks like your canopy lost full flight and never recovered. Braked turns can be tricky if you don't keep the canopy fully inflated. When I land out, I try to maintain the same kind of rectangular pattern I use for any other landing. That carving S-turn might have been the culprit. S-turns are old school and aren't safe in the landing pattern... or for landing out, for that matter. Braked turns work much better.
I'm glad you have a good attitude about all of this. Looks like you'll probably be back in the skies before long.
Blue Skies (and Safe Landings) Always!
I have a spectre 230 and I have had no problems ever. Soft openings and I will say you do need to do a complete flare to make it right. you could flare with your foot up high and I don't think it will stall!!! but after I replaced the line a couple of years ago it was better than the originals which I had the break lines shortened twice. So yea it has it's own characteristics but I love My Spectre and at 58 years old I would not change a thing. Thanks, Andy Tuman
Dave, I talked to many people before I tried one of the new semi-eliptical canopies. After much discussion with MANY people, including manufacturers, I demoed the Silhouette. First turns on it made my stomach think I was on a roller coaster turn. Practiced landing flares up high and was satisfied that it would stop. First landing I flared a few feet high and it completely stopped in low wind - about 3' above the ground. Second jump, flared later. This time it completely stopped about 1' underground (LOL). Third was actually a charm. Doesn't do ANYTHING radical with small corrections low. Fast and sweet. I was jumping a 210 at about 1.0 wing loading. TOTALLY understand what you went through. Those new canopies are soooooo fast and do almost EVERYTHING much faster than I am comfortable with (my first square was an early Strato-Star, custom ordered brand new). Your article is definitely a 'must-read' for folks jumping the newer faster canopies. :o)
Best ad for a Triathlon that I have ever read ;)
I've been flying a Triathlon for decades. Tried a similar sized Spectre once. Noticed the same differences the author noticed, fortunately up high doing control tests rather than when I landed it.
More articles in this category:
- It's Not Only Size That Matters - Thoughts on Canopy Upsizing - by Dave Kottwitz (Dusty Dave) (Posted: 2014-05-09)
- When Should You Upsize Your Canopy - by Melissa Lowe, Barry Williams and Jason Moledzki (Posted: 2014-02-25)
- Saved By The Beep - by Brian Germain (Posted: 2011-05-15)
- The Abort Zone - by Brian Germain (Posted: 2010-09-01)
- An Inconvenient Truth Regarding PLF's - by Jack Guthrie (Posted: 2010-03-02)
- The "D" Point by Brian S. Germain - by (Posted: 2009-11-01)
- Big Canopies in Turbulence - by Brian Germain (Posted: 2009-06-03)
- Canopy Control - A DVD Review - by Eduardo Guillen (Posted: 2009-04-06)