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The Skydiving Handbook - Chapter 7 (Landings)

There are two goals when landing your parachute: the first is to land safely and the second is to land where you want to. Clearly, the first goal is much more important than the second one, yet a surprising number of skydivers have had the opportunity to consider their values at leisure while recuperating from landing injuries. A parachute is only as safe as the person operating it.

As soon as you have determined that your parachute is functioning properly, it is time to start thinking about the landing. Look for potential landing sites - any level area free of obstacles will do but we try to land at an established point, our student landing area, if we can. Usually you can get back over this landing area with at least a thousand feet of altitude left. If this is not the case check the area below you and between you and your target for possible hazards; if you are not positive you can make it safely to the planned landing area, you must select an alternate site. Do not go below the thousand foot mark without making a firm decision about where you will land!

Assuming you have made it over the target above one thousand feet, you should turn into the wind and check your ground speed. This is especially important on windy days. Remember the higher the wind speed is, the less ground speed you have when holding, and while running with the wind your ground speed will be higher. Keep this in mind and avoid getting too far down wind of your target area. (Helpful hint: if you can find your canopy's shadow on the ground it will show you exactly how fast you are going!)

As you hold into the wind you can make a rough guess as to how far you could fly in, say, 250 feet of vertical descent. Take that estimated distance and lay out an imaginary line of that length from the target to a point downwind. Now just work your way to that point and stay near it until you are about three hundred feet up. Turn towards the target. If your original guess was good, you would slightly overshoot the target. A small "S" turn - ninety degrees one way, then 180 back to the approach, and ninety degrees back into the wind - will line you up on a good final approach. As long as you start your final approach a little high, you can continue these "S" turns to adjust until you are on approach at the right altitude.

Remember that your first priority is to land safely, not necessarily in the target. You may have to share the landing area with another canopy, in which case you need to avoid flying in front of or near them. For example, if you are on one side of the target and another student is near the other side, stick to your side rather than aiming at the middle. Be careful to always look before you make a turn and assume the other canopy pilots may not see you. Whoever is lowest has the right of way. Also look for dust devils. They can turn or even collapse your canopy and should be avoided.

Most skydivers like to set up their final approach by using a pattern similar to the kind airplanes use approaching an airport. After your ground speed check at one thousand feet, work your way down wind until five hundred feet. Then turn cross wind (90 degrees to the wind direction) until you are over that imaginary point where your final approach begins. This type of pattern lets you observe wind indicators as you refine your estimate of where to turn onto final. Another useful tip: the more turns you do, the harder it is to tell where you are going, because your descent rate and forward speed change in a turn. A few smooth, slow turns will set you up better than lots of radical ones. At an altitude of about one hundred feet you are committed; just let the parachute fly straight ahead and limit any corrections to turns of ten degrees or less.

The last part of the approach is the flare. This procedure is simple: pull down both toggles simultaneously to slow down your parachute to a comfortable landing speed. To get the most out of flaring, you must be flying full speed on your final approach, so keep your toggles all the way up until it is time to flare. (An exception is if you have poor depth perception, when the lighting is bad, or when the surface is uncertain such as water or corn. Then you may be better off approaching in partial brakes to slow your approach, giving you a little more time to assess the situation.) The flare should be done when your feet are about two to three body heights above the ground. A smooth flare over about three to four seconds will work better than a fast, hard flare, but the main thing is to have both hands all the way down when your feet are three or four feet off the ground. If you realize you started the flare low, speed up; if you started high, slow down. Do not, however, let your toggles back up once you have started to flare. This will cause your canopy to dive forward and result in a hard landing. The illustration showing a canopy's flight during a flare will show the consequences of a badly timed flare. Too low, and you have a lot of forward speed even though your descent is slow. Too high, and you will have a lot of downward speed even though your forward speed is low. That is why you should flare a little high and slow on a calm day, a little low and fast on a windy one.

Let's quickly review the three most important points for a safe landing. First, always pick a safe place. Be sure of your landing site before you reach 1,000 feet! People who hit hazardous things such as cars, buildings, or power lines almost always do so because they did not choose a safe landing site high enough and were forced to land in a bad location when they realized, too late, that they could not make the target.

Second, never land in a turn. We know that a parachute's descent rate increases dramatically in a turn, and that speed remains for a few seconds after the turn is stopped. Landing in turns is by far the biggest cause of skydiving injuries. These low turns are usually made by people who did not pick a safe area and turned at the last moment to avoid an obstacle, or by people who thought landing on the target was a higher priority than landing safely.No low turns!

Third, land into the wind. This one is too obvious to need elaboration; the slower you are going, the softer you land. However, landing down wind or cross wind is less likely to cause injury than landing in a turn or on obstacles! On a breezy day, turn towards your parachute after you touch down and pull in one line to collapse the canopy. You may need to run around down wind of the canopy.

Test yourself:

1. The United States Parachute Association limits student and novice jumpers to wind conditions of fourteen miles per hour or less. Why are winds over fifteen miles per hour considered dangerous?

2.Turbulence that can make steering difficult or even collapse your canopy can be caused by three things. Hot, rising air such as dust devils is one and high winds passing over obstacles are another. What else could cause dangerous turbulence on landing? Where would you expect to find turbulence on a windy day?

Proceed to Chapter 8 (After the Landing)

By Bryan Burke on 2011-09-20 | Last Modified on 2017-02-03

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