This little article is about the art and science of skilfully and quickly pulling out of a dangerously low dive. You can apply this skill to many aspects of parachute flight, but the scope of this article will hone in on keeping you above ground if you turn too low, in more ways than one.
When you turn close to the ground, the likelihood of your survival has a great deal to do with suspension line tension. If you are not currently connected to your canopy, you can't pull out of a dive all that quickly. Maintaining positive "g's" requires a smooth reduction of the angle of attack when performing a turn or dive, and graceful coordinated turns throughout your approach. If you feel the parachute pulling away from you in a balanced manner, you are prepared to nose her up whenever you want to.
The process of pulling out of a dive clearly has something to do with bank angle, but it has much more to do with pitch. This is the fore-aft pendulum axis, like on a swing-set. If you begin increasing your pitch as soon as you get that funny feeling, and leave the rolling out for after you feel the load increase, you will recover far sooner than if you went straight to fixing the roll problem. Fly the pitch first, then progressively reduce the roll angle when you feel heavier. In doing so, you are literally creating time to fix your problems. In short, nose her up wherever you are, and then deal with the rest of your flight.
The pitch responds to a variety of inputs. A tap in the rear risers will nose you up a bit, as will releasing application of the front risers. Such inputs may even level you off to zero descent, provided that you have the altitude. Rears are, however, a terrible way to pull up from a dive executed dangerously low. When you get down and dirty, brakes simply have more bite.
Knowing that different inputs have different recovery times, this leads us to the exploration of what kind of brake input moves the pitch fastest. So it turns out, a short, sharp, powerful burst-and-hold of six to twelve inches will move your pitch more, sooner and more effectively than twice the quantity of control input when applied with a slower control motion. Fast works quicker. This is what I refer to as "Power Pitching", and it is an essential skill for all canopy pilots who would like to join the ranks of the old fart club.
It is all a matter of airspeed. When the angle of attack is increased swiftly, while the airspeed is still quite high, there is more effect to the direction of flight. When you are in half brakes, for example, you have a slower pitch response, and the resulting level-off is weak at best. Watch scared students land and you will get to see this principle over and over.
When a canopy is traveling at high speed, on the other hand, in the first one third of the control range, the bang-for-your-buck is far higher when it comes to maneuvering capability than the lower end of the range will ever hope to offer. This is because the wing is traveling faster, and drag increases as we go faster. That is why a patient pilot who waits for the correct time to flare and then gives one smooth, decisive motion from zero brakes to quarter brakes usually ends up with a glorious level off. The top of the control stroke is the heart of your power to change the direction of flight.
Consequently, if you fly smooth coordinated harness-led turns with your toggles mostly up and your tail out, your first pulse of brake application will pop you up out of a steep dive surprisingly quickly. It is true that some parachutes recover more powerfully from a dive than others due to good design, but every parachute recovers far sooner when good technique is used.
There are, however, limits to every technique. There is a point when a PLF is just not enough to prevent pain, and there is such a thing as a sloppy turn thrown too low. Don't do this if you want to get old. Fly consistent patterns that work for your landing area and parachute specifics, and relax into having more fun. Most of the time this stuff is not necessary at all. Once in a while, on the other hand, the one with the most Jedi skills wins.
In the end it is a calm heart combined with skilful execution that ultimately leads us to glorious recoveries and beautiful landings. As we grow into what it means to us to become a better skydiver, we reach for expansion of the diverse skill-set that will allow us to skydive with our grandchildren. Wonderfully, skill is more fun, and skill is safety.
Brian Germain is a parachute designer and test pilot, and runs canopy flight skills and safety courses all over the world. Brian has made over 14,000 jumps in his 25 years in the sport. He is also the host of the “Safety First” segment on SkydiveRadio.com, and the creator of many educational You Tube videos. Brian is the author of the widely popular canopy flight text The Parachute and its Pilot, as well as Transcending Fear, Greenlight Your Life, and Vertical Journey. His websites are www.BIGAIRSportZ.com and www.Transcendingfear.com and his YouTube channel is: www.youtube.com/bsgermain