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4 Ways to Avoid Pilot-Chute-In-Tow Malfunctions

By nettenetteon - Read 12561 times
Image by Joe Nesbitt

Last week, we talked about the mighty kerfuffle that is the pilot-chute-in-tow malfunction.

So...who wants to have one?


Right. So now that we’ve established that, we can get down to the business of avoiding the hell out of those. There are four big steps you can take to lessen your risk of a PCiT, and there’s a good chance you’re currently messing up at least one of them.

1.Cock it up (so it doesn’t cock your jump up).

Your collapsible pilot chute is a demanding partner. Her deal is this: no foreplay, no canopy.

Most of the time, you’re good about it. You guys have a really established routine at this point, right? From the time you’ve got your nylon laid out on the floor to the time you wrap your legs around it to finish it off, you follow a very predictable routine. Somewhere in there, you give that collapsible pilot chute a tug and get her indicator window nice and blue. Everybody’s happy.

But what happens when you get distracted? If you end up ignoring your PC for a surprise debrief or a dance break or an awkward conversation with the meaty contents of the best-fitting freefly suit you’ve seen all week, make no mistake: she’s going to get her revenge. Failure to cock the collapsible pilot chute, after all, is the leading statistical cause of PCiTs.

The solution here is simple: focus. Give your pack job the attention it deserves, in the same order every time. (It’s never a bad idea to include that little indicator window on a quick gear check, either.)

2. Do what you’re told.

I know. You’re the boss of you, and I’m not your real mom, and manufacturers are basically like corporate drones, and the USPA is a bunch of guys throwing canes and slippers at kids who merrily chase balls onto their collective lawn. You do what you want.

That said: maybe you should do what you’re told every once in awhile.

This is revolutionary stuff, I know. But the manufacturers’ instructions for bridle routing and main-flap-closing aren’t just there to give you something else to toss giddily out of the box when your new container arrives. As any pro packer will tell you, those yawn-inducing closing procedures differ dramatically between brands. If you’re using the wrong one for your particular equipment, you’re setting yourself up for a container lock.

3. Watch the news.

Along those lines: be on the lookout for updates. Remember a few years back, when all those photos came out of closing pins stabbing neatly through the middle of their bridles? It kinda looked like a fabric samurai drama, but it was pretty serious -- several jumpers, jumping different equipment, experienced pilot-chutes-in-tow in this same manner. In response, manufacturers posted updates to their manuals, changing the closing procedures for their containers to lessen the risk.

The moral of the story is this: Maybe you’re still doin’ it the old way and have managed to be lucky so far. (Emphasis on: so far.)

You can also investigate pull-out -- as opposed to throw-out -- pilot chute systems, if you like to be on the oddball end of technology.

4. Embrace the transient nature of our linear existence.

Nothing is forever, dear reader. All seasons pass. All kittens turn into old cats. Your pilot chute and bridle will eventually wear out. Thus is the way of the world.

We know you love your pilot chute and bridle. They love you back. They yank that nylon out of the bag for you over and over and over without complaint. They get dragged across the grass and the filthy packing mat and the Arizona desert for you. They get stepped on and sat on and waved around willy-nilly when you need to get someone’s attention on the other side of the hangar. But they can’t do it forever.

Collapsible pilot chutes lose effectiveness when their little kill lines shrink. If that line shortens to the point that the PC can’t inflate fully, you will probably end up with a dead pilot chute flapping around above you in freefall while you count to yourself in your helmet.
Insufficient drag to pull the closing pin = PCiT.

Like many existential tragedies, this doesn’t happen overnight. Have you noticed little hesitations after you throw? Are they getting longer? Have you noticed the aging process creeping up on your little bitty sub-parachute in the form of obvious wear? Cuddle up on the couch with her, read The Velveteen Rabbit together, cry a little bit and give your old, loyal PC a Viking funeral.

She deserves it.


About The Author

Annette O'Neil is a copywriter, travel journalist and commercial producer who sometimes pretends to live in Salt Lake City. When she's not messing around with her prodigious nylon collection, she's hurtling through the canyons on her Ninja, flopping around on a yoga mat or baking vegan cupcakes.


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Simple, easy advice to help avoid having to chop. Love it!

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Funny thing: i really got into the situation as described in the first part (got distracted during packing).
What saved me was the way i pack my PC.
The general "standard" way to pack the PC is "full moon", then "half moon" and from there i've seen more different ways than sand on a beach.
From very early on i added a step after "half moon" by pulling out the middle to the edge of the PC (the attachment point of bridle to PC).
The thing was: that way i noticed that i didn't pull out the kill-line (remember: i got distracted), because the hackey-ball suddenly vanished inside the nylon of the PC.
Since then, if anybody asks me why i'm packing my PC that way i answer: it saved me from a malfunction

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For anyone wanting to try Barkeeper's method: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axCeYlY_6io

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I check my PC 5 times when packing. There's a few opportunities that don't cost anything, even if you're a little short on time.
1. The flick after cocking it to make sure it inflates.
2. When I'm lying on my main before doing my s-folds, i sort out my d-bag and untwist my locking stow bands so its ready to go - can see if the bag is far from the bridle attachment point or theres kill-line in the d-bag, its probably not cocked (or cocked fully).
3. When I'm placing my d-bag at the bottom of my container after stowing my lines, i grab the bridle and flick the PC over to me - it'll inflate on the way over. Like the flick you do after cocking, just horizontal.
4. When i bring my D-bag to the back of my container after stowing my lines, i grab the bridle and give it a flick toward my to bring the PC over. You'll see it inflate then (or not if you forgot).
5. When I'm packing my PC, i do it the same way as Barkeeper below.
6. I do a gear check immediately after packing, and immediately before gearing up - can check the bridle window at this point.

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Some of us older jumpers still use bungee pilot chutes which would eliminate 2 of 4 problems mentioned that can cause a PC in tow. They are non-packing sensitive and when the bungee wears out or breaks the PC just becomes a non-collapsible PC and still will operate just fine. Some times newer is not necessarily better.

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I check my PC about 2 times during my packjob. But since I'm packing the PC in the "Brian Germain"-way, I couldn't pack it without being cocked, anyway. That's another advantage of this method.

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Except the picture is of snivel not PCinTow. Might even be a low pull judging by the reserve PC. EP for this is simple - cutaway, then reserve.
Not quite so simple for a PCinTow.

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@Nigel looks like a collapsed PC with reserve pull to me.

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