Common ripcord and hand-deployed pilot chute malfunctions are the lost handle and the hard pull.
Lost handle or out-of-sight hand-deployed pilot chute. Some ripcords are held in place by elastic webbing or Velcro® cloures. If the ripcords come out of these places, they may be blown out of your sight. Some puds (knobs or handles for hand-deployed pilot chutes) attach with Velcro closures, and some are stowed in elastic pockets. There are pros and cons to where these pilot chutes and deployment handles should be mounted. Either one may separate from the container and blow up behind you. Search for the ripcord (one time only) by following the harness to the ripcord housing with your hand. Search for a hand deployment device (one time only) with your hand by following the container to the area where it is supposed to be mounted — perhaps even as far as the closing grommet. If you can’t locate the handle immediately, pull your reserve ripcord. Practice this on the ground periodically.
Lost handles and hand-deployed pilot chutes can also occur after the pull if you fail to pull far enough. Make sure you pull the ripcord all the way out of the housing, or if using a hand-deployed pilot chute, pull the pud to arm’s length before you release it.
The hard pull may be caused by a bent or rough pin, a hand-deployed pilot chute bound up in its pouch, or you may have packed more canopy in the center of the container instead of filling the corners. If you feel resistance to your pull, give it two more quick tries (perhaps even with both hands while maintaining the arched body position) and then if that doesn’t deploy the main parachute, pull your reserve ripcord immediately. After a number of jumps, it is normal to become somewhat complacent about the pull; you may give it a relaxed, half-hearted jerk. The pull may take as much as 10 kg (22 lbs.) of force, so pull again. If continual hard pulls are bothering you, you might choose to spray a non-petroleum-based silicone or Teflon® fluid on your ripcord cable or your closing pin and your closing loop. This will make quite a difference and it will last for many jumps. You may occasionally have to do it again as dirt and grime builds up on your pin or ripcord cable system. Inspect your system for any signs of roughness. If they exist, get a rigger to replace the rough component with a smooth one.
Pilot Chute Hesitation
A problem you could have with your reserve deployment, or a main with a spring-loaded pilot chute, is the common pilot chute hesitation. Hesitations can happen to hand-deployed mains but they are not as common. Hesitations occur when the pilot chute momentarily flutters in the low-pressure area behind you rather than catching air. The hesitation may be caused by a bent or weak pilot chute spring, but usually the pilot chute is just sitting in the dead air space created behind you when you are in the stable position. Sometimes the pilot chute jumps upon release but fails to travel far enough to get a grip on the air rushing past you. It may drop back down on your back and just bounce around or just lay there. If it was hand-deployed, you may not have given it a good throw.
To correct the problem, you may turn on your side during the post exit or pull count, allowing the airflow to inflate the pilot chute and pull it free, you may peek over your shoulder after pulling the ripcord, or you may sit up to dump (deploy your canopy). This last method of pulling, then sitting up (almost the start of a backloop) also reduces the opening forces on your shoulders, but it can lead to other problems such as trapping a tight-fitting deployment bag in its container. Consult with an instructor who is familiar with your system prior to attempting this type of maneuver.
Pull-out v. Throw-out
The pull-out and throw-out pilot chutes are preferred by experienced jumpers, but students (except IAD students) use the ripcord and coil spring pilot chute combination. For a detailed explanation of these three systems, see the chapter on equipment.
Trapped Pilot Chute
If the pilot chute is not properly stowed in its pocket, it may bunch up and jam when you try to extract it. The trapped pilot chute results in a hard pull that may or may not be cleared. If you find you have a hard pull, try one more vigorous pull before you go for your reserve.
Pilot Chute In Tow
Pilot chute in tow may be short or long. It is short when the pilot chute bridle is looped around something such as a harness strap. (A proper gear check could have avoided this problem.) If you have one of the rare bellyband mounted throw out models, make sure that the bellyband is not twisted. If the pilot chute bridle is wrapped around the harness (such as on a twisted bellyband or leg strap), tugging on it will only result in a (short) trailing pilot chute. Check the bridle routing during packing, have it checked in the equipment check prior to boarding the aircraft and check the routing again prior to exit. Twisted bellybands and twisted leg straps are a significant cause of pilot chutes in tow.
The pilot chute in tow is long when the pilot chute pulls the bridle to its full extent but does not pull the pin securing the main container. The failure may be due to a damaged pilot chute (producing insufficient drag), a rough pin, a tight main container (canopy stacked too high), or a closing loop which is too short. The long pilot chute in tow is more likely on sub-terminal velocity jumps.
Make sure the bridle-pin connection is not worn, that the pin is smooth and curved, not straight (unless it is supposed to be such as in pull-out pilot chute systems), and that the locking loop is not too short.
If you are faced with a long pilot chute in tow, never try to clear it. A recent USPA article (Parachutist, June 1997) stated that if you have a pilot chute in tow, deploy the reserve immediately. Therefore, it is treated as a total malfunction. Other experts in the field take the position that if there is anything out behind the container, including a spring-launched or hand-deployed pilot chute, execute a cutaway and reserve deployment immediately. Note: Most student equipment is Single Operation System (SOS) oriented. This means that pulling the reserve handle will execute the cutaway (disconnect the main risers) then deploy the reserve all in one smooth action. A two-handle system requires a separate cutaway handle to be pulled to disconnect the risers, followed by a pull of the reserve ripcord.
How to handle a pilot chute in tow has been the subject of great debate and much beer has been consumed discussing it. While there are exceptions and strong feelings about what has been stated above, time is usually too short to consider them. After the reserve starts to deploy, the main container may go slack enough that whatever kept it closed is no longer doing so, therefore the main may start to deploy. If the main was disconnected from the harness by the action of a cutaway, it will probably not be anything more than a temporary nuisance. However, one must always be prepared for possible entanglement of the two canopies whether a “cutaway” has or has not been performed.