One of the most dreaded conditions of all is the no wind scenario. This fear is so profound that many jumpers in fact avoid jumping in no wind conditions. Although landing with the benefit of a headwind is unarguably easier, there are specific methods that markedly improve the chances of standing up your landing. Here are a few tips that will help you to land softer and safer when the wind goes away:
1) Make sure you level off within touching distance from the ground. If you finish the flight with some space between you and the earth, you will have more than just forward speed to deal with at the end of the landing. All parachutes stall above zero airspeed, which means that as soon as the extreme slow flight capability of your parachute is attained, it will drop you into the ground with both forward and vertical movement. The best way to deal with this is to be sure that you have already arrived at standing height when the stall breaks. That way, the only remaining kinetic energy is forward movement, which can be diminished by taking a few controlled steps.
2) Make sure your brakes are short enough. Most manufacturers set the brake lines to allow for a certain amount of slack so that when the front risers are applied with the toggles in the hands, there is no tail input. This, coupled with shorter risers (most parachutes are set up for 21 inch risers), will prevent you from reaching your parachute's slowest flying speed. With the help of your rigger, shortening the brake lines is an easy task. Take out not more than one inch at a time and give it a few jumps before taking more out.
3) Keep the parachute over your head. Any tilt in the roll axis will result in a premature stall of the parachute, which will drop you into the ground while you still have ground speed. This is due to an effect known as "load factor". When a wing is in a bank, it requires a bit of increased angle of attack to keep it flying at the same height or descent rate. This results in an increased relative weight, which in turn increases the stall speed. Keep your eyes looking down the "runway" and you will be able to notice variance in your bank angle easier. Making smooth corrections to the bank angle all the way to the end of the landing will result in a softer touch-down and less forward velocity at the end of the ride.
4) Be sure that you are finishing the flare. Keep smoothly adding brakes until you run out of arms, or ground-speed, whichever comes first. In other words, if you are flying into a significant head-wind, flaring all the way down will make you go backwards, as the speed of your parachute will be less than the speed of the wind. Flaring straight down is the only way to accomplish a complete flare, as stylish outward sweeping of the arms out to the sides or to the back will only result in a stylishly ineffective flare. The brake lines can only work if they are pulled.
5) Assuming that a PLF is not necessary, put one foot under your spine, as the "main landing gear", and the other out in front as the "nose gear". That way you will not plant both feet at the same time and pivot onto your face. Slide your main gear along the ground as long as you can, and then when the friction finally grabs your foot, take that first step onto the front foot.
6) Loosen your chest strap and lean forward in the harness. This will allow you to get your weight over your "landing gear", rather than back on your heels. The parachute will increase its pitch angle as you progress through the landing, but your body doesn't have to tilt in accordance. Freeing your body from the pitch of the system will allow you to feel more comfortable finishing the flare, as you will not feel the urge to let up on the toggles as you put your feet down to get to a more balanced pitch angle.
7) Let the wing sink down below standing height during the second half of the swoop, and then use the canopy's lift to bring you back up to standing height. Referred to as the "Seagull Landing", this allows you to arrest any excess forward speed, as you will be in a climb at the last part of the landing. Be sure not to climb above standing height as you do this, as that will result in a drop at the end that will put you on your face.
8) Practice slow flight up high. The more comfortable you are with the low-end range of your canopy's performance envelope, the longer you will be willing too keep your toggles down at the end. Fear of the stall results in incomplete flares, as well as letting up the toggles at the end of the landing. Keep the canopy in brakes for at least 30 seconds (up high), and perform smooth turns right and left. This will help you fly your way out of any bank angle created by an asymmetrical level off during the flare.
9) Believe it is possible to land perfectly. It is. Only when a pilot thinks: "I am going to crash" is the crash inevitable.
10) Get video! There is no greater tool than actually seeing yourself land. The best way to get filmed, I have found, is to film other people.
Landing in no wind can be great fun. Ultimately, this is how we counter the fear of landing our parachutes. If you lean forward into the experience, your positive body language results in more fluid, appropriate actions that actually improve your situation. When you are comfortable with landing in no winds, you begin to actually look forward to those zero-wind sunset loads. Scooting across the ground with maximum forward speed can be incredibly enjoyable when you know you have the skills to handle the situation.
In the end, the only way to achieve this is to jump on a regular basis, and enjoying the learning process is how this is reinforced. Find something about every landing that you can smile about, even your crashes. Everything that is not the path shows us where the path is not.
Editors Note: Also see - Another Look at No-Wind Landings by Scott Miller