When you’re jumping out of a plane it doesn’t really matter what kind of parachute you’ve got, as long as it opens and gets you back to earth safely. That may be the case on your first jump but there are many different parachute types which as you get more into skydiving you will become exposed to and need to make decisions about.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a quick guide to the different parachute types, focusing mainly on canopies. Although some of the other equipment may also vary, depending on the parachute.
Some of the following canopies are rarely, if ever, used these days. However, it always pays to know your stuff. Although parachutes are divided into two types – ascending and descending – we’re going to look at the descending varieties used by those of us that like to fall. Ascending refers mostly to paragliding, which is a topic for another day.
Used in the military (think any Normandy Invasion war film) and as emergency parachutes, these simply rely on drag to slow a descent, rather than having any lift. Made from dome-shaped canopies, they are often referred to as ‘jellyfish chutes’ and are seldom if ever used by modern jumpers.
Designed to provide a more steady descent by reducing oscillation, these square-shaped chutes have been modified in recent times by the US Army – called the ATPS system – and can reduce descent speed by as much as 30%. This also reduces the chance of landing injury. However, again, these chutes are rarely used outside military manoeuvres.
Used to increase forward speed and decrease landing speed, there has been plenty of experimentation with this kind of chute in the world of sport parachuting. However, the build difficulty and subsequent introduction of the ram-air parachute means these are seldom used in the sporting community these days.
A ring – or series of concentric ring – shaped parachute that pulls the apex close to the load. They have a lower drag factor than conventional round parachutes. The rear position of the vents can give the jumper considerable forward speed in descent.
Most modern parachute types are ram-air, specifically in sports jumping. The self-inflating air-foils, known as parafoils, give the jumper greater control of speed and direction and will spread the stress of deployment (a major problem on some older chutes). Two layers of fabric allow air to penetrate from vents in the front and form cells.
The use of sail sliders allows the jumper to adjust the canopy in descent and maintain greater control of airspeed, descent speed and direction. Vents and brake lines can also allow a greater degree of control.
There are many types of ram-air parachute manufactured by a number of different companies worldwide. Different use of fabrics, such as air permeation-resistant ‘F-111’ can affect the parachute, and other design factors like stabilisers can vary according to individual design.
Using the right parachute and checking to ensure everything is correct before jumping is an essential part of skydiving. Knowing how the size, shape and design of your canopy will affect your descent is also essential knowledge for any aspiring skydiver.