On most skydiving adventures, the jumper will enjoy a relatively short freefall and a much longer period of time beneath their parachute—but how does a parachute work? There are some complexities in the design, but for now it’s enough to note that when a parachute opens, it dramatically increases the amount of wind resistance experienced by the skydiver. The air fills up the canopy and creates a form known as a ‘structured wing’. This not only slows the skydiver’s descent, but also allows for an impressive amount of control in the air!
But first, for the uninitiated: what is a parachute, exactly? Any device that slows the descent of a person moving toward the earth can be described as a kind of parachute, but in any professional setting, the term refers to a cloth composed of nine cells, which together form the parachute’s rectangular body. A parachute might also be referred to as a canopy—so if you hear your skydiving instructor mention “canopy time,” they are referring to the time you spend with your parachute open.
From Launch to Landing: How Does a Parachute Work?
Should you be concerned that a parachute won’t perform as intended when it counts? Rest assured that the modern parachute is the result of a thoroughly scientific design process. Every element—from the rectangular shape to the way that the lines are distributed—has been designed to ensure a safe and controlled descent.
Let’s take a look at the main functions that your parachute will perform as you return to solid ground:
- How Parachutes Deploy: The packing process ensures that when the parachute is deployed and the container’s top— also known as a backpack— opens, the canopy’s cells are all perfectly positioned to emerge and catch the wind. The angle of deployment has been designed to ensure that parachutes start and continue flying at a roughly 45-degree angle.
- How Parachutes Keep Their Shape: We’ve already mentioned that a parachute functions as a structured wing; the structure comes from the nine cells that make up most canopies. In contrast to the rounded parachutes of yesteryear, newer and more structured parachutes are firm enough to bump up against one another without losing their shape.
- How Parachutes Are Controlled: The steering lines of the parachute are connected to the tail of the parachute—and the controls are very intuitive. Pull the left cord to go left. Pull the right cord to go right. Pull both cords simultaneously to flare the canopy and further slow your descent.
- How Parachutes Fly: Parachutes are designed to allow their passengers to descend at manageable speeds. The experience of falling with a parachute feels a lot like gliding through the air.
- How Parachutes Land: Even though a parachute can slow a skydiver’s descent, they still fall toward earth at an average rate of roughly 17 miles per hour. It might feel pretty fast when you’re approaching solid ground, and we recommend trusting your instructor, lifting your legs up, and preparing for a butt-slide landing to reduce the risk of knee or ankle injury. As your parachute approaches, you and your tandem instructor will slow your descent as much as possible by flaring the canopy (pulling on both steering lines or cords) and with a bit of headwind make a soft landing on our green grass landing area.
Learn More About Skydiving with DZONE®!
If you’ve got questions about the ins and outs of skydiving, you’ve come to the right place. Check out some of our other articles to get more familiar with the process, or book an adventure of your own at one of our skydiving locations in Boise or Bozeman! You’ll be paired with a trained tandem skydiving instructor who will show you everything you need to know to get back to earth.
Reading about how to skydive is one thing—experiencing the jump is another! If you’re ready to get first-hand experience with skydiving equipment and best practices, don’t wait to book your appointment! While you’re here, you can get an even better sense of how skydiving works by watching videos of experienced jumpers who were once just like you!