Article | Parachute downsizing and lessons learnt

Parachute downsizing and lessons learnt

After skydiving for about one-and-a-half years it was time to take my skydiving to the next level. I moved from my nice docile parachute, which I had become very familiar with, onto a high performance parachute.

When we first started to learn to skydive we were put under student canopies, which start at a 270ft² parachute, and we were gradually moved down to a 180ft² parachute. The 180ft² requires our Sport Jumping licence and is used until we buy our own Skydiving Rigs. The rig I decided to purchase at around 35 jumps contained a 150ft² Aerodyne Pilot. This canopy was perfect for introducing me to the sport of skydiving and it gave a bit of room for error while landing which was definitely used over the coming year.

150 ft² Pilot canopy that I came to know and love

150 ft² Pilot canopy that I came to know and love

I put in just over 200 jumps with the Pilot canopy, learning to land in mixed conditions, dealing with issues that occasionally arose on opening and having fun flying around in between the Freefall and landing the Skydive. Then I was informed that perhaps it was time I started to consider a smaller more high performance canopy.

The downsizing began with my instructors at my home Dropzone allowing me to test-jump their canopies. The first was a 139 ft² Crossfire and not long ago one of the smaller canopies on our Dropzone, a 119 ft² Crossfire2. After a successful jump with the 139 ft² canopy, in which I had to land in a field (off the landing zone), it was clear that I was definitely ready to switch out my canopy.

The 119 ft² canopy seemed like a nice goal to aim for, however after talking to a lot of other skydivers it definitely seemed as though I should gradually work towards a canopy of that size. While I could land one in good weather conditions, if I got caught out in the wind or another off-landing, it could be quite dangerous to land with my current experience.

The ‘new’ 129ft² Crossfire2

The ‘new’ 129ft² Crossfire2

Given that I had jumped the Crossfire canopy previously I decided to purchase a 129ft² Crossfire2 that is manufactured in New Zealand by Icarus Canopies. I managed to acquire a second-hand parachute from a friend that lived down by Nelson for a fraction of the price of a brand new canopy and with only 100 jumps on it.

Upon rigging up the new canopy to my Skydive Rig, which I have learnt to do over the past year from spending time working with our Rigger, it was ready to jump. I managed to squeeze in a first jump on it in perfect conditions on a Friday after work, just before the sun set. The following day the wind picked up to just over 20 knots (37 km/h) and with the urge to really give the canopy a good test, I did two jumps in these high winds, not the smartest idea when I think about it, with only one jump experience on the canopy, but all went well despite the landings being a little hairy.

The difference between a larger Parachute and a smaller one is that as the wing gets smaller the general speed of flight increases and the control of the system becomes a lot more sensitive. While I had done a few jumps here and there, to get used to how they fly, I had yet to sit down and really consider how things would be different if something goes wrong…

Looking back I really wish I had given myself 15 minutes to work out how the new canopy was going to react in different scenarios. On my sixth jump on the Crossfire2, the third jump on the Sunday, I had either made a packing error, or something had caught my brake toggle, as I deployed my parachute. This caused my steering lines to be pulling on the corners of my canopy unevenly, putting the canopy into a violent downward spin. While this is something that had happened before on my larger canopy, the more violent nature of the malfunction threw me off. I couldn’t work out how to fix the problem. With my warning siren screaming in my ear indicating that I was at my Hard Deck (decision making altitude at high speed) I resorted to cutting away the canopy and riding my reserve to the ground.

Bye bye Crossfire, hello Smart Reserve

Bye bye Crossfire, hello Smart Reserve

The lesson I took away from this incident was:

When you change something, you should always reconsider what could go wrong, even if what you are doing seems similar to what was done previously

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