CHOOSING THE PROPER
There are three major components to an emergency parachute system.
The harness which attaches you to the parachute. The container which
holds the parachute while in use. And of course the parachute itself.
When deciding which parachute system to purchase there are several
things to consider. First and most important is your weight. It is
imperative that you choose a parachute canopy that is designed to carry
your weight. Using a parachute that is not compatible with your size can
result in serious injury.
There is no question that a parachute can save your life during an
emergency bailout situation. But before you strap on that life-saving
device you need to familiarize yourself with your system. It is
important to ensure the proper fit of a system and know how to store
your equipment. You should also familiarize yourself with riggers who
will maintain your system on the ground, and understand how to use the
system in an emergency situation. A parachute can most certainly save
your life, but not unless you understand how to use and maintain it.
The size of a parachute is very important. Your parachute system should
be a size that can handle your weight, and not specifically the stated
size of the parachute canopy. Some of today’s 24’ and 26’ canopies will
descend at a slower rate than the older and larger military parachutes.
The correct size is absolutely mandatory when assuring safety.
Another important factor in familiarizing yourself with your system
is knowing how to store the parachute. The longevity of your parachute
is your responsibility and is almost entirely dependent on proper
maintenance and storage. When not in use, store the parachute in a bag
in a well-ventilated area away from direct exposure to sunlight, oils,
and/or acids. If you find that your parachute has come in contact with
any unsafe conditions including wetness, have it inspected by a good
While on the ground, besides good storage habits, get to know your
parachute rigger. If you do not have a local rigger get referrals from a
fellow pilot or the manufacturer of your parachute system. Make sure
that the rigger is familiar with your parachute system and has the
proper packing instructions and manual before having it repacked. At the
time of the repack ask your rigger to go over your parachute with you.
Put it on and pull the ripcord. This will assure your awareness of the
force it requires. (A 22# pull is the maximum that the TSO allows.)
Establish a preflight routine of inspecting your parachute. The
condition of the parachute can be directly related to your safety. A
small oversight could create a safety hazard. Check the fabric for
stains or wear and mildew. Inspect the hardware, be sure snaps function
properly and check for corrosion. Look for fraying or nicks in the
webbing and inspect for broken or missing stitches. Perform a pin check
on the ripcord by lifting the pin protector flap and making sure the
pins are straight and extend through the closing loop at least ½". Make
sure that the handle extracts from the pocket easily. Also there should
be no kinks or dents in the housing. Finally inspect the packing data
card. Check the last date of inspection and repack. FAA regulations
require a parachute in use to have been packed within the last 120 days.
This preflight routine is mandatory to maintain the safety of your
An emergency is not a good time to start thinking about emergency
procedures. Plan in advance and know the three most important variables
in the decision to leave your aircraft: attitude, altitude, and
Attitude is not only the attitude of your aircraft but also your
personal attitude can effect your egress. A tumbling aircraft can be
almost impossible to exit. Altitude is important because a higher
altitude means a better chance of having a fully deployed parachute
before impact. A general rule of thumb is: if you have pack opening
above 1000 ft. AGL, you will have a fully deployed parachute before
hitting the ground. Airspeed will also determine your exit. 100 MPH is
ideal for a fast opening parachute, however if you can trade off
airspeed for altitude do so.
The primary causes of most unsuccessful bailouts are not being prepared
and waiting too long to make the decision to bailout. Using your
parachute is most obviously your last option. Be familiar with your
particular aircraft escape procedures and practice them often until they
are second nature. You must be able to react instantly to save valuable
time, altitude, and your life. If you don’t have an emergency egress
procedure for your aircraft the best time to develop one is before your
Once you have exited the aircraft, you will most likely be tumbling.
The most important thing to do is pull the ripcord immediately. It takes
approximately 2-3 seconds for the parachute to fully deploy. Altitude
used for complete deployment at terminal velocity is approximately
300-500 ft. That is not the altitude to initiate emergency procedures.
Once the parachute is open, it is time to think about steering. Most
new parachutes on the market today are steerable and they have toggles
installed on each riser. To turn left, pull down on the left toggle and
to turn right pull down on the right toggle. The forward speed of these
round parachutes is approximately 3-5 MPH and will make a 360 Degree
turn in about 6-10 seconds.
Landing is the final act in the bailout and it is important to follow
the instructions in order to avoid injury. Steer into the wind and do
not attempt any turns below 100 ft. Look out towards the horizon and
hold your knees and feet together tightly. Keep your knees slightly bent
with your toes pointed down. Put your arms above your head holding on to
the risers and as you hit the ground roll in the direction you are
moving when you land.
Try to avoid all obstacles if possible. If you land in a tree or
power lines throw away the ripcord. Keep your knees and feet together
and get as thin as possible. Also turn your face to the side. In the
event of a water landing, prepare for a regular landing except land
downwind so your parachute will fall out in front of you and not on you.
Unfasten the straps and swim upwind away from the parachute so as not to
become entangled in the lines. If you land on the ground during high
winds roll onto your back and deflate the parachute by pulling in one or
two adjacent lines to spill the air. Also, take off the parachute
harness and cover the parachute canopy so as to not reinflate it. There
is a lot to remember in a bailout so it is important that you plan ahead
and review your plan of action in case of an emergency.
Emergency parachute systems may seem like expensive cushions that we
carry needlessly on our back or sit on uncomfortably. That cushion,
however, is a highly specialized life saving device and is vitally
important to your air safety. Get to know your parachute system and soon
you will realize what an ally that cushion can be and why you should
never leave the ground without it.