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How does a parachute work: everything you need to know

Do you want to know how a parachute works?

You’ve seen it in the best Hollywood movies. You’ve probably also felt that feeling of suspense when one of the main characters jumps out of a plane rushing quickly towards the ground and with nothing to slow them down. Falling without stopping and you yearn for that feeling of freedom, of flying without attachments.

At iJump we want you to experience that same feeling firsthand, and that’s why we offer tandem skydiving to our customers. We are passionate about the thrill of free falling and being on top of the world.

In today’s post we will talk about how a parachute works giving you some tips to live this experience to the fullest. Don’t miss it!

How does a parachute work?

To understand how a parachute works we need to know what two forces are involved when we are in free fall and when flying on the parachute: gravity and air. When we skydive, these two elements initially act on our body and later on the opened parachute, which allows us to experience the unforgettable feeling of free fall. Nothing else can really replicate the unique experience of skydiving.

When we skydive, gravity causes our falling speed to increase. The air exerts resistance on our body, slowing it down until we reach a terminal velocity”, that is, a constant speed.

The effect that air produces can be compared to the effect that we feel in water. Just as when we walk through water, the water resistance slows our body, the resistance of the air reduces our falling speed, the only difference of course is, that air offers less resistance compared to water. The greater the surface we present, the greater the resistance we offer, and therefore the lower the falling speed becomes. Weight and position of the body are also important factors that influence the terminal velocity during free fall.

Depending on body weight, size and shape a skydiver reaches a terminal velocity of an average of 200km/h in free fall. That is why the use of a parachute is so important, presenting enough surface area to create enough resistance to sufficiently reduce the falling speed. Thanks to todays parachute technology, we managed to slow down the falling speed to 20 km / h making soft landings possible.

Understanding how a parachute works will give you the security that you need when doing the jump. As experts in skydiving, we know that it is practically impossible for the parachute not to open, since in the rare event that the main parachute does not work properly, you always have the guarantee that the reserve parachute will activate. More over, on our jumping equipment we carry devices that measure the height and speed of the fall, activating the emergency parachute automatically if the skydiver does not activate it manually in time.

Parachute types and activation modes: how does each one work?

We can distinguish two modes of parachute activation: manual activation and automatic activation.

  • Manual activation: it is activated when the skydiver pulls what is known as a “pilotchute” or “ripcord”, which begins the extraction process of the bag where the main parachute is located. The skydiver can activate both the main parachute and the emergency parachute manually.
  • Automatic activation: this type of system makes the parachute open automatically at certain heights or in the case of static line jumps, as soon as the skydiver jumps out of the plane. The automatic activation can be mechanical (commonly used in military equipment) or electronic, which is known as AAD (Automatic Activation Device). AADs are commonly used to activate the reserve parachute when the skydiver continues to be in free fall speed at a determined height.

Parts of a parachute

In order to know how a parachute works, it is also interesting to know its parts. The type of parachute that will come to mind first will be the typical round parachute. However, rectangular and elliptical parachutes are currently used more frequently. We will explain their parts below.

  • Canopy: it is the parachute, the piece of nylon and the “main” element that reduces the vertical speed of the fall. This is the part that exerts the most resistance to air.
  • Hackie, handle or rip cord: it is the grip that the skydiver must pull to initiate the parachute opening sequence.
  • Harness: made up of webbing that is adjusted along the body, attaching the skydiver to the parachute, distributing their body weight.
  • Bag: is the place where the canopy is stored together with the suspension and steering
  • Slider: used to help the parachute open symmetrically and in stages for a smooth and controlled opening.
  • Stabilisers: the side material of the canopy that work, as the name suggests, to stabilise the parachute.
  • Link: part that joins the suspension lines with the risers.
  • Risers: webbing bands used to connect the parachutes to the container.
  • Leading edge: the end of the front of the canopy.
  • Tail: the rear end of the canopy.
  • Static Line: tape/webbing for automatic opening (commonly used on military equipment)
  • Reserve parachute: reserve canopy to be used in the event that the main parachute does not open correctly.
  • Container: backpack where all the equipment is connected to the harness.
  • Pilotchute: small parachute used to deploy the main or reserve parachute.
  • Cutaway handle: releases the loop from the three-ring system and allows the main canopy to be separated from the harness.
  • RSL or Reserve Static Line: line that connects the risers of the main canopy with the line that activates the emergency parachute so that after having separated the main parachute from the container, it activates the opening of the reserve parachute.
  • Three-ring system: they connect and disconnect the main canopy from the container.
  • Altimeter: it works by barometric pressure and shows the height during the skydive.
  • Hook knife: blade designed to cut suspension lines if necessary. This is a safety tool that is often used in CRW (Canopy Relative Work) which is the discipline where parachutes fly close together to build

And this would be all you need to know about how a parachute works! If you are interested in knowing a little more about the world of skydiving, be sure to visit our blog.


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