What do I know about my expensive cushion?

You jump in your airplane, parachute strapped to your back, ready for another exhilarating flying experience. Parachute harness nice and tight. Quick glance at the ripcord handle, and we’re ready to go.

For most aerobatic and warbird pilots a parachute is a sensible ‘must’ – a safety cushion should one ever have a need to bail out.

The majority of us thinks and believes we know exactly what to do in the event of an airborne bailout emergency. We’ve been through it in our heads, looked at the canopy release mechanism. We’ve even practiced unlocking harnesses in a hurry.

So there we are, in the event of a need to bail out we’re prepared and confident – great.

But what about this expensive cushion we’ve slung on, buckled up and ultimately trust our lives on. What do you really know about it and what do we do to look after this life saving piece of kit?

The chute –

A parachute is a huge financial investment. Relative to the value of our lives it isn’t, but hey we don’t always look at it like that – do we?
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.
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 familiarise 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 a qualified rigger who will maintain your system 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 familiarising yourself with your system is to understand 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 damp, have it inspected by a good rigger immediately. The use of a few silicone ball pouches, the type found in your camera case placed in the parachute carry bag will at least assist with any damp ingress.
While on the ground, besides good storage practices get to know your parachute rigger. If you do not have a local rigging expert try and 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, I’m sure they’ll be delighted to assist. Put it on and pull the ripcord. This will assure your awareness of the force it requires
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. There should also be no kinks or dents in the housing. Finally, inspect the packing data card. Check the last date of inspection and repack. You should have your chute repacked at least every 12 months as a minimum period. This preflight routine is mandatory to maintain the safety of your parachute.

If ‘it’ happens! -

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 airspeed.
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 next flight!

Now I’m out! -

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 make yourself 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 re-inflate 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.

If you’ve not got one yet -

If you do fly a warbird, aerobatic aircraft or just want the piece of mind of an emergency parachute and don’t have one yet, I hope that this article has prompted you into the potentially life saving purchase. Just remember that 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.

‘Safe flying’

For a quotation on a parachute please contact rob@aerobaticdisplays.co.uk or call 07739 555203.