As a DZ Manager of Skydive Perris, I am often approached by jumpers for my thoughts on selecting the right skydiving canopy. The common question I hear is “What should I downsize to?” As if the best canopy is the smallest one that we can get away with. That is definitely not the right question to be asking.
With a little luck and under the right conditions a competent and experienced jumper can get away with almost anything, even a really stupid mistake…
I’m a bit embarrassed to tell this story, but once when I was team training on Arizona Airspeed and we were doing back-to-back-to-back loads and I mistakingly grabbed one of my teammates’ rigs thinking it was mine. It fit great and I didn’t even realize what I had done until I looked up after deploying to find a Velocity 84 over my head instead of my Stiletto 120. I couldn’t believe how tiny it was!
I like a canopy with a little speed to it and one that can penetrate even in high winds but generally speaking I’m not a swooper. Once I’m under canopy after freefall I like to catch my breath, enjoy the flight and work in with the other canopies. Under this little Velo, there was no time for that. I was coming out of the sky like a rocket and went right past the classic Airspeed canopy formation we did on each jump like it was standing still.
I realized my time under canopy was going to be much shorter than I was accustomed to and immediately set up for a tight pattern. I was by far the first one down and there was no-one else landing at the time so I had the luxury of setting the landing pattern into a handy 5mph headwind. A high 180 degree turn to final to build up a little extra speed and maximize my flare seemed like the best plan. Fortunately, I had the grass to myself which was a good thing because I used every inch of it as I came surfing in.
My teammates got a good laugh out of my mistake, especially Christopher Irwin, the owner of the rig. He insisted, “Wasn’t that way more fun than your Stiletto.” I have to admit, flying that little Velo was fast, super fun and the landing was fine. But unless I can guarantee there won’t be any other canopies in the pattern, and I’ll be landing by myself, into a nice headwind on a long wet grass runway, then a Velo 84 is definitely not the canopy I should be jumping.
When selecting the right skydiving canopy the question we should be asking ourselves is this:
“What canopy can I land easily and softly anytime, anywhere and under any conditions?”
The Velo 84 was fantastic to fly in the perfect conditions I was lucky enough to be flying it under. But we don’t always have these perfect conditions. More often there are times we have to land downwind, or crosswind… times we have to work with other canopies and fly in a pattern with both huge, slow parachutes as well as little rockets. There are other situations where we’re off our intended drop zone and need to land in some innocent bystander’s back yard, on the road, between the trees or even on top of a building. Don’t laugh, it’s happened more than once. Ask yourself what canopy you want over your head then.
For years I was jumping a PD Katana 107 because it did everything I wanted it to:
- It opened softly every time – and I mean, every time. For me this is essential. A hard opening can potentially do more damage to you than a hard landing.
- I could land it gently anytime, anywhere, under any conditions.
The beautiful thing is that with the wide range of skydiving canopies and the advancements in design you can choose a canopy that flies just how you want it to. Last year I had a hip replacement and upsized back to the Stiletto 120. I’m planning to get more jumps out of my new hip than out of my new canopy so trading a little speed for a guarantee of landing a little softer under all conditions was a good deal.
Many landing and canopy accidents could have been avoided had the individuals made a smarter choice of which canopy they should have been jumping. Be smart, ask the right question. Don’t cause dangerous situations for yourself and others because going fast is more important to you than everyone landing safely.
This post was written by Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld