Parachute design has come a long way since the early days of skydiving. Modern parachutes are very different to their old school equivalents. And the short answer to the question “is a parachute easy to steer?” is “yes!”. We’ll explain more, here:
The basics of steering parachutes
Steering a parachute is a very simple process. Each one comes with two steering toggles. To turn left, you pull on the left toggle. To turn right, pull on the right.
Of course, that’s not quite all there is to it. As parachutists, we have to be as vigilant as we are as car drivers; that means being aware of the people around us and being able to respond appropriately should we come into bother.
There are also lots of things to consider when turning the parachute, such as descent rates, that affect where we’re able to turn and how this will influence the parachute’s flight.
Hmm… not so simple!
Steering lines, toggles and risers
Picture this. You’re skydiving, falling through the air, having the time of your life. When the time comes, you deploy your parachute using a handle located on the bottom of your parachute pack. The deployment slows your descent rate and, after a couple of seconds of ‘opening’, your fully inflated parachute sits above you.
As you look at it from below, the parachute is rectangular in shape, wider from side to side than it is from front to back. It’s attached to you by a series of ‘lines’.
Some of these lines are connected to the rear edge of the parachute. They meet up about half way down the lines, bringing eight lines into one on each side. These are the steering lines.
They’re called the steering lines because these are what we use to steer. It’s these lines that have the bright yellow ‘toggles’ or handles attached to them, and which we can pull down on one at a time to turn our parachutes.
Once your parachute is fully inflated, and after checking the airspace around you to be sure you have plenty of free air, you can grab those toggles and fly safely to the ground.
The ‘risers’ are the webbing that connects your parachute container to the lines. There are four risers – two at the front and two at the back – and your toggles and steering lines are connected to the back ones.
This means that, as well as using your toggles to turn, you can also use your risers; this is ideal if you are in an emergency situation where you can’t take hold of your toggles yet. For example, when you check the airspace around you, if you were to see a fellow parachutist coming at you, you can quickly grab on to the risers and turn your parachute to avoid a clash.
Parachutes turns and descent rates
Another important thing to understand when learning to steer a parachute is that doing so will increase your rate of descent. Basically, you’ll go down faster during a turn than if you were flying straight.
You’re also affected by the wind during a turn. When you’re flying straight, you can easily get a sense of where the wind is pushing you. When you’re turning, that’s more difficult – meaning you could make a turn, lose height and also find yourself pushed away from the spot you expected to end up in.
Understanding how your parachute is affected by your inputs is an important part of your skydiving lessons. This is what will help you to be accurate in your landings, and to be able to avoid any hazards or potential issues before they arise.
What do you think? Fancy trying it for yourself? Book onto a learn to skydive course to learn about steering your parachute – and lots more!