Tales from the Bonfire - The Right Canopy

TALESBONFIRE201410

by Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld | D-8424 | Author of “Above All Else” | Temecula, California

I’m a bit embarrassed to tell this story, but here it goes: Once, when I was team training with Arizona Airspeed, we were doing back-to-back-to-back loads, and I 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 Performance Designs Velocity 84 over my head instead of my Stiletto 120. I couldn’t believe how tiny it looked. 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 flew right past my teammates, who were setting up for the classic Airspeed team landing that we did on each jump, like they were 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 5-mph 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 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.

As a DZ manager, instructor, competitor, coach, organizer and Safety and Training Advisor, jumpers often approach me for my thoughts on selecting the right canopy. The common question I hear is, “What should I downsize to?” as if the best canopy is the smallest one that a jumper can get away with. That is definitely not the right question to ask. 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. To select the right canopy, the question jumpers should ask themselves 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 those 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 and hot rods. 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 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 the last six years, I jumped a Performance Designs Katana 107 because it did everything I wanted it to: It opened softly every time (and I mean every time). For me, this was essential, since a hard opening can cause as much damage as a hard landing. I also could land it gently anytime, anywhere, under any conditions.

The beautiful thing is that with the wide range of canopies and the advancements in design, you can basically have a canopy that flies just how you want it to. I recently 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 is a good deal.

Many jumpers could have avoided landing and canopy accidents if they had only made a smarter choice of canopy. Be smart, and ask the right question: What canopy can I land easily and softly anytime, anywhere and under any conditions? Don’t cause dangerous situations for others or yourself because going quickly is more important to you than everyone landing safely.

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