Mastering Consistent Landings
Mastering the basics of canopy control is one of the most important aspects of learning to skydive. It is also the skill that usually takes the longest for students and newly licensed jumpers to develop. It is a great feeling for skydiving instructors when a younger jumper finally becomes a great canopy pilot rather than a passenger going for a ride to wherever the canopy happens to be pointing.
If you are a new jumper, learning to consistently land your parachute on a designated spot regardless of wind conditions may be very difficult to accomplish. However, these basic accuracy skills are arguably the most important you can possess. It doesn’t matter how well you are rockin’ your freefall turns if you land in the trees every other jump.
Most of us learn early on to land accurately in light winds with fairly good consistency, but throw a little more wind into the mix and the drop zone landing area starts to look like a war zone, with bodies and canopies scattered all over the place. Once the ground winds start reaching 15 mph or more, it is fairly common to see cringe-worthy landings. But all is not lost. You, too, can be the master of your canopy, even in stronger winds. It just takes some education and practice. Working with a good canopy coach can help you progress more quickly than trying to figure it out on your own.
It is easy for jumpers to blame wind for their bad landings, but in almost every case those landings are really the result of poor canopy control. Here’s an example: A jumper was landing in a 10-15 mph wind in a clear area on the upwind side of a hangar. She turned into the wind at approximately 200 feet, but her canopy began to drift off the wind line as she neared the ground. As she flared the canopy, she was facing 90 degrees off the wind line with the wind coming from her left side. The canopy began to pull her over toward her right side during the flare as the wind pushed the canopy to her right. She was now right-side low, at about a 45-degree angle to the ground. She instinctively reached for the ground with her right hand, which pulled the right steering line farther down and made the canopy turn another 90 degrees to the right as she was touching down. She was now facing completely downwind and had a rough-and-tumble landing but was not injured.
After the landing, the jumper stated, “Once I was hit by the turbulence from the hangar, there was nothing I could do.” However, it wasn’t possible that the hangar caused turbulence during her landing, because it was 200 feet downwind of her. In reality, her problems started on final approach, when she quit steering the canopy and simply allowed it to drift in a crosswind direction. Had she been proactive and added some left toggle input to keep the canopy flying into the wind, the outcome would have been an uneventful landing facing into the wind.
Landing accurately and smoothly in all wind conditions can be a challenge, but it is certainly an obtainable goal. You need to be an active canopy pilot, not just a helpless victim. Get coaching when you need it and make a plan to land on a specific spot for every jump. Before you know it, every jump will end with a smooth and accurate landing.
Jim Crouch | D-16979 | USPA Director of Safety and Training