Where to Repair?

Q:
When I need to get my rig repaired, who should fix it?

 

A:
Asking who should repair your parachute gets touchy, because riggers take a lot of pride in their work. When it’s done right, they should—a lot goes into repairing a canopy or container system to factory standards. But depending on the repair, sometimes the work is best left to the factory. So how do you know who is qualified or most able to work on which components of your rig?

Rigger ratings come in two levels: senior and master. Senior Riggers may perform minor repairs and Master Riggers can perform what the FAA calls “major repairs,” but the definition is vague. The FAA's advisory circular on the rules for sport parachuting attempts to clarify what is meant by a major repair by referring to its rules for major aircraft repairs and alterations, which “If improperly done, might appreciably affect ... structural strength, performance, or other qualities affecting airworthiness." The FAA specifically calls "Replacement of a canopy panel or suspension line, or sewing a large patch on a canopy," a major repair. Otherwise, a lot of judgment is left to the rigger.

An independent rigger with a day job who serves one or two drop zones might have a couple of used multi-purpose sewing machines, some hand tools and a variety of materials bought here and there in small quantities. Maybe a few dozen repairs go through the shop a year, each on a different parachute system requiring a different set of procedures and a lot of imagination. In each case, a conscientious rigger needs to order the materials in the right color, mock up the repair, reset and adjust the machines and the work area for the task, and practice with a few samples before putting your gear on the sewing machine. It still takes a little luck to get it just right, and the materials used allow only one or two do-overs.

On the other end of the spectrum is the factory. The staff includes technicians who perform the operations every day on equipment that’s purchased, tuned and adjusted for each specific job. They cut and assemble the replacement parts from fabricating jigs that make everything match up perfectly. They use a calibrated hydraulic press to set the stainless-steel grommets to close tolerances. All thread and fabric necessary stand ready to go with records tracing it to the mill that produced it. If your parachute is not too old, a controlled storeroom will have some fabric from the original dye lot used to make your individual parachute. Finally, the repair goes through quality control with an expert who gets paid to reject anything not up to standard. A factory tech can repair something perfectly in an hour that might take your local rigger half a day or more to get to be just acceptable.

Some independent riggers specialize in certain tasks, others once worked in the factory and specialize in certain models, and a few exceptional rigging services have bigger shops and more equipment than some of the manufacturers. But without taking anything away from talented and sometimes artistic riggers who see a lot of repairs and perform them well, the first place to consider for fixing contemporary parachutes is the factory. Particularly when the outcome might affect the strength, flight characteristics or looks of the gear, parachute systems hold their value better when you can say, “It’s all been factory repaired.”

By no means does that take your local rigger out of the picture. If you choose the factory for your repair, you still need your local rigger’s help. The canopy manufacturer doesn’t want to see your container and vice-versa, so the rigger at home will need to take everything apart, accurately communicate the problem to the factory, ship the correct components safely off, perform the final inspection upon return and put it back together. That’s no job for an untrained parachute owner.

For repairs where the cosmetics don’t count as much and the results will be clear, using a local rigger may be more expedient. Examples include service to the toggles and lower control lines, deployment bags, pilot chutes and bridles, replacing brass and nickel-plated grommets, overstitching broken stitches in seams you can’t see with the rig packed, and installing replacement parts. Most riggers can also handle service updates designed by the factory to be handled locally. A simple (but technical) patch on an easy-to-access area of a canopy isn’t difficult for someone who does it often and has the right material, although at least one company specifies that repair materials for its reserves come from the factory and be within two years old.

Discuss the repair with your rigger, who should be able to explain what’s involved in terms you can understand. If there’s a lot of stitch picking involved in tight corners, repairs that involve prominent container seams, or work needed on areas that determine the shape of the canopy’s airfoil, lean toward the factory.

The bottom line is that if you’re the last owner of a third- or fourth-hand rig that just needs to be patched up and made airworthy, ordinary rigger training will probably provide your rigger with the judgment and skills necessary to do the work. However, If you just skidded down the runway in your brand-new custom container or your $2,000 main canopy lost a fight with the wind sock, you’ll probably want your rigger to box it up and ship it home to the factory so that it will come back looking like new.

You may run across an adventurous rigger who’s looking for a challenge, but don’t confuse enthusiasm with competence. If your rigger’s suggestion to repair at home leaves you any doubt, get a second opinion or cross-check with the manufacturer. It shouldn’t ruffle your rigger’s feathers if you want to send your repair out. In any case, a token offering of a favorite beverage always goes a long way to smooth them over.

—Kevin Gibson | D-6943
Master Rigger
Sawangdaendin, Thailand

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