Choosing the Correct Canopies for Your Students
There are many variables to consider when deciding what size canopy a student should jump. Years ago, this was not really an issue—every student jumped a 300-square-foot canopy, and instructors didn’t need to make a choice. But while larger canopies allowed for soft landings (at least in most cases), the very low wing loadings meant that even the slightest amount of wind caused students to fly backward. In those days, it was not unusual for students to back into trees, power lines or other landing hazards.
Starting in the late 1990s, some drop zones began to stock a larger variety of student gear so they could tailor container fit and canopy wing loading to student size and shape. The smaller and lighter students began to wear smaller harness-and-container systems that fit them better in freefall and to fly more-maneuverable canopies that helped them land in clear areas. So now that there are choices, all instructors need to make sure their students are using appropriate gear. That means selecting the proper wing loading and container fit for each student.
Since you never know how a first-jump student will perform under canopy, a conservative wing loading of 0.7:1 is a good idea, providing him with a slow descent and a more forgiving landing should he not correctly flare his canopy. So a student with a 200-pound exit weight should be jumping a 280-square-foot canopy, and a student with a 120-pound exit weight should be under a 170-square-foot canopy. The smaller students will also appreciate the lighter toggle pressure of the smaller canopy and the ability to properly flare the canopy for landing.
As students gain experience and complete the canopy drills outlined in the USPA Integrated Student Program, you can feel more confident about gradually moving them to smaller canopies. Several successful student programs have worked their students up to wing loadings of 1:1 by the time they receive A licenses. But this requires an instructor to carefully focus his students on canopy control and to keep a more watchful eye on each one. Students who are having trouble with canopy control should stay at lower wing loadings until their canopy skills improve. Also, keep in mind that as canopy sizes get smaller, the response to toggle input will be snappier, even at the same wing loading. So a student flying a 170-square-foot canopy at a 1:1 wing loading will find his canopy more responsive than will a student flying a 230 at the same wing loading.
Take a look at your student program and the canopies you are using for each student. Help your students carefully progress to smaller canopies and learn more about canopy flight so they are better prepared as newly licensed skydivers.
—Jim Crouch | D-16979
USPA Director of Safety & Training