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


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Thu, 11/12/2015 - 16:47

I have about 30 jumps and my A license, but I have not yet acquired the skill to have soft landings in no wind conditions. I am currently recovering from a foot injury from repeated hard landings in no wind, but when I get back to jumping, I am wondering if I should try to get a bigger canopy. With a Navigator 260 I have an exit weight of 215, which makes my wing loading 0.83:1. The drop zone I go to does not have any bigger rental gear, nor do the other 2 local drop zones. A Navigator 300 would give me a wing loading of 0.73:1 assuming a slightly higher exit weight (220). Is the difference between 0.83:1 and 0.73:1 significant?

Tue, 11/17/2015 - 14:10

At your current wingloading of .83:1, the Navigator should provide a soft landing if the flare is timed correctly and performed correctly, even in no wind situations. A larger canopy will slow the descent rate and forward speed slightly, but it would still require a correct timing and execution of the landing flare to land a larger canopy as softly as possible. Hopefully, you can continue to work with the instructors and get your landings smoothed out when you return to jumping. It might help to have your landings videotaped so you can review the footage with an instructor for a more in-depth look at your landing technique.


Jim Crouch
Director of Safety and Training

Post new comment

Please provide your full name. We will not post responses from anonymous sources.
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.