The following are lecture notes taken by Craig Shelton during the January, 1997 parachute clinic presented by Betty Pfeiffer of High Energy Sports. Betty has reviewed these notes and has said that they may be distributed freely, provided that she and High Energy Sports are properly acknowledged. I've done some HTML formatting and corrected a handful of typos, but otherwise these notes are exactly as sent by Craig to the listserv on January 29, 1997.

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Parachute Clinic Lecture Notes

Clinic presented by Betty Pfeiffer, President, High Energy Sports
1081 Shepard St., Unit 'A'
Anaheim, CA 92806
Phone: 714-632-3323
FAX: 714-632-6622

Clinic sponsored by the Capital Hang Gliding Association (CHGPA)
and the Maryland Hang Gliding Association (MHGA)
Held January 18 & 19, 1997, in Leesburg VA

What follows are the notes I took during the classroom portion of this parachute clinic on January 18. Any errors or omissions in these notes are my fault. I encourage any pilots interested to obtain copies of the several articles and reports which Betty gave to all registered attendees. Those papers explain more fully a number of the points found here.

On January 19, the clinic consisted of practical exercises, deploying parachutes while hanging in simulators. We all had a chance to throw the parachutes with left and right hands, and while experiencing spins, and classmate-induced turbulence. Pilots then had their parachutes inspected and repacked, with repack instruction. If you missed the session and have an opportunity in the future to take part in a clinic like this one: DO IT! The information and practical experience are invaluable to all pilots.

Betty Pfeiffer has authorized the free distribution of these notes... please pass them on to your pilot friends.

Parachute Clinic - Lecture Notes

The System Components: The parachute system includes all items that take part in getting you to the ground under canopy: parachute, bridle, swivel, carabiner, hang loop, harness, and hang glider. Importance of remembering this: what is the weak link of the system? Inspect and maintain all parts to ensure a reliable parachute system.

The canopy inflation process needs time for the 'chute to reach extension, air to run up the air channel, and finally snap open from the top to the bottom. This means you need ALTITUDE. Keep your altitude in mind at all times. When throwing the 'chute, throw into CLEAR AIR and UP.

Considerations When Deciding To Deploy

What-If Discussions

You tumble four times then the glider rights itself...
You do not know what structural damage the tumble caused. There may be some cases it is better to land than deploy your 'chute. You have to evaluate the situation: altitude, weather, proximity to landing zone, etc.

After a mid-air collision, you see badly frayed side wire...
Evaluate the situation. Consider getting altitude or better position relative to the landing zone. Prepare to deploy. You may want to fly with one hand on the 'chute handle, ready to deploy if there is a failure.

You are coming down over water...
Get your hook knife ready, and decide where to cut: hangstrap? harness shoulder? pad? Plan your escape from the rig. Do you want to secure into the frame before impact? Once in the water, get away as fast as possible - get out and dive down and away from the rig, swimming upwind if possible.

Glider breaks at 50' over treetops...
THROW the 'chute. Keep throwing it if needed until impact. Even if it does not deploy, it may tangle in the trees and slow your descent.

You are flying in a crowd and hear a loud twang from the upper rigging...
The glider is still flyable. Upper rigging is there to deal with negative loads. However, if you are in strong thermal conditions, you may decide to deploy.

You are in a tree, 30' up...
Use your gear to secure yourself. You may simply tie yourself to the tree and wait for help. You may be able to use the 'chute and lines to climb down. Advice from a pilot who did this... descending the lines, his hands slipped faster and faster as he moved from canopy to lines to bridle. His hindsight advice - tie knots in the run all along the length to give grips for climbing down.

You've had an accidental deployment and the glider is intact...
Try to fly it first. You may well be able to perform a normal landing. Be aware of bridal placement and controllability. If the 'chute is acting as a drogue to the glider, you should be able to fly down, BUT, watch out for being pulled into a full nose - down attitude.

You're flying and see another pilot deploy a parachute...
Do NOT fly around the area, leave the airspace and land as quickly as possible, possibly radioing for help, or announcing the pilot's position. If Air Rescue is called, they will not fly into airspace occupied by hang gliders! Your presence in the air could prevent Air Rescue from assisting.

Know whether your 'chute can withstand a free-fall deployment; many will not!

Videos of Parachute Deployments

Betty showed videos of several actual emergency 'chute deployments. One was successful. Several were not (although all pilots survived). The last example is noteworthy because of the example it gave of a pilot compounding major decisions based on bad judgment.

A Hang 2 pilot was known by other local pilots to be a risk-taker, anxious to be a hotshot aerobatic pilot. On this day he had brought friends to watch him fly. The site was a tow launch, and the local club members had not allowed the pilot to fly until very late in the day, and then not until he promised solemnly NOT to attempt aerobatic maneuvers. Sure enough, once at altitude he began severe wing-overs and tried a loop, losing control while inverted. He immediately deployed his 'chute, and it appeared to be a successful deployment. However, as soon as the canopy snapped fully open, glider and pilot extended on the bridal, the parachute broke free, and the glider fell several hundred feet. The pilot was in a coma for two weeks and needed two years of rehab.

After the accident, safety inspection determined that the pilot had removed the plastic coating from the glider wires, thinking that this would reduce parasitic drag on his glider! The uncoated wire had cut through the parachute bridle with the efficiency of a hot knife! The wire may have been further roughed up by tiny nicks from the razor he had used on the plastic coating, a common occurrence when removing plastic sheaths this way. However, the wire was not inspected for such nicks.

Deploying Your Parachute

Learn these essential steps, rehearse them mentally, practice them:
  1. LOOK at the handle.
    This focus helps you concentrate on the task, and may reduce debilitating dizziness.
  2. REACH and grab the handle.
    One good technique, especially with gloves, is to run your thumb down the chest, hook the handle with your thumb, then push out and down.
  3. PULL the handle.
    Get the parachute container out of the pouch, ready to throw.
  4. Look for CLEAR AIR.
    Decide on the direction and timing for your throw.
    If you have no control bar, use both hands. You will get a much more powerful throw.
  6. Grab the bridle, if you can reach it, and YANK!
    This added force may help load the 'chute with air and speed canopy inflation. If you have to pull a streaming 'chute back in, yank it as you pull in hand over hand. Do NOT wrap the bridle and lines around your arms.
  7. UNZIP your harness.
    Prepare for impact: climb into the control frame, feet wide apart. Once in, try to control the glider with weight shift - you may be able to exert some control over the landing.
  8. Locate your HOOK KNIFE.
    You will want to cut free from the parachute as quickly as possible after landing. Some pilots have been injured more by being dragged on the ground after landing than by the impact of the landing itself.

Practice Deployments

There are three good practice techniques.

When you hear about an accident, do not dwell on what went wrong or what not to do. Instead, visualize what you would do in the circumstances.

When Your Parachute Opens

When You Land

Problem Causes


Minimizing Deployment Problems

PARACHUTE MOUNTING POSITION The choice has been side or chest, and much discussed. Consider, though - chest mount gives valuable body padding protection in non-deployment impacts. It also ensures the parachute handle is equally accessible to either hand.

Evolution of the Hang Glider Reserve Parachute

Earliest goal - make an accident survivable! Design was for light weight, low bulk, and the ability to deploy at 40 mph.

During the 1970's, adequate parachute material was not reliably available. There would be significant variation in quality between fabric runs. Left-over and discarded parachutes from the sky-diving community found their way, dumped, into the HG market.

1997 HG Reserve 'Chute Requirements

Evolution of Shapes

Flat circular canopies
displayed a maximum drag coefficient of 0.70
better drag coefficient (~0.80)
LOTS more material needed
less oscillation than flat circular during the fall.
Tri-conical / polyconical
increased drag coefficient further, to ~ 0.85
added extended skirts, causing less air dumping (which allows acceleration each time air dumps out)
Advanced shapes
more design with extended skirts
Pulled-Down Apex (PDA)
drag coefficient now up to 0.85
early models were LESS stable than predecessors, with more oscillation
High Tech Shapes
These designs result in drag coefficients above 1.0 by designing for maximum drag and adding airfoil lift elements to the design. One such design, the Quantum Series, is referred to as Round Air Foils (RA).

Development of deployment bags

Early 'chutes were packed directly into the harness container.

Diapers provided a wrap-around closure for the chute and lines, popping completely open upon deployment.

Bags have evolved into 2-compartment designs, separating canopy and lines, giving a controlled sequence to the deployment.

Ballistic deployment devices

Early problems included mounting position and bridle routing difficulty. Lines get too bound up in the system.

Design changed to holster-style handle mount - but this may not be accessible to either hand.

1996 Deployment Statistics

13 HG Reserve Parachute deployments

Deployment Causes

The MAJOR cause of needing a parachute in a hang glider is aerobatic flying! The next most common cause is turbulent conditions, Last year was unusual in having two mid-air collisions.