First Commercial Skydiving Center in the United States
Published: May 1, 2018
It's the question on everyone's minds: What if the parachute doesn't open?
Don't worry. If you're sayin' it, you're not alone! We hear that concern pretty much every day, as it's one of the most common fears brand-new skydivers face. If you look closely, this is a totally recognizable fear - fear of the unknown - and the only defense against the unknown is knowing. Education, then, is your ticket out. And we're here to help!
Fear of the unknown is super common in first-time tandem skydiving. Most people don't actually know how a modern parachute system works. Here's what a parachute opening in skydiving looks like from a scientific perspective, so you can feel better about your jump.
We're lucky ducks in the modern era of skydiving. Far beyond the clunky ol' round things that used to pass for parachutes, technology has advanced to utilize the force of the air to open the parachute step by predictable step. In short, the parachutist exposes each element to the airflow in a specific sequence, then lets the air do the rest of the work.
Check out this video that describes how it all works. (Spoiler: It's pretty fascinating!)
As you see, there's an elegant little domino effect goin' on there.
Here's a quick tip to start off: Every skydiving parachutist jumps with two parachutes, and at least one of them always opens. Period end.
A modern parachute container system holds not one but two parachutes: a "main" and "reserve." The reserve parachute is packed snugly into the top portion of the "container" (the 'backpack,' essentially) by an FAA-certified parachute rigger, who signs off on a full system inspection for each parachute every 180 days. The reserves are inspected and repacked whether or not they've been used. Skydiving rigs are always two-parachute systems--no matter what--and must cleave to the strict repacking schedule, or they're decommissioned until they're freshly inspected and repacked.
The reserve parachute is connected to the system in a pretty elegant way: in the event that it has to be deployed, it uses the drag of the departing main parachute to speed up the rate of the reserve deployment. The amount of time it takes the reserve parachute to deploy and fly is, in fact, usually pretty negligible.
Oh: and you might be surprised to know that ripcords no longer exist in modern gear. You might see one if you went to a truly backwoods dropzone, but they're a rarity indeed.
It's surprisingly rare that a main parachute will fail to function correctly. When it does, skydivers - especially professional tandem instructors at reputable dropzones like Jumptown - are thoroughly prepared for such an eventuality. When a parachute malfunction happens, the skydiver involved has been thoroughly trained to recognize what's happening and how to resolve it.
Sometimes, the malfunction can be cleared lickety-split without needing to "chop" it and open up the reserve parachute. In the much-rarer, more severe cases, the skydiver has to jettison the malfunctioning main parachute and deploy the backup. While that might sound like a big deal, it actually isn't. In fact, on the very rare occasions that a cutaway situation comes up during a tandem skydive, the student very often doesn't even know it happened until they're safe on the ground. Crazy? Yeah, kinda. But true!
When you're brand-new to skydiving and don't understand the procedures, the idea of any kind of parachute opening - good, bad or ugly - can be overwhelming. But when you get into the sport and you understand how to identify malfunctions and how to execute the emergency procedures, it's not nearly as nerve-jangling. In fact - especially when you're introduced to the sport at a great dropzone with professional, friendly staff - it's downright thrilling.
...And that's why so many people pop into the Jumptown office to sign up for a solo skydiving certification course (Accelerated Freefall) right after they land from that first tandem jump. We'd love to teach you all about the systems and procedures that make skydiving safer, more enjoyable and more comfortable than you ever imagined. Reserve your spot today!