First Commercial Skydiving Center in the United States
Published: May 28, 2018
You may have heard that Jumptown is hosting a piloting canopy course given by legendary skydiving athlete/educator Brian Germain. It's next week, as we're writing this article: June 2nd and 3rd, 2018. It's super-exciting to welcome Brian to the DZ, and it got us thinking. Even though the USPA has required everyone who wants a B license to take a canopy course, maybe not everybody understands the importance of a top-notch nylon education. We decided that this would be a great opportunity to spell it out.
You might think that piloting canopy courses are for two groups: brand-new jumpers going for that B, and swoop-hungry daredevils eager to dig into the world of 270-degree turns. If you do, you couldn't be farther from the truth.
Underdeveloped canopy control skills don't just injure unsavvy skydivers -- they end skydiving careers in a sneakier way. Too many skydivers break it off with the sport entirely because of their undeveloped canopy piloting skills: the threat of injury, grass-stained humiliation or both becomes too much.
It doesn't matter whether you're a freshly-stamped A-license holder or a grizzled vet, safety- or performance-minded, canopy-mad or canopy-meek. You've got to bridge the gap between yourself and your equipment, and you've got to stay on top of developments. A canopy course -- with a refresher every couple of seasons -- is the tried-and-true way to do so.
Over the course of the last decades, parachute design has changed to the point where modern versions are so different from their predecessors as to be essentially unrecognizable. The introduction of ram-air wings, zero-P fabric, and space-age linesets completely changed the way a canopy was built - and flown. Instead of docile, essentially unsteerable sky-jellyfish, parachutes became sleek aircraft, both in appearance and flying characteristics. As a result, the airspeed available to a weekend-warrior canopy pilot suddenly skyrocketed, almost overnight.
Those pilots, to this day, haven't really caught up. You'd be hard-pressed to find a fixed-wing pilot with as little education, as many deeply held incorrect beliefs about aerodynamics and as few compulsory educational requirements as you find every day in the parachuting world. It follows that the imbalance between pilot skill and wing performance has shot both pilot-error accidents and canopy collisions to the top of the USPA incident list.
Canopy instruction aims to increase the awareness of the challenges posed by zippy modern canopies, empowering canopy pilots to fly safely and confidently in dynamic, challenging environments. And it delivers.
The biggest names in canopy instruction are Flight-1, the teaching division of the competition juggernaut Performance Designs Factory Team; Axis Flight School, run by the inimitable Brianne Thompson and Nik Daniel at Skydive Arizona; The Alter Ego Project, run by Team Alter Ego, one of the winningest teams in canopy piloting (the only school that offers an all-female course); ex-Golden Knight Greg Windmiller's extraordinarily thorough courses through Superior Flight Solutions.
Then, of course, there's Brian Germain.
Brian Germain has made more than 10,000 skydives over the course of three exciting decades in the sport, but even that isn't his primary recommendation as a canopy coach. He's a cutting-edge parachute designer (and test pilot thereof). He's also the author of an acclaimed and much-recommended book on the subject ("The Parachute and its Pilot"), a prominent voice for good in the skydiving media and an all-around good human. Brian travels to dropzones to share an engaging, comprehensive curriculum. It's just that curriculum that we're eagerly looking forward to reexperiencing when Brian comes out next week to teach the infamous Brian Germain Canopy Course.
If you won't be around next week to meet Brian, don't sweat it -- but don't wait too long to learn (or refresh) your skills as a canopy pilot. There are lots of good canopy courses available, from basic to advanced, and there's probably one already scheduled at a DZ near you. Go find one. It doesn't matter how many jumps you have or how long you've been jumping. If you haven't been through a canopy course, you need to. If you have but it's been a few years, you need to. Just do it.
If you're waffling between traveling to (or waiting for) a big-name, designer-label canopy course or taking no canopy course at all, stop that. March up to Manifest and ask to be pointed in the direction of a canopy coach. Most dropzones have local canopy-flight experts, and the lion's share of medium-sized dropzones regularly put canopy courses on the calendar. If you have to wait, use that time to work on canopy drills. On every jump.
Remember: your next jump could be the one you need better skills to land safely. Don't put off your training!