How to Safely Downsize

student on a Navigator 200 parachuteMany people wonder when they should begin to think about downsizing their parachute size.  Some may have been told that now they are at X number of jumps they should be at Y wingloading.  We say that is crap.

Downsizing is a personal decision that can hopefully be made in an objective manner (checklist at the end).

First off, why would you want a smaller sized parachute?

  • Increased performance in higher winds
  • Better performance in turbulent conditions
  • Overall, increased performance characteristics (higher wing loadings can be fun!)
  • Can fit into a more compact, and perhaps, comfortable rig

Now, why would you NOT want a smaller sized parachute?

  • More violent malfunctions occur as wingloading is increased
  • Less forgiving of landing errors
  • USPA’s incident/fatality reports have shown that even conservatively loaded canopies landed in non-routine conditions can be mishandled

USPA has also given us a downsize checklist that most of us promptly ignore.  We are including it so that you can see that some guidance does exist on this point.

According to USPA, before downsizing you should be able to smoothly perform on your current size canopy:

  1. Reverse toggle turns
  2. Non-contact canopy formation flight
  3. Rear-riser turns and flaring
  4. Front-riser control
  5. Altitude loss in a variety of turning and diving maneuvers
  6. Aborting a turn and recovery to flare
  7. Slow-flight gliding
  8. Braked approach and landing
  9. Consistent soft, stand-up landings within 10m of planned target in a variety of wind conditions

Unfortunately, the majority of skydivers that we have seen feel that if they can make it safely to the ground for a good bit of time (and the definition of this period of time varies from individual to individual) and are relatively accurate then they are ready to downsize.

But, if we need to reconsider the USPA finding that people on conservatively loaded canopies mishandled their parachutes during non-routine conditions (e.g. high winds, off airport landings), resulting in injury or death. You need to be able to handle your parachute under the non-ideal conditions with ease before beginning to ponder a smaller size canopy.  If thoughts of landing off or landing downwind in moderate wind conditions make you shudder, then you are not ready for a smaller size.

So, with that in mind we have decided to put a short checklist together and we hope you won’t ignore it. 🙂

On my current canopy, I:

  • can stand up my landings within 10 m of my target in all wind conditions
  • am not at all worried about crosswind landings
  • have not scared anyone with my piloting skills in the last 6 months***

***Super important condition that is not to be laughed at.  If people are talking to you about you canopy piloting skills, then you are NOT ready to downsize despite whatever you believe.

In case you would like even more guidance, we have included a wingloading chart that can be used.  It is pilfered from Brian Germain, using his conservative values, and it’s been altered a bit since we have student parachutes up to 300 sq. ft.

Canopy downsize chart

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