United States Parachute Association > Experienced Skydivers > SIM > Section 5-3

5-3: Equipment

A. Federal regulations on equipment

  1. The design, maintenance, and alteration of parachute equipment is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which publishes Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs).
  2. All skydivers should be familiar with the following FARs and their applicability to skydiving (see Section 9-1 and 9-2 of this manual):
    1. Part 65—Certification of Parachute Riggers
    2. Part 91—General Flight Rules
    3. Part 105—Parachute Operations
    4. Advisory Circular 105-2—explains in detail various areas of parachute equipment, maintenance, and modifications.
  3. Approval of parachutes is granted to manufacturers in the form of Technical Standard Orders (TSOs).
    1. TSO C-23 is issued to parachutes that comply with the current performance standards.
      1. NAS 804 for TSO C-23b
      2. AS-8015A for TSO C-23c
      3. AS-8015B for TSO C-23d
    2. These standards specify the tests that must be passed for a parachute system and its component parts to receive approval for civilian use.
    3. Procedures for obtaining TSO approval for parachutes or component parts may be found in FAR Part 21 (not included in the SIM).
  4. Alterations to approved parachutes may be performed only by those who have been issued an FAA approval for the alteration.
    1. Approval may be obtained by submitting a request and description of the alteration to the manufacturer or to an FAA Flight Standards District Office.
    2. The following are eligible to receive alteration approval:
      1. FAA master rigger
      2. manufacturer with an approved quality assurance program
    3. Alterations may not be performed without full documentation of FAA approval for the specific alteration.

B. Main parachute

  1. Jumpers should choose canopies that will provide an acceptable landing in a wide range of circumstances, based on several factors including canopy size, wing loading, planform (shape), skill level, and experience.
  2. Owners should verify with a rigger that all applicable updates and bulletins have been accomplished.
  3. Jumpers should observe the recommendations of the canopy manufacturer for the correct canopy size, usually listed by maximum recommended weight with respect to other factors:
    1. the jumper’s experience
    2. drop zone elevation
    3. other conditions, such as density altitude
  4. Wing loading, measured as exit weight in pounds per square foot (psf) provides only one gauge of a canopy’s performance characteristics.
    1. A smaller canopy at an equal wing loading compared to a larger one of the same design will exhibit a faster and more radical control response, with more altitude loss in any maneuver.
    2. Design, materials, and construction techniques can cause two equally wing-loaded canopies to perform very differently.
    3. Different planforms (square vs. elliptical) will exhibit very different handling characteristics.
  5. The Minimum Canopy Recommendations chart represents the minimum recommended canopy size by exit weight and total jumps made on solo equipment with square parachutes. Canopy size for students is at the discretion of the instructor.
    1. Due to the varied sizes of canopies from different manufacturers, any canopy less than 3% smaller than the listed recommendation is acceptable.
    2. Canopy choices for jumpers over 1,000 jumps is at their discretion.
    3. These minimum canopy recommendations may be too aggressive for some jumpers and, in other cases, too conservative. Instructors, canopy coaches and drop zone leadership should assist their skydivers in selecting an appropriate canopy for their jumper's ability and progression.

Minimum Canopy Recommendation Chart

C. Reserve parachute

  1. All skydivers should use a steerable reserve canopy.
  2. The FAA requires the reserve parachute assembly, including harness, container, canopy, risers, pilot chute, deployment device, and ripcord, to be approved.
  3. Jumpers must observe FARs regarding the manufacturer’s maximum certificated weights and speeds for parachutes.
    1. Parachutes approved under FAA Technical Standard Order C-23b, C-23c, and C-23d are subject to different testing standards and operation limits.
    2. The entire parachute system is limited to the maximum certificated load limit of the harness- and-container system or reserve canopy, whichever is less.
    3. Load limits are found in the owner’s manual, the manufacturer’s website, or placarded on the parachute component itself.
  4. For a ram-air reserve, jumpers should not exceed the maximum suspended weight specified by the manufacturer (not necessarily the maximum certificated load limit).
  5. A jumper may exceed the rated speeds of a certificated parachute system (harness and/or parachute) by jumping at higher MSL altitudes or falling in vertical freefall orientations.
  6. Round reserve canopy
    1. should be equipped with a deployment device to reduce the opening force and control deployment
    2. should have a rate of descent that does not exceed 18 feet per second (fps)
    3. must not exceed a rate of descent of 25 fps at sea level conditions (NAS 804)
    4. The following scale indicates the minimum size round reserve canopy recommended for use according to the exit weight of the skydiver:

D. Harness and container system

  1. The FAA requires the harness of a dual parachute assembly to be approved.
  2. All harness ends should be folded over and sewn down or wrapped and sewn down to prevent the harness from unthreading through the hardware upon opening.
  3. Canopy release systems should be maintained according to the schedule and procedures in the owner’s manual.
  4. It is desirable for the manufacturing industry to standardize the location of all operational controls.
  5. The harness should be equipped with single-point riser releases (one handle releases both risers) for easy and rapid disengagement from the main canopy.
  6. Reserve ripcord handles:
    1. Loop type handles should be made of metal.
    2. Plastic and composite reserve ripcord handles are not recommended.
    3. Jumpers should practice peeling and pulling pillow-type reserve ripcord handles until certain they can operate them easily in an emergency.
  7. All ripcord housings ends should be secured.
  8. Ripcord pins, when seated, should either be started inside the housing or clear the closing loop before entering the housing.
  9. A ripcord cable stop should not be used; fatal accidents caused by reserve entanglements with ripcords secured in this manner have been documented.
  10. Reserve pilot chute:
    1. The reserve system is usually designed to use a specific type of pilot chute.
    2. It should be properly seated in the container and repacked if it has shifted.
  11. Deployment brake systems should provide secure stowage of the steering toggles and slack brake line to prevent brake-line entanglements and premature brake release.

E. Main pilot chute

  1. The main pilot chute is designed as part of the main parachute system.
    1. On throw-out hand-deployed systems, the pilot chute and pouch size must be compatible.
    2. Pilot chute size can affect the opening characteristics of the main canopy.
  2. Collapsible hand-deployed pilot chutes add complexity and additional maintenance requirements to the system.
    1. additional wear from more moving parts
    2. danger of a high-speed pilot-chute-in-tow malfunction if the pilot chute is not set or cocked
  3. Spring loaded and hand-deployed pilot chutes of both types (throw-out and pull-out) each have strengths and weaknesses that affect the user’s emergency procedures and other decisions.

F. Reserve static line (RSL)

  1. A reserve static line attaches to a main canopy riser to extract the reserve ripcord pin immediately and automatically after separation of the main risers from the harness.
  2. An RSL is recommended for all experienced jumpers.
    1. The RSL backs up the jumper by extracting the reserve ripcord pin after a cutaway.
    2. the RSL—
      1. must be routed and attached correctly to function
      2. when misrouted, can complicate or prevent a cutaway
    3. RSLs can complicate certain emergency procedures:
      1. cutaway following a dual deployment
      2. cutting away from an entanglement after a collision
      3. unstable cutaway, although statistics show that chances are better from an unstable reserve deployment than delaying after a cutaway
      4. unstable cutaway with a helmet camera or other protruding device
      5. cutaway with a surfboard (although an RSL may have prevented two fatal skysurfing accidents)
      6. cutaway on the ground in high winds
      7. broken riser on the RSL side (results in reserve deployment); prevention—
        1. inspecting and replacing worn risers
        2. packing for soft openings (tight line stows; see manufacturer’s instructions)
        3. stable deployment at slow speeds
    4. If temporarily disconnecting an RSL, care must be taken so it doesn’t interfere with the operation of the parachute system; consult a rigger.
  3. When using a reserve static line device, the skydiver must not depend on the static line device and must manually pull the reserve ripcord immediately after the cutaway.
  4. An RSL may not be desirable when attempting linked canopy formations.
  5. Unless the manufacturer’s instructions state otherwise, a connector device between the left and right main risers should not be used.

G. Automatic activation device (AAD)

  1. An AAD initiates the reserve deployment sequence at a pre-set altitude (also sometimes used on the main parachute system).
  2. An AAD is encouraged for all licensed jumpers.
  3. The use of an AAD for activation of the reserve parachute, coupled with proper training in its use, has been shown to significantly increase the chances of surviving a malfunction or loss of altitude awareness.
  4. The AAD is used to back up the jumper’s deployment and emergency procedures, but no jumper should ever rely on one.
  5. The FAA requires that if an AAD is used, it must be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions (FAR 105.43.c).
  6. Each jumper should read and understand the owner’s manual for the AAD.
  7. An AAD may complicate certain situations, particularly if the jumper deploys the main parachute low enough for the AAD to activate.
  8. Understanding and reviewing of the emergency procedures for Two Canopies Out (SIM Section 5-1) is essential.

H. Static line (main)

  1. The FAA requires static line deployment to be either by direct bag or pilot-chute assist.
  2. The direct bag is a more positive method of static-line deployment because it reduces the chance of the student interfering with main canopy deployment.
  3. The FAA requires an assist device to be used with a static line deployment when rigged with pilot-chute assist.
    1. The assist device must be attached at one end to the static line so that the container is opened before the device is loaded, and at the other end to the pilot chute.
    2. The FAA requires the pilot chute assist device to have a load strength of at least 28 but not more than 160 pounds.
  4. The static line should be attached to an approved structural point of the airframe.
    1. A seat belt attachment point is considered part of the airframe, but the static line should pull on it in a longitudinal direction.
    2. Aircraft seats are not considered to be part of the airframe.
  5. A static line should be constructed:
    1. with a length of at least eight feet but not more than 15 feet and should never come into contact with the aircraft’s tail surfaces
    2. with a locking slide fastener, ID number 43A9502 or MS70120
    3. with webbing of not less than 3,600 pounds tensile strength

I. Borrowing or changing equipment

  1. Parachutes should not be rented or loaned to persons unqualified to carry out an intended skydive or to persons of unknown ability.
  2. The use of unfamiliar (borrowed, new) equipment without sufficient preparation has been a factor in many fatalities.
  3. Equipment changes:
    1. Changes in type of equipment should be avoided or minimized whenever possible during student training.
    2. For all jumpers when changes are made, adequate transition training should be provided.
  4. When jumping a new or different main parachute, a jumper should follow the canopy familiarization progression outlined in Categories A-H of the Integrated Student Program (multiple jumps).

J. Use of altimeters

  1. Skydivers must always know their altitude.
  2. There is a great reduction of depth perception over water and at night.
  3. Pull altitude and other critical altitudes should be determined by using a combination of visual reference to the ground and to an altimeter.
    1. As a primary reference, each skydiver should learn to estimate critical altitudes (break-off, minimum deployment, minimum cutaway) by looking at the ground and mentally keeping track of time in freefall.
    2. Altimeters provide excellent secondary references for developing and verifying primary altitude-recognition skills.
    3. Some jumpers may desire more than one altimeter and even more than one altimeter of the same type to have a reference available throughout the jump.
    4. Jumpers should wear their altimeters so they are available to them during as many phases of the jump as possible.
  4. Some examples of altimeter types and locations include:
    1. visual altimeter worn on the wrist
      1. easy to read in a variety of freefall positions
      2. wrist is usually unaffected by burbles
      3. difficult to read while tracking
    2. visual altimeter worn on the chest or main lift web
      1. reference for others in a group, particularly when belly flying
      2. readable during tracking
      3. subject to error and erratic readings while back-to-earth
    3. audible altimeter, typically worn against the ear
      1. Audibles provide a good reference to key altitudes near the end of the planned freefall.
      2. Extreme background noise of freefall and a jumper’s attention to another event can render audible altimeters ineffective.
      3. Students should use audible altimeters only after demonstrating a satisfactory level of altitude awareness.
  5. Initial and refamiliarization training for altimeter use should include:
    1. Looking at the ground.
    2. Looking at the altimeter and note the altitude.
    3. Repeat this procedure several times per jump to develop the ability to eyeball the altitude.
  6. Altimeter errors
    1. Altimeters use electronic and/or mechanical components that are subject to damage and may fail in use.
    2. Minor differences in indicated altitude are to be expected.
    3. Set the altimeter at the landing area and do not readjust the altimeter after leaving the ground.
    4. An altimeter may lag during both ascent and descent; plus or minus 0-500 feet is to be expected.
    5. The needle can stick during both ascent and descent—a visual cross reference with the ground should be used in combination with the altimeter.
    6. When the altimeter is in a burble (as when falling back-to-earth), it may read high by as much as 1,000 feet.
  7. Handle altimeters with care and maintain and store them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

K. Accessories

  1. The use of personal equipment should be determined by the type of jump experience and proficiency of the skydiver, weather, and drop zone conditions.
  2. Clothing and equipment:
    1. Adequate protective clothing, including jumpsuit, helmet, gloves, goggles, and footwear should be worn for all land jumps.
    2. Gloves are essential when the jump altitude temperature is lower than 40° F.
    3. A jumper should always carry a protected but accessible knife.
    4. A rigid helmet—
      1. should be worn on all skydives (tandem students may wear soft helmets)
      2. should be lightweight and not restrict vision or hearing
    5. All jumpers are advised to wear flotation gear when the intended exit, opening, or landing point of a skydive is within one mile of an open body of water (an open body of water is defined as one in which a skydiver could drown).

L. Main parachute packing

  1. The main parachute of a dual assembly may be packed by—
    1. an FAA rigger
      1. An FAA rigger may supervise other persons in packing any type of parachute for which that person is rated (FAR 65.125.a and b).
      2. A non-certificated person may pack a main parachute under the direct supervision of an FAA rigger (FAR 105.43.a).
    2. the person who intends to use it on the next jump (FAR 105.43.a)
  2. Packing knowledge:
    1. Each individual skydiver should have the written approval of an S&TA, USPA Instructor, I/E, or an FAA rigger to pack his or her own parachute.
    2. All parachute packers should know and understand the manufacturer’s instructions for packing, maintenance, and use.
  3. Tandem main parachutes may be packed by (FAR 105.45.b.1)—
    1. an FAA rigger
    2. the parachutist in command making the next jump with that parachute
    3. a packer under the direct supervision of a rigger
  4. Exercise extreme caution when using temporary packing pins.

M. Parachute maintenance

  1. Inspection:
    1. The equipment owner should frequently inspect the equipment for any damage and wear.
    2. Any questionable condition should be promptly corrected by a qualified person.
    3. Detailed owner inspection of the parachute is outlined in the Equipment Section of Category G of the USPA Integrated Student Program, SIM Section 4.
  2. Maintenance and repair of the reserve:
    1. The FAA requires the entire reserve assembly to be maintained as an approved parachute.
    2. Repairs to the reserve assembly must be done by an FAA-certificated parachute rigger.
  3. Maintenance and repair of the main:
    1. Repairs to the main may be done by an FAA-certificated rigger or by the owner if he or she has adequate knowledge and skill.
    2. The main parachute and its container need not be maintained as “approved.”
  4. Major repairs and alterations may be performed only by or under the supervision of:
    1. an FAA master rigger
    2. the parachute manufacturer
    3. any other manufacturer the FAA considers competent