United States Parachute Association > Experienced Skydivers > SIM > Section 6-11

6-11: Advanced Canopy Piloting Topics


A. Introduction

  1. USPA recognizes that effective advanced canopy pilot training beyond the required training for the first certificate of proficiency (skydiving license) can improve jumper skills and confidence and reduce the risk of canopy flight accidents.
  2. USPA encourages the development of effective canopy piloting training courses.
  3. The Advanced Canopy Piloting Topics outline provides canopy piloting instructors with a list of topics in a logical presentation order to advance the canopy flight knowledge and skills of licensed jumpers.

B. Background

  1. Canopy design and flying techniques have advanced beyond what is expected of a USPA Instructor when preparing a skydiving student for the USPA A license.
  2. Skydiving culture encourages skydivers to purchase and jump equipment that requires additional training to be jumped safely.
  3. Analysis of accident reports indicates that jumpers are at risk without advanced canopy training beyond the A license.
    1. Jumpers who have progressed without advanced training to average designs at average wing loadings are largely unprepared for how their canopy will handle in difficult landing situations.
    2. Jumpers who pursue induced-speed landing techniques without training put themselves and other jumpers at extreme risk.
  4. Rather than limit jumper flying style and equipment choice, USPA has pursued an “education, not regulation” strategy in coordination with expert canopy pilots, advanced canopy training schools, and canopy manufacturers.
    1. basic but comprehensive canopy flight training and discovery in the USPA Integrated Student Program, leading to the A license
    2. articles on basic and advanced canopy topics in Parachutist
    3. SIM Section 6-10, “Advanced Canopy Flight”
    4. this course outline for use preferably by USPA Instructors with additional qualifications as listed

C. Scope

  1. To get the most from the topics presented in this outline, a jumper should have completed all the exercises listed under “Canopy” in SIM Section 4, Categories A-H of the ISP, and hold a USPA A license.
  2. Jumpers who complete a course of instruction covering the topics listed here, including evaluations jumps and continued practice, should be better prepared to make choices regarding advanced equipment and maneuvers, as discussed in SIM Section 6-10.
  3. USPA encourages all jumpers to engage in a course of instruction with a qualified course director including these topics, particularly when preparing to jump advanced equipment or perform advanced maneuvers.
  4. The course conductor should organize the course to accommodate attendees according to their goals and objectives.
    1. sufficient staff to assign to subgroups, according to performance or equipment objectives
    2. separate courses on different dates and tailored for jumpers with like goals

D. Instructor qualifications

  1. USPA does not issue instructional ratings specifically for canopy coaching.
  2. It is essential that the information contained in this course be presented correctly.
  3. Those who intend to teach an advanced canopy piloting course should hold a USPA Instructor rating and have extensive knowledge of canopy flight.
    1. Instructors who intend to teach this material must realistically assess their level of knowledge regarding canopy flight and instruction.
    2. Before teaching this course, instructors must work through the outlined canopy skills using a variety of canopy designs and wing loadings.
    3. Attending any one of several commercially available factory-sponsored canopy schools as a student is highly recommended before teaching this course.
    4. For USPA B-license requirements, a Safety & Training Advisor must approve the course director and sign the Canopy Piloting Proficiency Card once the course is completed.

E. USPA B License Requirements

  1. Every USPA B license must also include a completed and signed copy of the Canopy Piloting Proficiency Card.
  2. The completed Canopy Piloting Proficiency Card must be signed by a current USPA Safety & Training Advisor, Instructional Examiner, or USPA Board member.
    1. The supervising official must ensure that a qualified course director conducts the training in this section.
    2. In some situations, the best candidate to teach this material may not hold any USPA ratings, but may have extensive knowledge about canopy control and landings.
    3. These training jumps may be completed in a structured course with all five jumps completed in succession or the jumps may be completed individually.
    4. The term course director applies to the person teaching this material, but is not an actual rating issued by USPA.
    5. Each of the five training jumps listed on the USPA Canopy Piloting Proficiency card must be signed by a Verifying Official, who is responsible for supervision and training for the jump.
    6. The final signature of the supervising official on the proficiency card is to verify that the training has been satisfactorily completed by the candidate.

F. Evaluation

  1. There is no “pass” or “fail” for a course of this nature, but attendees should be better able to self-assess their canopy aptitude and proficiency based on their own experience with the control maneuvers and an accurate evaluation of each approach and landing from a course director.
  2. The course director should sign and date the entries on the Canopy Piloting Proficiency Card as jumpers complete the items listed.
    1. control maneuvers
    2. loss of altitude in turns
    3. landing pattern
    4. varied approaches
    5. approach and landing accuracy objectives
    6. aborted approach
    7. carving landings
  3. The Canopy Piloting Proficiency Card can assist drop zone management in assessing a jumper’s canopy skills.
  4. Each jumper should begin a new Canopy Piloting Proficiency Card for every new model and size canopy.

G. Risk assumption

  1. USPA warns all jumpers that skydiving comes with inherent and sometimes unforeseen hazards and risks that may or may not be preventable.
  2. While the goal of any skydiving training is to reduce risk, neither USPA nor the course director can predict the outcome or success of the training.
  3. USPA warns all jumpers that some of the maneuvers described to develop understanding of canopy flight involve a greater risk of injury, even serious injury or death, than a routine parachute landing using a straight-in approach flown at the canopy’s natural speed until flaring.
  4. A canopy pilot should receive as much coaching as possible to reduce the risks under canopy; however, USPA warns all jumpers that any pilot who manipulates the canopy controls to induce additional speed prior to landings presents a greater hazard to himself or herself and others.
  5. Before jumping begins, USPA advises the course director to require each participant to complete an assumption-of-risk agreement in conjunction with a comprehensive liability risk-management program applied in accordance with applicable local and state laws.
  6. USPA accepts no liability for the use of this outline and does not authorize its use in any course of instruction; ideas presented here come with no implied or expressed suitability for any purpose or application.

Ground School Topics

Part 1: equipment
A. Equipment choice considerations
  1. Because of certain advantages smaller canopies offer, a misconception pervades the sport that all jumpers are better off overall using a smaller canopy.
    1. Smaller canopies make for more compact and comfortable parachute systems.
    2. Smaller canopies, especially the newer designs, can be easier to land than larger wings in ideal conditions.
    3. Properly flown, smaller canopies provide greater versatility in higher winds.
  2. Studies of USPA serious injury and fatality summaries reveal a trend where jumpers under canopies popularly considered “average sized” or “conservatively loaded” frequently mishandle them in non-routine landing situations.
  3. Jumpers should seek out reliable information before changing to smaller canopies.
  4. The sport of skydiving includes a series of specialized activities that require exclusive equipment, for example:
    1. classic accuracy
    2. canopy formation
    3. competition freefall formation skydiving
    4. large freefall formations
    5. wingsuits
    6. camera flying
    7. high-performance landings
    8. competition swooping
  5. All jumpers should
    1. set goals in the sport
    2. choose the best equipment to meet their needs
    3. learn how to use that equipment
    4. skydive within the limits of their equipment and capabilities
B. Wing loading
  1. Size v. wing loading
    1. The shorter lines of a smaller canopy will cause it to respond differently than a larger one of the same design with an equal wing loading.
    2. Compared to a canopy with longer lines, a shorter-lined canopy will have—
      1. quicker turns
      2. quicker flare response
      3. quicker pendulum action (quicker to dive after an early flare)
    3. A canopy with a shorter chord (front-to-back measurement) responds more quickly to flare input.
    4. A canopy with a shorter span (wingtip-to-wingtip measurement) will respond more quickly to turn input.
  2. In theory, glide angle doesn’t change with wing loading.
  3. Most jumpers can get a lot more performance from their canopies without needing to downsize.
C. Performance enhancing designs
  1. Tapered shape (planform)
    1. more dimensional stability (less distortion)
    2. faster forward speed from lower and cleaner drag
    3. faster turns and less flight stability
  2. High-aspect ratio
    1. flat glide
    2. easier flare
      1. lighter toggle pressure
      2. shorter toggle stroke (some models)
      3. quicker flare response
  3. Higher rib frequency to reduce billowing between ribs
    1. seven-cell v. nine-cell
    2. cross bracing
  4. Thickness (after inflation)
    1. thicker: slow speed, more predictable and gentle stall
    2. thinner: faster speed, more abrupt stalls at a higher speed
D. Drag reduction
  1. Zero-P fabric
  2. Small-diameter lines
  3. Collapsible pilot chute
  4. Collapsible slider:
    1. cloth or metal links with covers
    2. larger v. smaller slider grommets
  5. Risers
  6. Outerwear
  7. Removable Deployment Systems
  8. Body Position
E. Controls: toggles and beyond
  1. Brakes
    1. toggle types for ease of handling
    2. steering line length to allow front riser maneuvers (toggles in hand)
  2. Front risers and control enhancement discussion (loops, blocks, etc.)
  3. Back risers and how they work
  4. Front risers and how they work
  5. Harness turns
F. Accessories
  1. Jumpsuit (reinforced butt and knees)
  2. Hard helmet
  3. Gloves, pros and cons
  4. Altimeter
    1. altimeter use under canopy
    2. digital v. analog
  5. Weights
G. Speed
  1. The pilot perceives the forward speed more than the downward speed, so a faster canopy can seem a lot scarier to fly.
  2. The faster the canopy goes, the more effect adding drag (by using a control) will have on the flight path.
H. Glide
  1. Skydiving canopies: approximately 2.5:1 in natural flight
  2. Changing the glide
    1. using brakes or rear risers
    2. using induced speed to temporarily add lift
Part 2: maintenance
A. Environment
  1. Dirt degrades of the fabric, lines, and slider
  2. Ultraviolet degrades nylon.
    1. sunlight
    2. fluorescent lighting (50% of the strength of sunlight)
  3. Water distorts reinforcement tapes
B. Collapsible pilot chute and slider
  1. Wear results from friction as the line moves through its channel.
  2. Pilot chute centerlines shrink with use.
C. Suspension lines
  1. Spectra can’t stretch and shrinks a lot with use.
  2. Vectran is stable in both directions but abrades.
  3. HMA is stable but breaks when it still looks new.
  4. Dacron stretches on opening, is stable and durable, but fat.
D. Brake lines
  1. wear
  2. shrinkage
  3. the results of a broken line
    1. upon flaring
    2. landing a smaller canopy using risers
E. Packing for an on-heading opening:
  1. Even risers
  2. Symmetrical bag
  3. Line-stow placement and tension
  4. 24 inches of unstowed line
F. Equipment inspection
  1. Pre-jump
  2. During packing (various times throughout the course)
Part 3: break-off, opening, separation, and canopy traffic
A. Breakoff
  1. Breakoff altitude should allow enough time to open clear of others and handle both routine and abnormal circumstances.
  2. Tracking review
    1. conserving altitude during turning and tracking
    2. body position and flat-track technique
    3. opening when clear at the optimum altitude
  3. Flying through the opening
    1. shoulders level (use this time to look again at the spot)
    2. flying the canopy through inflation
      1. back risers
      2. hips and legs stay even through the deployment (feet together)
  4. Dealing with the standard problems becomes more difficult as canopy performance increases.
    1. Discuss the following from the perspective of higher-performance canopies:
      1. line twist
      2. premature brake release
      3. locked brake(s)
      4. slider-brake system fouling
    2. Spinning with a smaller canopy results in rapid altitude loss.
  5. Cut away defensively: Look below and behind to make sure you are clear of others.
B. Traffic
  1. As canopies fly faster, jumpers must pay better attention to other canopy traffic on descent.
  2. Altitude management
    1. use of brakes to stay aloft
    2. relative wing loading
      1. self-assessment
      2. knowing the wing loading of others
    3. placement in the aircraft
    4. a dive plan, such as stacked approaches, to promote vertical separation under canopy
  3. Awareness of others
    1. Know or judge others’ canopies, wing loading, and habits.
    2. Fly the landing pattern or land elsewhere.
    3. Fly a straight final approach avoiding S-turns.
    4. Dealing with other’s errors:
      1. In the event of a traffic issue, discuss the problem with the canopy pilots who were involved
      2. canopy wake turbulence, (yours and others’)
      3. only need to miss by a little—no low turns necessary
  4. Off-wind landings (technique)
    1. crosswind
    2. downwind
  5. Landing away from the crowd
    1. less pressure; room to practice
    2. familiarity and consistency with using the same landing area every time
  6. Situations that pop up:
    1. Crowded landing area: Follow someone you trust closely and let them know you’re there.
    2. Cutaways disrupt the plan for a normal canopy descent and landing planned for the main canopy.
    3. Landing accidents on the ground can lead to confusion and chaos.
    4. Off-field landing
      1. Plan and follow a sensible pattern.
      2. Keep your eyes open.
      3. Perform a PLF.

Advanced Exercises

A. Flight plan
  1. The course director should assist the class with an aircraft, canopy flight, and landing plan prior to each jump included in the course.
  2. The plan should include an individualized progression plan for each student, according to experience and goals.
  3. The plan should consider:
    1. winds
    2. DZ layout and target areas
    3. traffic management to keep clear of other jumpers not participating
    4. landing separation between canopy students
  4. Landings should be videotaped for debriefing by the course director.
B. Under canopy


jump 1—evaluation jump
  1. The first jump in the course follows the presentation and discussion of the ground school topics.
  2. The course director evaluates each student’s accuracy and landing skills.
    1. Demonstration of a straight-in approach and natural-speed landing provides the course director with a baseline evaluation of flaring and landing skills.
    2. Each student should try for a target, with the first priority being a good landing from a straight-in approach, to provide the course director a starting point for accuracy improvement.
  3. Each course candidate should inspect the canopy’s steering lines while in full flight, with the brakes released.
    1. The steering lines on most canopies should bow slightly behind the back of the canopy and its suspension lines, while in full flight
    2. Check with the manufacturer to see what is recommended for steering line adjustments
    3. For jumpers who use front risers, the steering lines should have enough slack that the riser can be pulled with the toggle in hand and still not deflect the tail of the canopy.
    4. A parachute rigger should adjust the length of the steering lines if necessary, before the next jump.


jump 2—basic aerodynamics, effective flaring and riser turns
  1. Lift
    1. Air passing over an airfoil creates a force called lift.
    2. Lift is always perpendicular to the velocity.
    3. The ram-air is trimmed nose down, by cutting the A lines shorter and each group behind them a little longer.
  2. Drag
    1. The resistance created by air as an object moves is called drag.
    2. Drag is always parallel to the velocity.
    3. The lines, pilot chute, slider, jumper’s body, and even the surface of the canopy itself produce drag (parasitic drag).
  3. Gravity
    1. Gravity is a constant in the equation of forces acting on the jumper and canopy.
    2. Using the force created by gravity, the airfoil deflects the air to make the canopy glide.
  4. Momentum (force)
    1. Mass: Doubling the mass of a moving object gives it twice as much energy.
    2. Speed
      1. The term “speed” refers to the magnitude of velocity.
      2. Energy increases as the square of the speed.
        1. Doubling the speed produces four times the energy.
        2. Tripling the speed produces nine times the energy.
      3. Inertia: The term “inertia,” means that an object in motion will stay in motion until resisted.
  5. Flaring
    1. While turning or landing your parachute, the location of your body in relation to the canopy changes.
    2. In a turn, momentum swings your body out from under the canopy.
    3. During the recovery arc, your body begins to swing back under the canopy.
    4. On final approach in natural flight your body is below the center of the canopy.
    5. During initial flare, using toggles or rear risers, the canopy rocks slightly behind the jumper, raising the nose in relation to the tail and temporarily increasing lift (higher angle of attack).
    6. Pulling the toggles gradually further adds drag on the tail, keeping the canopy at the correct angle and providing the most lift for the remainder of the flare.
    7. Effective flare techniques with emphasis on finishing the flare.
      1. Enter the flare with the ideal stroke rate and depth that causes the canopy to fly as flat as possible, and remain flying flat as long as possible.
      2. Follow through by gradually pulling more toggle, timing the rate of the stroke to finish landing just prior to the stall.
      3. Focus on flying your canopy as long as possible before allowing your feet to touch the ground, and finish the flare completely even after your feet first touch the ground.
      4. Avoid a common bad habit: Many jumpers stop flying their parachute just as their feet reach the ground, raising the toggles and running out the remaining forward speed.
  6. Riser turns
    1. During this jump you will make a series of riser turns above the traffic pattern altitude.
    2. Most jumpers should have already been trained and practiced riser maneuvers as a requirement for the USPA A License.
    3. Jumpers who are completely unfamiliar with riser turns should make a separate training jump to focus solely on riser turns.
  7. Under canopy
    1. Flare the canopy five times while observing the wing throughout the flare.
    2. Pay particular attention to your relative position under the canopy during the various stages of the flare.
    3. Check airspace frequently to maintain separation during the practice exercises.
    4. Repeat the five practice flares with eyes closed, paying close attention to the physical sensation during each phase of the practice flare.
    5. Check altitude, position and traffic, and initiate two alternating 90-degree turns using rear risers.
    6. Check altitude, position and traffic, and initiate two alternating 180-degree turns using rear risers.
    7. Check altitude, position and traffic, and initiate two alternating 360-degree turns using rear risers.
    8. Jumpers must stop any riser maneuver at 1,000 feet or higher above the ground.
    9. Due to the energy required for flaring and riser maneuvers, it may be necessary for jumpers to complete these maneuvers over a series of jumps
    10. On landing
      1. Make a straight-in approach facing into the wind, with minimal input for the last ten seconds before the landing flare.
      2. Practice an effective flaring technique, focusing on a smooth finish.


jump 3—stalls
  1. Dynamic stall
    1. Occurs after a dynamic pitch maneuver and is followed by the jumper swinging back under the canopy
    2. Can cause an abrupt dive once the jumper has reached the end of toggle effectiveness in a flare
    3. Sometimes occurs less noticeably at the end of the recovery arc following a diving maneuver, such as a turn
  2. Aerodynamic stall
    1. Point that loss of lift occurs as the pilot gradually applies brakes or back risers
      1. decreased glide
      2. higher rate of descent
      3. stable mode of flight for a ram-air parachute, because of the extremely low center of gravity
    2. Also called “sink” or “steady state stall”
    3. Used in classic accuracy with low-aspect ratio seven-cell canopies
  3. Full ram-air stall (reverse flight)
    1. Radical stall reached when the tail is held below the level of the nose for an extended period
    2. Can be entered following a dynamic or steady-state stall using toggles or rear risers
    3. Requires a smooth, gentle recovery to prevent entanglement or line twist
    4. Reverse flight using toggles not recommended for some canopies
  4. High-speed stall
    1. Occurs at any speed when the canopy reaches too high of an angle of attack
    2. Easily induced as a result of distorting the wing too far during a rear-riser flare
  5. Common stall characteristics
    1. Separation of air from the upper surface of the wing
    2. Wing loading and stalls (helpful knowledge for landings):
      1. Higher wing loadings stall at faster forward speeds.
      2. Decreasing the wing loading by putting your feet on the ground allows the canopy to fly slower before it stalls.
  6. Stall practice
    1. Full ram-air stalls using toggles
      1. Gently apply brakes to a point where forward flight diminishes and the canopy begins to sink.
      2. Continue to depress the brakes fully down until the canopy “bow ties.”
      3. Slowly raise the toggles until resuming forward flight.
      4. High-performance canopies:
        1. Full stalls may induce a line-twist malfunction with cross-braced or highly elliptical canopies and are not recommended.
        2. Cross-braced and fully elliptical parachutes may be flown to very slow flight and a dynamic or aerodynamic stall without entering reverse flight or “bow tying” the canopy.
    2. Stalls using rear risers
      1. Slowly pull down the rear risers until forward flight ceases.
      2. Adding more riser input, the canopy will eventually sink and begin to descend in a backward direction.
      3. Risers should be slowly raised to recover to forward flight.
      4. Rear riser stalls are not as violent but occur more abruptly than toggle-induced stalls.
  7. Under canopy
    1. Practice riser flares and stalls
      1. Rear riser flare without stalling the canopy
      2. Full ram-air stalls using rear risers
      3. Full ram-air stalls using toggles
    2. Plan and execute an appropriate downwind, base leg and final approach landing into the wind.


jump 4—flat turns and cross-wind landings
  1. Reasons for flying in brakes
    1. Vertical separation from canopy traffic
    2. Slow forward speed and descent rate
    3. Returning from a long spot
    4. Flat turns as a defense tool at low altitudes
  2. Techniques for initiating a braked turn
    1. Bring both toggles to mid-stall position to start.
    2. Raise one toggle slightly to turn in the opposite direction.
    3. Pull one toggle down slightly to initiate a turn in the same direction.
    4. Most effective method for flat turns: Raise one toggle slightly and pull the opposite toggle down slightly to initiate a turn in the direction which the toggle is pulled down
    5. Avoid stalling the canopy.
  3. Effect of brakes on glide
    1. Slower forward speed
    2. Lower descent rate
    3. Change in glide:
      1. The pilot needs to experiment to determine the change in glide path at different degrees of flying in brakes.
      2. Most modern nine-cell canopies fly flatter when a slight amount of brakes are applied.
      3. Some lower-aspect canopies are designed to sink for a classic accuracy approach, which is less effective when performed under a higher-aspect ratio canopy in low-wind conditions.
  4. Flaring from a braked position
    1. Expect a different glide on a braked final approach.
    2. Expect a shorter and quicker stroke needed to flare.
    3. Prepare for a harder landing.
  5. Under canopy
    1. Practice flaring several times from the quarter-, half-, and three-quarter-braked positions, and focus on making an effective flare from each position.
    2. Practice braked turns using all the methods discussed.
    3. Fly a landing pattern that allows for a crosswind final approach and landing.
      1. For purposes of training and familiarization, the crosswind landing should only be performed in winds up to five miles per hour.
      2. All jumpers on the same pass must use the same landing pattern to promote a smooth flow of traffic.
    4. On final approach, focus on crosswind correction necessary to prevent crabbing.
    5. A cross­wind landing may require pulling the upwind toggle deeper than the downwind toggle to keep the jumper going in the same direction and reduce the ground speed upon landing. Performing an uneven flare in this manner increases the stall speed of the canopy. A parachute landing fall is recommended for any unusual landing


jump 5—long spot
  1. Projected landing point
    1. Discovery of how to locate the point on the ground the parachute will reach while flying at natural speed
    2. Altering the glide using brakes and rear risers
      1. Minimize the drag.
        1. Collapse the slider.
        2. Pull legs up, arms in, and arch to reduce air resistance
        3. Loosen the chest strap to improve glide.
      2. If holding brakes, reducing fatigue by hooking your thumbs in the harness. (Be careful not to hook onto your cutaway or reserve ripcord handles.)
      3. Decide by 1,500 feet about a new landing area.
        1. Allow enough altitude for the final turn.
        2. Expect the winds to weaken as you get lower.
    3. Choose an alternate landing area if necessary, and follow off-field landing recommendations.
  2. Under canopy
    1. Exit the aircraft at 5,000 feet AGL at least 1.5 miles upwind of the main landing area.
    2. Determine the glide path of the canopy and the landing point using the projected landing point to determine the point on the ground which is neither rising or sinking.
    3. Alter the glide
      1. using brakes
      2. using rear risers
      3. comparison of effectiveness
    4. If the intended landing area cannot be reached by an altitude which allows for a safe landing, a reasonable alternative should be used.
    5. On landing, follow the flight plan and continue to work on effective flaring
  1. The aircraft should fly multiple passes as necessary.
  2. Jumpers should arrange their exit order and opening altitudes according to wing loading.
  3. Maintain vertical and horizontal separation; higher canopies should use brakes to slow descent if needed.
  4. Each jumper needs to allow enough separation for the course director to video each final approach and landing individually.