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A Parachute Quiz

by Betty Pfeiffer, 8/93

Hang gliding parachutes have proven to be very successful in preventing injuries and deaths thus making the sport much safer. Even though the safety record of parachutes is very good a pilot should not rely on one to save his/her life. This means that you should not take unnecessary risks while flying just because you are "armed" with a parachute. Aerobatics, the number one cause for parachute deployments, flying too close to other pilots (the more turbulent the air the greater the separation needs to be), flying in extreme turbulence, flying when you are exhausted and your decision making processes are impaired, flying in clouds and flying too high without supplementary oxygen are just some of the circumstances that can and should be avoided.

The following questions are designed to test your basic knowledge about hang gliding parachutes. In the interest of your safety take time to carefully consider each judgment call. Discuss the options with other pilots. It is far better to be prepared in your mind to cope with any emergency situation than to just "deal with it if it happens". You need to know your options before your feet leave the ground.

When should you carry a parachute?

Every time you fly.

How do you "pre-flight" a hang gliding parachute?

Make sure:

Safety locks are properly positioned through the bungee or rubber loop

Velcro is securely fastened

Your deployment handle is readily accessible.

The bridle routing along your harness has no twists or excessive length.

The bridle loop is on the back of the carabiner opposite the gate.

There are no signs of wear on the outside parachute container or bridle.

Where would you normally expect the first signs of wear on your bridle?

At the loop by the carabiner.

Any place the bridle comes in contact with Velcro hook.

Any place rubbing occurs

Many pilots fly with a steel shackle attaching the parachute bridle with the mains on their harness. Why?

To remained attached to the parachute in the event of a carabiner failure.

What are the correct steps to deploy your hand thrown hang gliding parachute?

1. Look for the handle.

2. Grab the handle

3. Pull the parachute out of the container on your harness

4. Throw the parachute into a clear area if possible. Do not "wind-up" before you throw or you may wind up having thrown your parachute in the wrong direction. Do not waste too much time trying to find a clear area, there may not be one. Throw it hard as if your life depends on it, because it very well may.

5. Pull in on the bridle vigorously. If it has not inflated try to yank the parachute back in and repeat steps 4 & 5. You may be able to re deploy an unsuccessful deployment attempt in this way.

Is there any time you should not pull your hang gliding parachute back into you if it has not opened?

Yes. One such situation might be if your parachute is below you and you are falling into the canopy. In this case the best you can do is to continue yanking on the bridle in an effort to dislodge it into clear air.

What do you do if you have deployed your parachute but it is not opening?

Yank vigorously on the bridle to help facilitate opening the parachute.

Pull the canopy back in and throw it again.

If you are close to impact, position your body with your feet down in a manner that would allow the glider to absorb as much of the impact as possible. Bend your knees slightly and tense your leg muscles.

How do you "practice deploying" your parachute every flight?

Look for your parachute handle and grab it.

Practice using each hand to grab your deployment handle.


What should you do once your canopy is open?

Climb into the control bar (if there is one left) with your feet on the base tube.

Try to steer the glider into the wind and flare for a softer landing.

Position your body to let the hang glider take as much of the impact as possible.

No matter what position the glider is in, try to land with your legs downward.

Before landing, bend your knees slightly and stiffen the muscles in your legs to help absorb the shock.

If it is windy be prepared to be dragged.

Have your hook knife readily accessible to cut away from the parachute and glider as quickly as possible.

Under what circumstances would you consider deploying your parachute?

Structural failure

Mid-air collisions

Loss of control due to turbulence close to the ground

Inverted flight conditions

Any time you cannot regain control of your glider.

Anytime you become physically impaired during flight.

Should you throw your parachute if you tumble your hang glider?

This is a real judgment call. Your first consideration should be your altitude. Often as a hang glider tumbles, the tumbles become more severe. The hang glider may start to break by the force of your body being thrown against it. You may become injured. All these factors could reduce your chances to achieve a successful deployment. On the other hand, there have been many cases in which the hang glider rights itself after a tumble and the pilot fly's it safely down.

What emergency equipment can pilots carry besides their parachutes?




Signal mirror


Dental floss (for hoisting a rescue rope up to you if you land in a high place)


First Aid Kit

Smoke or streamers for wind direction indicators

What are some additional uses for your hang gliding parachute?

Climbing out of a tree using your parachute as an escape rope.

Wrapping up in your parachute in extreme cold.

Spreading it out to help drivers or pilot spot you in remote outlanding areas.

How often should you have your hang gliding parachute inspected or repacked?

At least every 6 months.

Every time it gets wet or is exposed to extreme heat or humidity.

Any time you expect damage from belly landings, acids or dirt.

Rubber bands should be inspected every time you have left your harness in a hot place i.e. the trunk of your car on a hot day or once a month whichever comes first.

What is the best way to practice deploying your hand thrown hang gliding parachute?

Hang a control bar or suspended rope from the ceiling and have your friends twirl you violently as you practice throwing your parachute. Be sure to wear a helmet. This should be done prior to every repack.

When would you use a hook knife?

If you land under parachute in windy conditions.

If you are going to land in water.

Any time you need to free yourself or someone else from the hang glider or harness.

If your hang glider is in a spin and you have the option of throwing your parachute any direction, which way do you throw your parachute?

Always try to throw into the spin in order to avoid wrapping up the bridle in the wreckage.

If you have your hang gliding parachute repacked by a FAA certified rigger why do you need to bring the packing instructions? They should know how to pack.

Many certified parachute riggers are not familiar with hang gliding reserves. Although they do quite well in inspecting the construction and material each deployment bag has its own recommended manner of packing. Any deviation from that method may interfere with a successful deployment. Any work on your parachute should be done to FAA parachute standards. The Parachute Manual by Daniel Poynter provides a valuable reference for repairs.

Parachutes are built primarily out of nylon. What is the biggest enemy of nylon?

Ultra violet rays

What should you do if your parachute gets wet with salt water?

Rinse it thoroughly in clean water and dry it out of the sun.

After a repack your parachute may seem bigger. What can you do to get it back down to normal size?

Sit on it and rock from side to side in order to push out the trapped air.

What is the "knee test" and when should it be performed?

Each time you put your parachute into your harness you should do a knee test to assure that your parachute is not going to pop out of the harness in flight.

To do it:

1. Place your knees on the back of the parachute container (inside the harness where your body would normally lie)

2. Hold the harness where the sides of your body would normally fit.

3. Pull the sides of the harness towards you while you push against the parachute with your knees in a manner that simulates your body weight.

Is it safe to replace your nylon lines with smaller spectra or kevlar lines?

Maybe. You should consult the original manufacturer before modifying your parachute in any way.

Can hang gliding parachutes withstand terminal velocity deployments?

If we consider a pilot weighting 170 pounds deploying without a hang glider at 170 to 180 feet per second, and the parachute is constructed using current manufacturing techniques with nylon lines and a nylon bridle it will probably work. Spectra or Kevlar lines and a low stretch bridle theoretically can double the load on the parachute and increase the risk of failure.

How does a conventional hand deployed parachute open?

Full bridle extension is followed by full line extension and finally full canopy extension. As air fills the canopy the parachute will expand from the apex down.

How does a ballistic or air deployed parachute open?

Full canopy extension is followed by full line extension and then full bridle extension.

What are the most common malfunctions in hang gliding parachutes?

Parachute streamer due to lack of speed needed to inflate the canopy.

Entanglement in glider wreckage.

What are the pro's and con's of using a larger parachute?

Pros: Softer landing, softer opening.

Cons: More weight and bulk, slower opening.

What are the pro's and cons of using a smaller parachute?

Pros: Less weight and bulk, quicker opening

Cons: Harder openings and faster landings

If you count the number of lines on your parachute what does that tell you?

It will tell you the number of gores in your canopy. It alone does not tell you about the performance of your canopy.

What does a swivel do?

It can keep the lines and bridle from twisting and thus causing the parachute to close. It should be attached close to the bridle/line junction.

How can you be absolutely sure that your parachute will work?

You can't. You can reduce your risk of malfunction by properly maintaining your parachute, flying safely within the hang glider manufacturer's recommended limitations, and being mentally prepared to deal with any situation you can imagine.

What do you do if your canopy lands with you hanging from high power lines?

Do not touch anything! Wait for help to arrive. Instruct your help to have the power company turn off the voltage immediately. Do not let anyone on the ground touch you or your glider.

What should you do with an old parachute?

If it has been thoroughly inspected and approved by qualified personnel you can consider selling it, otherwise it is best used as a car cover.

What should your bridle minimum length be?

As long as it would take to go from the carabiner down the control bar uprights and clear the wing. This distance depends on the particular hang glider you are flying.

What is "mental imaging" and why is it important in hang gliding parachute safety?

Mental imaging is visualizing yourself in situations. Rehearsing emergency procedures in your mind is important in allowing you a time advantage when having to make quick decisions. You should think out every possible emergency situation you may encounter while flying your hang glider or deploying your parachute, and have a plan of attack ready. In addition you should think out your alternate plan if the first one does not work. The following brief examples are just a few situations you should have thought out. They are actual true life situations Add as many possibilities as you can think of to this list:

It is smooth ridge lift when you are involved in a mid- air collision 150 feet over the ridge. Your hang glider is tangled with the other hang glider.

You are 500' AGL when your hang glider hits severe turbulence and tumbles. The control bar is ripped out of your hands.

You have deployed your parachute and are drifting straight towards high tension power lines.

You have been sucked up into a cloud. Conditions are very turbulent. You are not sure if cloudbase is below the mountains.

Your glider is in a severe spin. You seem to be descending pretty slowly according to your instruments.

You have just completed your first loop and the momentum has carried you into a second loop. You were not prepared for the second loop, stall the hang glider and begin to tumble. After the first tumble you are at 2500 feet.

The answers provided here are not absolute. Each situation requires a judgment call by the pilot. It is my hope that this article will stimulate discussion of a topic many hang glider pilots would rather ignore. Hang gliding is a tremendously rewarding sport but it also has risks. You can minimize those risks by flying safely, attending parachute seminars, practice deploying your parachute while hanging from a control bar suspended from a tree or the ceiling and being mentally prepared to handle emergency situations.