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Anatomy of a Parachute: How to Plummet Safely Through the Sky
A parachute can get you to the ground safely even if you fall asleep mid-jump. Learn how with Groupon’s guide to parachute anatomy.
Main canopy: Usually made of zero-porosity nylon, a strong fabric that can last thousands of jumps while remaining entirely waterproof and windproof, the main canopy is the big colorful thing that the word parachute calls to mind. It’s folded into a special backpack that attaches to the jumper’s torso and legs with thick straps. While round canopies are still standard in the little-green-army-guy corps, the most common shape today is known as a ram-air canopy. It inflates into a bowed rectangle and offers better directional control: the jumper pulls on one of two control lines to move left or right, or on both to make a soft landing.
Pilot chute: The main canopy’s adorable but essential little sibling. To set the chute system in motion, the jumper pulls a handle or ripcord that releases the pilot chute, a smaller canopy that’s only a few feet in diameter and looks something like a leg-less jellyfish. As it inflates in the rush of air, the drag it creates pulls the main canopy from its pack, which in turn puffs up in the air stream.
Reserve canopy: The reserve canopy is deployed only if the main canopy fails to open. It’s usually worn on the back, just above the main canopy, and deployed by a second handle. Before the reserve canopy can be pulled, the main canopy must be jettisoned—disconnected from the jumper via a cutaway handle—to prevent the two canopies from entangling. Reserve canopies must be inspected and re-packed every 180 days, in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration standards.
Reserve static line: As the main canopy is jettisoned, this line automatically deploys the reserve canopy.
Automatic activation device: This device automatically deploys the main or reserve canopy at a presettable altitude, usually around 750 feet. It’s used as a backup device in case the jumper loses consciousness or gets caught up in bird traffic and fails to open the canopy in time.