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 Strong Enterprises Pilot Questions and Answers

 

The Rest Of The Answers
(
About Emergency Parachutes for Pilots)

by Bob Gilmour, Strong Enterprises, Inc.

We've all been there. The air-show is a great success and it's packed with pilots and industry specialists from all over the country and around the world. The lines at the sales booths are long, but there's this question about emergency procedures and the care and use of your emergency parachute that you've been wanting to ask, and now's the time. The sales guy in the booth is very  busy and there are many people waiting, but you decide to tough it out and wait. Finally it's your turn so you ask your question, and the short, quick answer is way shy of what you expected. Believe me I know I just gave you a half or a quarter of an answer. I am sure you understand, at this point I am calculating a sort of answer triage in my head: what is the most important piece of information I can offer this pilot and still help the other people waiting?  I want to answer the question fully, as a veteran of 13 Oshkosh's and Sun-N-Funs, plus innumerable CAF shows, Reno Air Races, FAST clinics, Soaring Conventions and contests, and aerobatic competitions, I have been asked every imaginable parachute question by myriad people, including pilots of every possible aircraft, there just is no time, to fully answer the question while standing in a busy sales booth. So, in rebellion against that shortcoming, this article will attempt to give the rest of the answer to the most common questions asked.

Can I just leave the parachute in my airplane?

Yes and no. The number one reason that emergency parachutes systems are taken out of service is damage caused by the sun. So, if you leave your parachute in the cockpit, cover it up. You should have something in the cockpit that you can grab and throw over the parachute system to keep the damaging UVs away. If this is not possible, at the very least, lay the parachute system down over itself so the sun doesn't strike the harness. How do you know if you have sun damage? If the front of the harness where it is exposed to the sun is a different color than the other side of the harness, you've got sun damage. If you've lost 50% of the color, it's a safe bet that you've lost 50% of the strength as well. In this case, the parachute harness should be repaired or removed from service.

Additionally, if you must leave the parachute system in the cockpit, be sure that every time you land, you get out of the airplane while still wearing the parachute. This is very important practice for getting out of the airplane in an emergency: you will know what could hang you up and the exact procedure for getting out quickly and safely while wearing the system. By practicing every time you will get very good at it, and you will come to appreciate how different it is exiting with a parachute and without it. You will become very familiar with the time it takes to get out, and in an emergency that can make the difference between life and death.

How low can I be and still use the emergency parachute?

Well, the higher the better, really. But Strong Enterprises tests its emergency parachutes systems at 300 feet AGL. Our 175 lb test dummy, Oscar, is thrown out at 300 feet and he gets about a ten-second-canopy ride. In other words, the parachute opens very fast!

But, this does not mean that you can be at 300 feet before you start getting out, that could be a problem. So to give the rest of the answer, you should have pulled the ripcord by 500 feet. This will give you a safety margin and with the constant practice you have been continuously doing (see previous answer) you will know how long it takes to get out of the airplane. With this knowledge you can plan for an altitude to begin the emergency procedures, again leaving yourself a margin for error. I call this altitude the Decision deck, or that altitude at which you MUST make your decision to either land with the airplane or leave and use your emergency parachute. If your decision is to leave, you must execute your decision immediately. Get out! Get out now, and pull your ripcord. Once you are under your round parachute, prepare for a landing, (see the next section).

Is my parachute steer-able?

Yes, it probably is. All civilian parachutes built in the United States today are steer-able. This is not a high performance parachute however, it takes about 6-8 seconds to turn the canopy 360 degrees. But it is controllable enough to be able to avoid any obstacles, and choose the best landing area available that altitude allows. Once under the canopy look up, locate the steering handles (red or yellow cloth loops in most cases) and grab one in each hand. Once you have deployed the handles, you can steer by pulling the right handle to turn right and the left handle to turn left.

To know if your particular parachute is steer-able, ask your rigger. Have your rigger show you the steering handles so you know what to look for in an emergency before you are in an emergency.

How hard do I hit the ground under my emergency parachute?

Imagine standing on the roof of a pickup truck moving along at about 6 miles per hour. Then imagine jumping off the pickup truck onto any surface imaginable. That will give you an idea of the landing you will have under your parachute. The FAA requires a rate of descent to be not more than 22 feet per second with a 200 pound individual under the canopy. Most parachutes manufactured today have a somewhat slower fall rate in the 16 to 17 feet per second range. But, wind and weather and AGL have a major effect on the canopy's fall rate, speed through the air during descent, and controllability at landing. So, always be prepared for a hard landing: get your feet and knees together, try to relax, look at the horizon and prepare to roll upon landing.

How often do I have to have my emergency parachute repacked?

The FAA requires repacking every 120 days. There is a lot of discussion in the parachute industry about extending the length of time between repacks. It may someday be moved up to 6 months or even one year, and most believe it would be safe to do so. But as it stands right now, three times a year is the FAA requirement.

How do I get my parachute system serviced?

This is very important. Your parachute must be serviced by an FAA-certified parachute rigger, who is trained in your particular parachute system's packing requirements. Just dropping it off at the nearest skydiving center or jump club and returning to pick it up in a week may not be the best course of action. I believe you should meet the individual who is going to perform the service that could save your life. Do not be intimidated or dissuaded. Meet the rigger face to face. Or if you ship your parachute out to be repacked, ask to speak with him or her on the phone. By asking the rigger the right questions it will help you determine if this individual is the right person for the job. Here are some questions you may want to ask, and you may have more of your own

  • How many total Reserve Parachute pack jobs have you performed?

  • How long have you been a rigger?

  • How many round parachute pack jobs have you done?

  • How many parachutes systems like mine have you serviced?

  • Do you have, on hand, all of the tools required for packing my specific parachute?

  • May I see your tools?

  • Do you have a 40-foot long table you pack on, or do you pack on the floor?

  • May I watch while you repack my parachute? (This is the best one; you will be able to tell pretty quickly if this person knows what he or she is doing, if you are watching).

What is the life of my parachute system?

If you keep your new parachute clean, dry, out of the sun and serviced regularly, it should be the only one you ever need. This answer may surprise some of you. A parachute rigger may have told you that after twenty years or twenty five years you must remove your parachute from service. This is not true. Currently, there are no FAA requirements on the age of a parachute. Of course purchasing a new system for aesthetics or comfort reasons is understandable, but if that is not an issue, and your parachute rigger tells you your parachute is no longer airworthy, get a second opinion. Many manufacturers have no problem re-certifying a 30-year-old system as long as it passes their tests for airworthiness. If your old harness and container system is sun damaged, your current parachute may be able to be put in a new container saving you half the price of a brand new complete system.

Obviously, emergency parachute systems are important for every pilot. It is the worst case scenario: bailing out of a malfunctioning aircraft to save your life. Your emergency parachute is your last resort and while it may seem like a necessary inconvenience in the aircraft, some day it may be the most important piece of equipment that you've ever owned in your life. Take good care of it; never take a shortcut in handling it, in servicing it, or in learning how to use it.

Blue skies and safe flying.


 

 


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