Published: January 24, 2017
What do gloves, shoes, shotgun barrels, earplugs and skydiving parachutes have in common? They always, always, always travel in pairs--or you simply don't use them.
Though most of the uninitiated think that skydiving systems only include a single parachute, nothing could be farther from the truth. Sport skydivers have carried a reserve parachute along for the ride since the dawn of the sport in the 1950s, though its quality and placement have changed significantly over the years.
In fact, since those early days, the technology behind the gear we jump has improved exponentially. New innovations in comfort and safety have greatly improved jumpers' experiences, bringing together math, science and fun in a way that we're totally stoked on.
Here are a few interesting facts that will explain how skydiving rigs use two parachutes to keep you safer in the sky.
1. If You're A Tandem Student, You Probably Won't Even Notice If There's A Reserve Ride.
This is one of our favorites, honestly, because most students believe that they would, like, notice a total parachute malfunction on a tandem skydive. In the vast majority of cases, they totally don't.
If one of those super-rare contingencies comes up and the system's main parachute is unusable, your instructor immediately releases it and deploys the reserve. This all happens so quickly and smoothly that, when there's a cutaway situation, most tandem students don't even notice when it happens, and when we tell them about it later, they're amazed.
2. That Reserve Parachute Gets The Royal Treatment.
The FAA requires that every skydiving reserve parachute is inspected and repacked every 180 days, whether they've been deployed or not. This guarantees that all the emergency equipment gets a regular inspection, thorough maintenance and tidying. If there's anything at all amiss, the parachute simply doesn't go back into the rig.
If all is well, a master rigger carefully, methodically repacks the reserve and seals it into the rig with a special, irreplicable seal that indicates his/her current certification by the Federal Aviation Administration. If that seal isn't present, the rig isn't jumped. Simple as that.
3. The Reserve Doesn't Even Need Human Intervention To Open In An Emergency.
If something goes wrong to the extent that nobody is even able to attempt to deploy a parachute, we're still fine. The reserve parachute is connected to what's called an "automatic activation device," which ensures that the reserve parachute is ready to go all on its own. The AAD is a tiny computer that measures the jumpers' descent rate and altitude. It "knows" where the jumpers are at all times and it "knows" when the parachute absolutely must be deployed. If the jumper reaches that altitude, the device uses a small cutter to sever the loop that holds the reserve parachute in the container, initiating deployment at a safe distance from the ground. Talk about peace of mind, right?
4. The RSL Gets The Reserve Out Right Away.
When you're introduced to a skydiving system, you'll notice that there are not only two parachutes but two emergency handles. One of these handles cuts the malfunctioning main parachute away; the other manually deploys the reserve parachute. Top-of-the-line modern systems (like ours) also use a failsafe called a "reserve static line." This little clip attaches to the main parachute, automatically deploying the reserve when the main is cut away. This little device lessens the time it takes for the second parachute to achieve full inflation and flight.
Suffice it to say: At Skydive Finger Lakes, we care about your safety as much as you do. We're happy to give you the grand tour of these magical little parachute systems, so don't hesitate to ask! We'd be chuffed to geek out on it with you-- and to show you how everything (especially parachutes) is just that much better with two.
My spouse and I met at Skydive FL when we were 26... a full 26 years later we took our youngest kid for an 18th birthday skydive and it broke through her unbelievably chill exterior.
» Amelia H.