Member of USN parachute demo team

Parachute – a soft fabric device used to slow the motion of an object by creating drag. Parachutes are generally used to slow the descent of a person or object to Earth. Parachutes are also sometimes used to aid horizontal deceleration of a vehicle (an airplane or space shuttle after touchdown, or a drag racer). The word parachute comes from the French words para, protect or shield, and chute, to fall. Therefore parachute actually means to protect from a fall. Many types of modern parachute are quite maneuverable, and can be flown like gliders.

History
The design of the parachute was worked out before the invention of powered flight. A few medieval documents record the use of parachute-like devices to allow a person to fall (somewhat) safely from a height. Leonardo da Vinci sketched a parachute while he was living in Milan around 1485.

First parachute jump – French daredevil André-Jacques Garnerin made 3,000ft plunge from a balloon using a silk parachute on on 22 October 1797

Parachutes and Skydiving (images) – an illustrated look at the physics of skydiving, parachuting, BASE jumping.

3-Ring release system animation. It allows a skydiver to cutaway a main parachute. Mechanical advantage 200 to 1.

That’s engineering

  • Cutaway – If a parachute is tangled or fails to open, the skydiver needs to be able to release or “cutaway” the defective parachute, get clear air and launch the spare emergency chute. This all has to be done in a few seconds as the skydiver is falling to earth. In some cases, the defective chute may have partially filled so there is considerable pressure on the harness, making it even more difficult to remove. 3-Ring release system animation. It allows a skydiver to cutaway a main parachute. Mechanical advantage 200 to 1.

Engineering ideas

  • release, mechanical advantage, air resistance, surface area

Do It
Challenges for you to work on…

  • design a system so that a skydiver can quickly and safely release their main parachute if it gets tangled or fails to open. The damaged or mal-functioning main parachute has to be out of the way before the skydiver can use the emergency reserve parachute.
  • Design and test a parachute that can fall slowly to the ground before putting it to the test, making modifications as you go.

Learn more…