How do I know if my brakes are rigged and adjusted correctly?
The length between the “cat’s eye” (the opening in the line where you set your brakes before packing) and the steering toggle can greatly influence whether you have smooth flights and great landings. An incorrect brake length can hamper ideal performance from your canopy, and the causes vary. Working with your rigger, you should be able to address any issues without spending a lot of money.
Some of the problems begin at the factory, truth be told. Manufacturers have different ideas about how much slack to set in the brake lines based on input from their expert pilots. Some canopies arrive with a mark on the lines to show the rigger where to set the brakes during main assembly. Others come fixed and sewn. The line material dictates which. However, the factory setting might be too tight for an aggressive swooper or too loose for someone with shorter arms or a different flaring style, so you don’t need to take the factory setting as the Biblical truth. If you have questions about your brake length, consult with canopy piloting experts on your drop zone and ask them to observe your landings. You may find that your brake setting is interfering with your canopy’s best performance.
With microline—the bright, white line that manufacturers have used for two decades on most canopies—the setting is almost always not sewn down because the toggle position usually needs to move over the life of the line set. Microline shrinks with the friction and heat generated from the slider coming down and from the action of the steering lines moving through the guide rings on the risers. The microline brake lines on a canopy with a couple of hundred jumps may shrink to the point where the canopy is actually flying in brakes although the toggles are all the way up. That steals the forward speed you need to get the best landings. Poor front-riser performance also signals that brake lines are too short. Properly done, jumpers perform front-riser maneuvers with toggles in hand. If the brake lines are too short, the canopy will buck when you pull down on one or both front risers.
In both cases—brakes too short to allow full flight and bucking front-riser maneuvers—the toggles need to move farther down the brake lines. This is typically a job for a rigger. It’s best to adjust no more than two or three inches at a time and to perform a test jump hop-and-pop to evaluate the results.
Toggle settings that are too long can also cause problems, particularly for smaller jumpers jumping lightly loaded canopies. It’s especially true for canopies designed for landings using a longer flare stroke. With lines that are too long, the full stroke necessary to get the most out of the bottom of the flare may not be possible. Have your rigger fine tune your settings so you can achieve full flight and full flare.
A canopy can go through a lot of changes over its lifetime. A line change is recommended on the average of every 450 jumps, but often the brake lines wear and get changed between the periodic line-set replacement. The same shrinking that occurs with microline below the cat’s eye occurs above it. The length above will often affect the opening, and adjustments in any case become hard to detect as the replaced lines settle into the same color and condition as the old ones. Ultimately, this all plays into control and performance. Working with your canopy coach and your rigger, you may just have to experiment.
Kevin Gibson | D-6943 and FAA Master Rigger
Rahlmo’s Rigging in Orange, Virginia