Half-braked canopy flight is a useful and life-saving skill, but recent incident reports (including the non-fatal incident reports in this issue of Parachutist) show that it is highly underutilized. These reports are littered with examples of situations in which the odds of a favorable outcome would have dramatically increased if the jumper had gone into half brakes.
Braked canopy flight has many uses, especially during low-altitude emergencies. During a canopy-flight emergency, going into half brakes can have several favorable effects on the wing. Half-braked flight reduces your descent rate and concurrently reduces your forward speed. It also diminishes the recovery arc of a diving canopy and decreases the flight-cycle duration after a turn. Half-braked flight is a necessary tool for any canopy pilot. To make the point clear: You’re not a good canopy pilot unless you have mastered the art of half-braked canopy flight.
You likely had your first introduction to slow flight during Category E of the Integrated Student Program, where the canopy dive flow requires students to perform flares at different speeds and levels of input and maintain them for 10 seconds. This canopy dive flow introduces slow canopy flight in different brake settings (from medium to deep) and sets the student up for Category F, which introduces deep-braked turns and braked landings. These maneuvers allow jumpers to safely circumvent landing obstacles below 300 feet.
Like any emergency procedure, you need to practice braked turns and landings often so that you can efficiently execute them when you’re faced with an emergency landing situation. The drills in the student progression get you familiar with these maneuvers, but it is up to you to keep advancing your skills by practicing these drills on your own. If you don’t, when a bad situation inevitably pops up, you are likely to perform the maneuver inadequately or not at all. You could even do something that makes the situation worse, as we have seen in recent incident reports.
So, before you get yourself in a tight spot, get out there and practice your slow-flight maneuvers and your braked landings. Wouldn’t you rather leave everyone cheering because you worked yourself out of a close call rather than see them donating to your GoFund Me page?
Ron Bell | D-26863
USPA Director of Safety and Training