How to look after your reserve parachute

Don’t just stick a reserve in your harness and forget about it. You need to care for it, regularly repack it – and understand it. Chris White repacks over 100 parachutes a year – and there are some all too familiar problems…

“In general, avoid anything that could compromise the system – and that includes all those seemingly neat ‘tricks’ that your mate might tell you about. For example: “Don’t tie your bag to your reserve. It’s really bad practice. I feel similarly about tying a float to the handle. You want to avoid anything that could interfere with the deployment. Is it really worth risking it to save £20? I don’t think so.”

You also need to understand how your reserve could be suffering unseen damage, most commonly from Velcro. “Be very careful of the male [sharp] side of Velcro. It can very easily damage the bridle, the outer bag and the parachute lines. I’ve even seen it rub through the bag and create holes in the reserve. It’s more and more common to see harnesses using zips instead of Velcro for the channels, which is brilliant.

“Basically, it should be stressed that if there’s any excess of male Velcro it should be on the outside of the channel, where you can see it and it can’t do any harm. Velcro damage is something we come across in around 50% of repacks. The trouble is, if you have a bridle damaged by Velcro the only way to test it is to do so to destruction, which isn’t much use. There’s no other way to know how much it has been weakened.”

And make sure you’ve put a repack in your diary. “The BHPA (British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association) recommends a repack every six months, but many manufacturers recommend every 12 months. Personally, I do mine every 12 months. But you also must be very aware of the lifespan of a parachute, which is something that is often overlooked.

“Most manufacturers recommend that you don’t use one for more than ten years, but I did one repack recently where there was a parachute from the 1970s. There’s still a lot of very old kit out there. After about ten years, the material visibly starts to degrade, which may very well affect the sink rate.” Getting your reserve wet is also not a good idea. “Immersion in water is never good, and this doesn’t just mean landing in a lake under it.”

Saltwater obviously does all sorts of unseen, corrosive damage, but Randi says the Air Turquoise team have also noticed the characteristics of reserves often change after a water landing. “For EN certification, we test all the reserves twice to ensure that the results are the same, but if we do the test a second time with the same reserve after a water landing, it will often fail. Water landings tend to make the fabric more porous, especially with lightweight systems. Basically, if you land in water or get your reserve wet, get it checked straight away.”

Coming down safely under an Ozone Angel Square reserve – but about get wet. Photo: Ozone

Coming down safely under an Ozone Angel Square reserve – but about get wet. Photo: Ozone

Chris adds: “You can also get it wet by sitting on it in a field. In fact, you should never sit around in your harness on your reserve. Sand can also be very aggressive if you land on a beach, as can snow. Your reserve isn’t particularly sealed when it’s in your harness – you have to be aware of that.

“Interestingly, the degradation happens to both reserves and paragliders irrespective of how often they are used. In fact, the age of the equipment is as big a factor in determining how degraded it is as the amount it has been used. Even if you’ve got a reserve that has never been used or even seen the light of day, the material still degrades with time.”

You should also get your reserve checked if you have an accident, even if the harness looks fine. The reserve could have been dislodged.

“You either need to be very familiar with your system or take it to someone who is,” says Chris. “I checked a friend’s recently and he had been to a club repack where it had been put back incorrectly. It was supposed to go into a neoprene envelope, which had been missed – and the next time he flew with it, it actually ended up in his pod.

“When I repack reserves, I encourage the owners to attend so they get familiar with their own system. I think people who don’t understand parachutes and how they work are less likely to throw them should the need arise.

“You should also be happy doing a pull test on your reserve, so you can check it works and then put it back together exactly how it was. One of the most common problems we come across is that the lanyard that connects the handle to the parachute bag goes tight before the pins release. That means you can’t get the reserve out of the harness in the first place.

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“When we check people’s reserves and harnesses before SIV courses, for example, we find that there’s a problem with about one in ten of them. We’ve even come across parachutes that aren’t connected to the harness – and bridles that aren’t connected to the parachute.”

Soft or hard links?

Chris is strongly in favour of using stainless-steel maillons for connecting one component to another. Twenty years ago, a French pilot was killed when a fabric-to-fabric connection (a larksfoot knot) in the reserve melted through friction (the ‘hot-knife effect’). Today, materials technology has developed a long way and lots of harnesses use fabric-to-fabric connections with no problem.

The is, if you are not sure, don’t make it up: look in the manual first, then ask for qualified or professional advice from your dealer or instructor.

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When to Switching to Pod Paragliding Harness

XC flying is a dream of most of the Paragliding pilots because of its exhilarating, fulfilling and rewarding nature. Modern Paragliders are evolved piece of machine and in fact, these days many EN A and EN B gliders have achieved more than 100 KMs mark.

All the manufacturing companies are trying to create gliders which are offering a good balance between Safety and Performance. Yet the urge to fly EN B gliders especially once you are out of school is well known. But EN B gliders have a wide range to chose from. At a high level, you can consider 3 variations viz. Lower, Intermediate and Higher EN B. If the pilot is sure to fly for around 30 – 50 hours per season then lower EN B is a good choice.

One should upgrade to Intermediate and higher EN B wing only after flying lower EN B for at least 100 hours with loads of ground handling. Before starting XC flying on your glider what we strongly recommend is to fly your glider a lot . Focus on gaining loads n loads of flying hours) that makes your Active Piloting skill automatic. Secondly, do an SIV course which will burst all your myths and you will be well connected with your glider.

Generally as a beginner pilot, one always thinks about what wing to buy. Not much thought goes in to which harness to go for. But with experience pilot understands Harness is equally important as the wing. Especially in longer duration flights, harness defines comfort level of the flight. Also, with more flying, you will realise that glider is giving feedback. Not only through brake lines but also through the harness. There are very good brands in the market for good harness like Supair, BGD, Woodyvalley, Advance etc.

Sachin Pathare - Paragliding - Temple Pilots, Kamshet - POD Harness

Should I go for a POD Paragliding harness?

The commonly asked question by the pilots before progressing to an XC flying is – Should I go for a POD harness?

Flying Hours
– I personally think from my own experience, one should go for POD harness only after flying around 100 hours. Because POD harness movement in flight adds an extra level of complexity . Now intermediate pilot will have to deal with not only active piloting but also with this added movement.

– Yaw movement in case of POD Paragliding harnesses is much more than basic harnesses. The Pilot will need to adapt his weight shifting technique to get used to this new movement. This is possible to do relatively easily if the pilot is already comfortable in flight . Meaning pilot has done many flying hours and active piloting is a second nature.

If the pilot is not really good at active piloting then that means upgrading to the POD harness early has created more stress for him.

Sachin Pathare - Paragliding - Temple Pilots, Kamshet - POD Harness

Too early?

– I personally think that one should be an all round pilot. Starting POD flying too early in your flying career may make you feel not to go for supine/chair harnesses in future. Flying the POD too early also may create wrong piloting habits.

– Cost is a big factor while choosing which harness to use. POD Paragliding harnesses are expensive than normal harnesses. It’s been proven that there is a very slight difference in terms of glide while using POD and chair harnesses. If you are competing in XC and aiming for number 1 spot then surely it will make a difference. Otherwise, it wont.

– An advantage of POD harness is, its very comfortable to do long duration flights. Secondly, your legs are covered well inside the cloth and protect from cold breeze when you are high above. Weight shift is very easy.

– If you want to progress into using the POD then it is a good idea to at least do the Basic SIV to understand glider behavior in collapse.
What do you imagine? How will the glider behave in case of 50% collapse with chair and POD harness?

Sachin Pathare - Paragliding - Temple Pilots, Kamshet - POD Harness

Difference between Standard Harness vs POD Paragliding Harness

How to throw: Deploying a reserve parachute

If you have to throw your reserve parachute while flying then you want things to go without a hitch. Matt Warren asked some expert pilots for their advice on reserve deployment when paragliding, paramotoring and hang gliding

“First, you must be prepared to throw it – and early,” says Tom de Dorlodot, a Red Bull X-Alps veteran and professional pilot. “Many people leave it too late and break their back. In fact, when all goes to shit, it should be your first option.”

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He adds: “If you’ve already tried it out on an SIV, you’ll understand how it works and be more prepared for that. Of course, sometimes, you’ll be in a right mess, throw your reserve, and all the twists in your glider will come out. That’s annoying, but at least you’ll be safe.”

You also need to think about how you’ll throw it – and this can start on the ground, not just in your pre-flight checks, but in understanding and being familiar with your harness.

“First, you need to know exactly where your handle is. Check it’s in place, on the right side for you – perhaps you’re using someone else’s harness, or it’s just been repacked and the handle’s been put on the wrong side – and that the pins are in: the handle can often drop out on the way to take-off. In the air, practise reaching for it. Know how to find the handle without thinking about it.

“How you throw it is also very important. You have to pop the pins, pull the reserve out strongly, look at what the glider is doing and then throw it hard away from your wing. If you’re in an auto-rotation, for example, don’t throw it in front of the glider or your reserve will get caught in the lines. You need to throw it behind the glider.

“And remember it’s not just a case of throwing your reserve and that’s it. You also need to get your paraglider in so it doesn’t fight against your rescue. Generally, I take one of the brakes, wrap the line around my hand and pull it all the way in until I can grab the wing tip. I then bunch the glider up between my legs. This also helps when you land.

“I was flying acro once when it all went wrong and I threw my round reserve. I came down really fast into a huge cattle trough, but the paraglider, which was stuffed between my legs, acted like another airbag.”


A round parachute, the Donut by AirDesign. Photo: AirDesign

Randi Eriksen has advice on what to do if you do end up in a horrible mess. “It depends on the circumstances. Certainly don’t take too long trying to fix the problem – depending on your height, of course – before throwing your rescue. In terms of getting the paraglider in after deployment, we have tried different methods. Certainly the longer you wait after deployment, the harder it is to get the glider in, so grab in as much of your glider as possible as soon as possible after throwing your reserve.

“What you grab depends on what you can reach. We have tried being asymmetrical and pulling in one wing tip, which worked really well one time, but was a catastrophe the next.

“We then tried only the brake lines, pulled in symmetrically. This also worked one time and was very messy the next. It really does depend on what is happening.

“Whatever you do, though, try and bring the paraglider into you as tightly as possible. Paragliders can really interfere with your reserve if you leave them flying.”

Chris White: “When deploying a reserve, the key thing to remember is that the parachute comes out of the harness in the opposite way to which it went in.

“In other words, if the reserve sits sideways on a shelf beneath the seat, then you must pull it out sideways. In this situation, if you pop the pins and then pull it up towards your chin, as if you were doing a bicep curl, then you’re trying to pull it out at 90 degrees from the angle it went in.

“The other thing is to swing it – and then let it go. A lot of people forget that.”

Tom: “You should also always fly with a hook knife [within easy reach]. Not many people do, but it means you can cut a paraglider line if it’s interfering with your reserve, or even cut away your whole paraglider.

“Even if everything works perfectly, though, you’ll find that you come down faster than you think on a reserve – especially if you pick a really light one. You can really easily break your legs.

“The rescue is one protection, the back protection is another, but you should also be ready to do a good parachute landing fall (PLF) – that’s another protection. Always land on your legs and be prepared to roll. I’ve broken my back, and you really don’t want to do that.”

Tom adds that you also need to think about what happens after you land. “Perhaps you’re in a tree or you’ve broken a leg. How do people find you? You can’t always rely on your phone. And it’s often very dangerous to try and get out of the tree.

“The best option is to have a device that can share your location without a phone signal. A tracking device, something like an inReach from Garmin, is essential. I had an accident when I was flying around the Adriatic with Paul Guschlbauer. I’d landed badly in a tree, pushed the button and the helicopter was there in just 16 minutes.”

Deploying a reserve parachute

In this deliberate SIV deployment the pulled-down apex round reserve has deployed after four seconds. The main wing stops flying and the pilot starts to gather it in – this allows the parachute to do its job without the main wing interfering. There is some penduluming apparent as the pilot descends and splashes down. Photos: Andy Busslinger

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Cross Country’s paramotoring columnist Jeff Goin on reserves and powered paragliding

How does flying a paramotor affect your reserve choice?
Two things come to mind: first, being lightweight is more important since motors are already heavy and pilots launch more frequently in the calm of morning or evening with no downhill to help. Second, most motor pilots fly in benign conditions, where reserve deployment is less likely. Consequently, you most likely fly with a small, lightweight ‘meat-saver’ for preserving life not limb.

How to deploy it?
A motor pilot’s mantra for reserve deployment is ‘Kill, Look, Pull, Clear, Throw.’ The primary complication is keeping the reserve out of the prop, thus the ‘Kill’ part – hit the kill-switch and turn off the engine. ‘Clear’ is shorthand for spotting the clear air that assures the best deployment, that is outwards and away from any fouling risks, namely the paraglider and motor. Avoiding throttle entanglement is another concern if you have to use that hand.

How do you pick a reserve?
Descent rate. Opening speed is critical, too, but they seem to all advertise quick opening times. Steerables seem like a great idea for those who fly over inhospitable landing options, but they have tradeoffs. It’s a personal choice that depends mostly on your planned activities. I favour front mounts as they’re less likely to deploy accidentally – a weirdly common phenomenon on motors, especially on side mounts.

What do you fly with?
The easily-mounted, lightweight Way Richly 24. I’m scrawny but the descent rate with the motor will still be 6m/s – equivalent to jumping from two metres. I’d be lucky to avoid breaking something.

Have you ever thrown while paramotoring?
No, thankfully. But weather surprises us, wings surprise us, friends surprise us. There’s good reason to have a little reserve up your sleeve.


Video: C2Sky at a hang gliding reserve re-pack day

British team pilot Gordon Rigg explains reserve parachutes from a hang glider pilot’s point of view

“In hang gliding we might go our whole career without ever meeting anyone who has thrown their reserve. But that doesn’t make a reserve less important – if you do need one, there’s little chance that anything else is going to save you. The main risks are the sort of extreme turbulence that you might encounter very, very rarely, or a mid-air collision.

“Hang gliding chutes are designed with a long bridle that should be long enough to clear the wingtip of the glider – so that means a longer bridle for a rigid wing compared to a standard flexwing one.

“Now, parachutes are generally mounted on the pilot’s side – it’s the pilot’s choice if it is on the left or the right. Some pilots, particularly those flying aerobatics or who want to be a bit heavier on their wing fly with one on each side.

“We have regular debates over chute size, mainly because we always carry it but seldom use it. Very small chutes were fashionable in the 1980s but that’s now regarded as a bad idea. Usually, we use similarly-sized chutes to paragliders, sized for the pilot’s weight. On flexwings, the glider weight is usually disregarded – but many rigid wing pilots choose a larger chute to include the glider weight. It’s the individual’s decision.

Video: Flyhighadventure captured this reserve deployment at an air show

“The most important thing for us is a quick deployment. If something goes badly wrong and the chute isn’t thrown straight away, there is a good chance the wreckage will start to spin violently. Then there can be so much G that a deployment could be very difficult or impossible. After deployment, that spin can still occur, or continue – but with reduced violence. For that reason, many pilots choose to have a swivel sewn into the bridle to try and prevent the lines winding up and gradually closing the chute.

“The chute is not normally rated for a full-speed deployment as that would add a lot of weight to its construction. What we have is something with a ‘good chance’ of structural integrity in a freefall situation, but we do wonder about full-speed deployment – with the glider already going 140km/h plus. Some pilots have a Z sewn-section in the bridle designed to minimise the deployment shock, known as a screamer.

“I deployed my chute once. There was a dust devil and at 180m the glider suddenly stood up vertical, tail slid and tumbled. I threw the chute well, it opened in a few seconds and I landed gently. The glider was only slightly bent, but my harness was significantly damaged.

“In fact, I was able to launch again half an hour later on a different glider and harness and flew to goal – I didn’t even slip one place in the competition ranking!”

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