No skydiving lessons are needed to know that if your canopy has trouble, you have trouble. But that trouble comes in different forms and lessons can tell you what they are and how to deal with them.
The potential problems can be divided into two categories: those that occur during deployment and those that happen afterward.
Problems in the first category are rare. When they do happen, they’re often the result of poor packing. Registered riggers will pack any and every student’s chute at first. But at a certain point in their development, skydivers want to and should pack their own. They’ll need careful training and consistent best practices to avoid problems.
Whether stack packed, roll packed or any other method there’s a right way and a risky way. Proper tension on the lines at all times, proper cell folding, correct insertion into the D-bag and other factors are all important.
But no matter how well made or how carefully packed, things can go wrong. Internal material shifts, wind direction and speed variations, and a wide variety of other effects are not under the skydiver’s control. Other people’s behavior plays a role, as well. A group of skydivers that don’t track properly can bunch together.
Once deployed, many things can interfere with a canopy.
Sudden turbulence near the ground or improper body position can lead to slow flying, lack of line tension and low air under the cells. That can happen high in the air, but is an even greater risk lower down. Dangerous turbulence is much more common within the first few hundred feet above ground level.
Excess glide speed, not paying attention and other controllable actions can lead to accidents. When a skydiver accidentally comes into contact with the canopy of a skydiver beneath him, the higher one has about two seconds to ‘walk off’ the canopy.
Failure to do so will lead to canopy collapse of the lower skydiver. But it can also cause the higher one to lose line tension, leading to canopy collapse. Both are then in serious trouble and if it happens too low the results are often fatal.
Incorrect use of air brakes can produce the wrong angle of attack of the canopy relative to the air. That can lead to low stability from inadequate air pressure in the cells. Braking can also lead to too slow flying. That decreases the tension on the lines, which can cause canopy collapse. It also leaves the skydiver in any bad air encountered for a longer time. That increases the odds of canopy problems.
Knowing how to avoid these problems, and how to react to them when they happen, is an important part of learning the art of falling out of a plane safely.