Parachute malfunctions can be defined as the failure of device systems to operate as intended or to deliver what is considered a normal rate of descent leading to the loss of canopy control. Malfunctions can be divided into two categories, partial and total. The reasoning behind parachute malfunctions generally stems from a lack of proper body positioning during the canopy’s deployment, a poorly packed parachute or may simply be a one-off occurrence, e.g. an act of God.

All reasoning aside, the important thing is to know how to respond should you find yourself in a situation where your chute has malfunctioned. For the purpose of this article, we will be discussing a series of responses to a specific scenario, what to do when confronted with two canopies, the main and reserve both opening.

For the sake of argument, we will be compiling data from a number of resources reporting on this type of malfunction. Not the least of which is a report that may appear somewhat dated, and yet contains information that is currently the most comprehensive guide on response to the two canopies open debacle.

More than twenty years ago in 1995, representatives from Performance Designs, Inc. a parachute manufacturer performed a series of test jumps in order to demonstrate what precisely happens when two canopies deploy at the same time. The study was conducted at the request of the Parachute Industry Association (PIA). The test jumps were to additionally expound upon previous investigations into the two canopies open paradigm. The prior series of tests carried out 5 years earlier in 1992-1993 by the US Army Parachute Team and veteran Skydiving Instructor Scott Smith, were undertaken to evaluate the ram-air canopy as main and reserve for student use.

Unfortunately, the results of that study were deemed inclusive by the PIA because a controlled group of canopies was utilized throughout. The PIA felt that the study did not comprehensively demonstrate what effect two canopies open would have and wanted to investigate further the characteristic response while applying a number of variables i.e. large main/small reserve, large reserve / small main, and small main / small reserve canopy combinations.

For the 1995 series, test jumpers were equipped with one of 3 to 4 different systems specially designed to provide them with a variety in alternative canopies. The test systems were organized so as to establish a sequence of deployment and cutaway that would be as near to as typical as possible.

The results of the study were ultimately published in the 1997 Dual Square Report and presented at a PIA symposium in Houston in the same year. Although significant amounts of time have passed since then and a number of innovative and safer alternatives in parachute development have come about e.g. MARDS or RSLs, its conclusions offer the most in-depth response to the two canopies open scenario.

Individuals who find themselves in a situation where two canopies deploy may be lucky enough to have one respond slightly after the other, therefore not permitting for the chutes to deploy into each other, however, if they deploy at the same time, things can turn dangerous in an instant.

Typically, this can occur in a number of ways, the AAD could have caused your reserve to deploy when you are at 1000 feet, you may have prematurely deployed your reserve in response to pilot chute hesitation without effecting a breakaway, or the main release device may have neglected to separate during an emergency response.

Below you will find a detailed synopsis of what the 1997 report indicated. Each scenario will be explained and then a brief framework of the most effective response will be outlined. You can review the original report by clicking here.

Side-By-Side

Cause:
Typically resulting from the longer (dominant) of the two canopies deploying behind the shorter. The result was replicated every time, regardless of whether the longer acted as the main or reserve, with the exception of a downplane.

*The reference to longer and shorter canopies is indicative of which of the two, when
inflated together, is lengthier from the common connecting point on the harness to the uppermost top of the canopies.

Response to:
If the two canopies are flying side by side, steer yourself into a safe landing zone by applying subtle control inputs on the typically longer (dominant) canopy. As a consequence of nearly double the surface area supporting your weight, the effective lift of the parachute system will make flaring the canopies unnecessary. Flaring one could result in a dangerous situation, especially when in close proximity to the ground.

Downplane

Cause:
Although less likely to occur and yet still a consideration is a downplane. A downplane is an instance where both canopies fly away from each other in the direction of the ground. Downplanes always involve line twists due to a tumbling bag on deployment of the main when it was the second canopy deployed. While tests did indicate an occasional flip in a reserve bag, it happened when the deploying lines reached the locking stows. The result in that case would be one, or maybe one half twist, which would untwist as the canopy inflated.

*Please note, in majority of instances, what started out as a downplane would quickly evolve into a
side-by-side with no input from the jumper.

Response to:
If the canopies are both flying downward in direction of the ground, jettison the main canopy. If time and altitude permit, disconnect the RSL before cutaway of the main as RSLs may interfere with the reserve when the maindisconnects. Refer to equipment manufacturer specifics for details regarding your system.

Biplane

Cause:
The most likely of the variants in configuration to occur from a complete or near simultaneous deployment is a biplane. The result of a biplane is both canopies flying in the same direction with one behind or following the other. Usually the main is in lead, the reserve the rear. A personal biplane possess more stability and is easier to control.

Response to:
If a biplane is present, the canopies flying in the same direction, the one behind the other, apply subtle steering inputs with the lead canopy (typically, the main)without releasing the rear’s deployment brakes. Do not flare the landing. Prepare to execute a parachute landing fall (PLF). *Additional recommendation:if the canopies are in a stable biplane it is not recommended to attempt to move the configuration into a side by side to cutaway the main. This could result in riser, line, canopy entanglement.

Trailing Equipment

Cause:
Trailing equipment is the result of one canopy fully inflating, with a partially deployed second canopy, etc. trailing behind. Reports indicated that attempts to pull in a trailing pilot chute, or even a pilot chute, bag and lines was relatively simple. That said, it is recommended jumpers execute extreme caution when doing this. Should the canopy enter into the airstream it could inflate or partially inflate quite rapidly causing it to get out of control.

*Warning, it is not recommended to pull in a partially inflated canopy.

Response to:
If the main canopy deploys and the reserve is in the deployment stage it is preferred that the jumper assist the reserve deployment by shaking the risers. Then be prepared to take action on the resulting configuration.

If the reserve opens and the main is in a stage of deployment, it is preferred to remove the RSL and cutaway the main.

Main / Reserve Entanglement

Cause:
The study did indicate a single simultaneous deployment that resulted in a spinning entanglement. The reserve deployed directly into the deployment path of the main, trapping the main slider which choked off the main canopy’s inflation. The test jumper attempted pulling risers, but due to the spinning, elected not to stay with it past 6 or7 revolutions and executed a cutaway of both canopies.

*Further evaluation indicated that had the jumper cutaway the main only, there was a chance it would have cleared. It should be noted this recommendation is based solely in speculation.

Response to:
If a main reserve entanglement should occur, do everything possible to clear the two canopies by pulling on risers and/or toggles. Exercise caution regarding the immediate cutting away of the main canopy as this may heighten the problem.

In Conclusion
Supplementary Recommendations per the Study Regarding Two Canopies Open Are as Follows:
  • The most effective (and obvious) way to handle a dual canopy scenario is to avoid the situation at all costs. Make use of the appropriate altitude reporting devices to help maintain altitude awareness. Follow manufacturer safety regulations on proper opening altitudes. Ensure that AAD’s are properly maintained and effectively utilized. Keep and use only properly functioning and maintained equipment and execute periodic gear checks.
  • Take care in selecting proper equipment. Elect to use canopies that are not drastically different in size. Rule of thumb: choose a reserve that is similar in size to the main.
  • Additional safety devices, such as AADs and RSLs, may alter a standard emergency response which could result in a procedure change. Analyze the release recommendations and be sure they coincide with the manufacturer of your gear’s guidelines. Put these and other emergency precautions and procedures in practice prior to each and every jump.
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