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Clean Up Your Turns
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Welcome to Brian Germain's Newsletter. In these occasional emails, I will send you articles that I have written, even before they go to the magazines! How cool is that?!
Clean Up Your Turns 
By Brian Germain

"Turn coordination" is a topic that, until recently, has been mostly unapplied to ram-air parachute aerodynamics. In simplest terms, this refers to the degree to which a flight vehicle is aligned to the relative wind during a turn. Another way to look at this is the degree to which a turning aircraft is pointed at the relative wind with regards to the yaw axis.
roll pitch yaw
A "clean turn", from an aerodynamic perspective, is one that keeps the nose of the aircraft pointed at the relative wind throughout the turn. When flying airplanes, this prevents the passengers from spilling their drinks, as well as saving fuel and preserving airspeed. In parachutes however, this aspect of turning has mostly been ignored. As parachutes become faster and faster, the time has come to begin thinking about this aspect of our canopy flight for several very important reasons.

The first has to do with the ability of the pilot to level off at any point during the turn. Lets face it, sometimes the ground creeps up on us. Flying an aerodynamically sound turn increases the likelihood that you will be able to convert your airspeed into lift in a timely manner. If you are sliding sideways through the sky because you are simply jamming a toggle down, you are not prepared to interface with the planet. The relative wind is jumping across the bumps on your parachute, creating turbulent flow, while the suspension line load is getting shifted to one side of your canopy. When you attempt to stab out of an uncoordinated turn, there is a hesitation before the parachute begins to change direction and level off. If the ground gets to you before this happens you may find yourself watching Oprah in your hospital bed for a while (not that I have anything against Oprah).

The second reason for flying a coordinated turn has to do with overall parachute stability. In an uncoordinated turn, the nose of your parachute is not pointed at the oncoming relative wind. It is sliding sideways. This means that the pressure in your wing is being compromised, in addition to the wingtip on the outside of the turn being presented to the relative wind. If you hit turbulence during this kind of "sloppy" turn, you are much more likely to experience a collapse of this side of the parachute. In other words, if you are turning right, your left wing more likely to fold under. Interestingly, when an aggressive, uncoordinated toggle turn is released, the opposite tends to happen. When the right toggle is released, the right wing surges forward as the drag is released and it is presented to the relative wind, opening the door for a collapse on right side of the parachute. Either way, this can result in way too much daytime TV.

There is a fundamental problem with the way in which most of us were taught how to turn our parachutes. They said: "if you want to turn right, pull down the right toggle." Simply pulling on a toggle increases the drag on the right side of the parachute, retreating that wing tip. At the beginning of the turn, it is purely "yaw" energy. It is like the pilot of an airplane stepping on the rudder pedal. As a discrete action, steering toggles are an incomplete input. We need some "roll" energy.
The harness is more than a way to attach the jumper to the parachute. It is also a way to manipulate the canopy itself. If the right leg reaches for the earth as the left hip reaches for the sky, the parachute will turn to the right. It is true that smaller parachutes will respond quicker to such inputs than larger ones, with elliptical canopies responding the quickest, but harness input will have an affect all parachutes. Most importantly, when used at the initiation of a turn, harness steering converts a toggle turn into a coordinated maneuver. This is true if you are under a Lotus 190 or a Samurai 95.


When flying an airplane, all turns begin by initiating roll energy with the ailerons, (rotating the yolk), followed by an application of the rudder to coordinate the turn. The old airplanes had a string on the cowling (hood) to show the direction of the wind-flow, while newer ones have slip indicators on the instrument panel. If only we had such information while we were flying our canopies. Ah, but we do...

Trailing behind your wing is all the yaw axis coordination data you will ever need. It is called your pilot-chute. If you are flying a coordinated turn, your bridle will remain parallel to the ribs of your canopy throughout the turn. If at any point it goes slack, whips around like a snake or drifts off to one side, you are not flying a clean turn. You are not carving your wing through the sky; you are skidding out of control. The relative wind is not following the valleys of your ribs; it is hopping over the bumps, tumbling into chaos.
Uncoordinated Turn

Try this on your next jump: Look up at your canopy while you are flying straight and simply yank a steering toggle down to the brake position. You will immediately see what I am talking about as your pilot-chute swings off to one side. Next, lean in your harness, lifting one leg-strap to yield direct roll axis input. It may turn and it may not, depending on the wing. This is not important. Then, while holding the harness input, pull the steering toggle to turn toward the direction of your harness input. You will notice that the pilot-chute is trailing straight back, even in a sharp turn.

Once you have experienced your first real coordinated parachute turn, it is time to develop new habits. This takes time. I find that when learning a new skill like this, it is best to have a simple way to remember the process. In this case, try using the following sequence for every turn you make: 1) LOOK, 2) LEAN and 3) TURN. This is mnemonic was taught to me by a great paragliding instructor and skydiver, J.C. Brown. Rather than thoughtlessly jamming a toggle down, look where you are about to go, lean in the harness to establish the roll, and finally, pull the toggle down to flow deeper into the maneuver.

When you play with this kind of turn, you will find that the parachute simply feels better; that you feel more in control over the wing. You will also find that you can better bump both brakes down during the turn in order to reduce your decent rate, or even level off completely. While practice is necessary to perfect the technique, all parachute have the ability to transition from a descending turn into a level flight turn, into a soft beautiful landing. If you know how to carve your way out of a low turn, there will never be a reason to hook into the ground, ever.
Although many skydivers still think of their parachute simply as a means to get back down to the ground after a skydive, learning how to use the system the way it was meant to be used will increase the chances that you will get back down to the ground safely. Gravity pulls equally on those who love canopy flight as those who abhor it. From twenty years of teaching parachute flight I have learned this: you can only become great at something that you love. The more you understand, the more you will explore. The more you explore, the more you will feel control. The more in control you feel, the more you will love it. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what it is all about.


Brian Germain is a parachute designer, test pilot, advanced canopy flight instructor and author. Brian's book The Parachute and its Pilot has become the worldwide source for canopy flight information and is available at a gear store near you, or through Brian's website:
Choose Your Focus
focus Choose Your Focus
by Brian Germain

We have a choice about what we focus our minds upon. Depending on what we hold in the focal point of our consciousness, we may begin to feel bad, or good. Regardless of the context, the feeling is ultimately what matters.

When we feel bad, we are not constructive. We see nothing but obstacles. When we feel good, we can solve anything that life throws at us. It is that simple. This is the reason why it is so important to monitor what we spend our time dwelling upon.

When we focus our minds on things that make us feel bad we loose our connection to the feeling of confidence that comes as a direct result of feeling happy. We disconnect from our productive, constructive self. Ultimately, this is who we are. When we are in a negative mood, everything is difficult. When we linger on a topic that does not bring us to a place of feeling good, we are unable to solve whatever life has in store for us.

That is not to say that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater, of course. The negative emotion is a powerful tool that helps us to discover whatever it is that we truly believe in. We need our emotions to guide us, but as the sole contributor to the mental processes that determine our actions, negative emotion is a terrible master.

Negative emotion, be it fear or anger, is an alarm. It tells us what we do not want. However, negative emotion leads us toward a destructive path that does not lead to the most positive possible outcome. It simply guides us away from something undesirable to us. That does not paint a clear picture of what we do want. It is simply complaining about the current state of affairs, rather than constructively modifying the situation to what would be a better reality.

When we begin to feel the effects of a thought that makes us feel bad, it is essential that we find out what the emotion is trying to tell us. As soon as the goal is accomplished, and that is usually within a few seconds, we must immediately turn our attention toward a series of thoughts that help us to feel good. If we do not, we will be powerless to effect things in a positive direction.

It is important that each person take stock in the things that make them feel good. This may be a specific activity that brings you back to your happy self, like skydiving, or hanging out in someplace beautiful. It may however, simply be the thought of one of these activities. It may be the thought of someone that you love, or a state of affairs in your life that is very much to your liking. When you are able to conjure this thing in a moment when you are feeling scared or angry, you are then reconnecting to the part of you that is an empowered leader of your experience. This is where we reconnect with our sense of humor, the human way of finding a higher perspective on our lives that makes us feel better. This skill, above all others, is how we convert negative emotion into positive flow of mind that cannot be held back by anything.

We must all make a long list of things that we appreciate. We must do this because it will help us to create more of these kinds of experiences through the conjuring of the feeling that is at the core of these things. The way you feel when you are at your best and happiest is the only place from which you can manifest your reality to become what it is that you want it to become. You must picture it, feel it, and then envision more of the same. Knowing what you want is the first step toward creating it.


Thank you for taking the time to ponder these thoughts. If you have enjoyed this newletter and have found it valuable to you, please feel free to forward it on to your friendS.

Brian Germain