Transcending Fear Newsletter
Canopy Drills
Fear: Sane or Neurotic?
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Welcome to Brian Germain's Newsletter: "Transcending Fear"! The following is an ongoing home-study course on dealing with fear, as well as vital safety information on parachuting skills that can save your life.

"Dream big and explore this world while you're here, because its just a limited trip; you're only here for so long. So go do wonderful things; do things that scare you; do things that inspire you. You'll be glad you did."

Brian Germain, August 12, 2008

Canopy Skills Drills
Stacy Surf

*For a PDF of these exercises and others that will help you to become a better canopy pilot, go here:

Learning to fly our parachutes is absolutely necessary for long-term survival in this sport. The philosophy that the canopy is simply a means to get down from a skydive is gradually becoming a thing of the past. This may be as a result of individuals with such an attitude dropping out of the sport due to canopy-related injuries, or from the insurmountable fear that comes as a result of a lack of control over their experience. Regardless, many jumpers have been taking an increased interest in flying their parachutes better.

Reading and talking about canopies is the beginning of this process. We must understand the principles that allow our canopies to fly. To make a real difference in our capabilities, however, we need to physically experiment with our parachutes in flight. We must practice in the real world.

Here are a few exercises that will increase your abilities to save your own life, and enhance your feeling of control while under canopy:
Pitch Control Exercises

Manipulate the canopy on the pitch axis using the brakes.
Look at canopy to notice the amount of pitch axis change.
Notice the difference between "soft" and "sharp" inputs:
{slow application vs. quick}

Controlling the pitch angle is how we manipulate the angle of attack of the wing. Without a dynamic change to the angle of attack, we will be unable to increase the lift of the parachute enough to change the direction of flight from its normal full flight glide to level flight. This maneuver is essential for safe landings.

Pitch Control With Bank Angle
Begin a turn using a single steering toggle
Apply the opposite toggle while still in the turn
Experiment with soft versus sharp inputs to negate decent.
Look at canopy to notice pitch changes.

Having the ability to control the pitch axis while in a bank is what gives the pilot the ability to control the decent rate while in a turn. The natural tendency is to loose altitude in a turn, but this is not necessarily the result of turning with bank angle. By increasing the angle of attack while in a bank, we can increase the amount of lift that the parachute is producing, and even alter the flight path to level flight despite significant bank angle.

Dive Arrest: Toggle Turns
Place the canopy in a spiral dive using a single steering toggle
Arrest the dive as quickly as possible by sharply applying the opposite toggle as well as the inside toggle; the inside toggle is not applied until the two are matched in the degree of input. When the toggles are matched, a short stab of collective brake pressure is usually all that is needed to achieve level flight.
Exercise both banked recovery and wings level recovery.

Turning too low is the preliminary cause of many injuries in our sport. Unfortunately, most canopy pilots assume that bank angle must be eradicated before arresting the dive. This leads many to waste valuable altitude in the process of leveling the wing. In situations with very little altitude remaining, this may delay the collective brake application until it is too late. By rehearsing a transition to zero decent while still in a bank, the pilot becomes accustomed to applying the toggle on the outside of the turn as a learned instinct, reducing the chances of a turn leading to serious injury.

Dive Arrest: Front Riser Dive
Place the canopy in a dive using the front risers.
Rehearse dropping the front risers and quickly stabbing the brakes.
Rehearse both straight front riser dive recovery as well as turning dives.

While acceleration on final approach can be great fun and usually leads to longer swoops, the acquisition of speed is not really the hard part. What keeps us alive is the judgment and skills necessary to save us when we dive the canopy too close to the ground. If we rehearse the solutions to the dangers, the likelihood of a dive resulting in serious injury is reduced. Letting the front risers up slowly may be the best way to get a long swoop when the dive is rounded up slowly and with ample altitude. Unfortunately, this muscle memory may not serve us when we are really low. In the time it takes to smoothly let up on the front risers we may find ourselves planted in the ground like a shrubbery. Dropping the front risers allows the pilot to keep their hands down, ready to stab the brakes aggressively to arrest a mortal dive. A short, sharp, shock on the brakes may be all that is necessary to place the jumper back under the wing, and to the higher angle of attack that saves their life.

Slow-Flight Practice
Place the canopy in 90% brakes and hold for 60-90 seconds.
Make controlled heading changes of 45-90 degrees.
Notice the difference in responsiveness as compared to full flight turns.
Notice that lifting a toggle on the outside of the turn reduces the risk of stalling the wing on the inside of the turn.

Most pilots spend the majority of their canopy ride in full flight. This means that the feeling of the canopy in this mode is most comfortable to most people. It also means that flying in deep brakes places many out of their comfort zone. This means that most people are feeling somewhat uncomfortable just prior to putting their feet on the ground every single jump. In fact, this anxiety often causes people to hold their breath, and then offset their steering toggles toward the end of the landing in order to get to the ground sooner. They simply want this part to be over. In order to land with great consistency, we must become intimately aware of the flight performance of our parachutes in very deep brakes. The more time we spend in this flight mode, the more comfortable we will be. If we are to land well, we must be as comfortable with deep brakes as we are with full flight.

*For a PDF of these exercises and others that will help you to become a better canopy pilot, go here:

Brian Germain is the author of The Parachute and its Pilot, a canopy flight educational text. Brian is also the President of Big Air Sportz parachute manufacturing company, and teaches canopy flight courses all over the world. To learn more about parachutes, or to order the book, go to:
Fear: Sane or Neurotic?
Alligator Skydive
Emotion can be construed as a side-effect of negative thinking. Sometimes it is. On the other hand, fear and other negative emotions can provide us with essential information about our surroundings, gleaned from a different kind of thought-process than logical cognition. That funny feeling that results in hesitation may, in fact, save our lives.
            When we get a negative feeling in our bodies, we have an important job to do. We have to discern if the emotion is based on a realistic risk appraisal, or simply a neurotic thought based on negative expectations. Often we find our past intruding on matters of the present moment. We see how the current situation closely resembles something that has occurred in the past, as immediately assume that we are about to experience the same thing all over again. This may be the case, but this repetition of the past may have more to do with our belief that this is so. We are replaying old tapes, and neglecting to consider the possibility that we are a different person now, and we have the ability to create a different outcome.
            This is neurosis in its most insidious form. When we look at out present moment through the eyes of the past, we limit the possibilities to only that which has already occurred. The past does not have to look like the future. Our fear comes about based on such contractive thinking. We see a pattern that worked out badly in the past and we slip into the rut that makes this occur again. We live out a self-fulfilling prophesy.
            There are times, however, that our fear is telling us that we are not up to the task. We are actually in danger, and the tendency toward hesitation due to our emotional reaction is completely valid. If our skills are not up to the challenge or we simply do not have enough control over a dangerous situation, we need to pause and re-assess whether or not we want to proceed. One of the ways in which we survive danger by not moving forward when we are actually set up to fail. This is the sane function of fear. Even when this is the case, however, we must not react to fear, we must simply act, with clear intension of a positive outcome.
            More often than not, our emotional reaction is based on negative thinking. We notice our physiological reaction and we assume that it is coming from a place of sanity and real limitation. Due to an incomplete appraisal, we limit ourselves in life because we let every negative emotion execute its contractive set of possibilities. We operate based on the assumption that all of our emotional thoughts are sane. They are not. Emotion is simply the alarm that gets our attention. It is up to our cool intellect to get us through the situation.
            The job of the intellect is to make the discernment about whether the feeling is grounded in reality or simply neurotic, over-protective thinking. This is not an easy job, as emotion can shout at us. It can speak so loudly in fact,  that we have trouble thinking clearly enough to make a logical secondary appraisal. This is where our skills of de-escalation come into play.
            When you feel the effects of negative emotion, your first job is to sooth the feeling with physiological changes. You must calm down your body, and work the situation from a "bottom-up" perspective. In other words, you must do the things that cool you off and separate you from the effects of the emotion. If you remain in the cloud of negativity, you will not be able to assess the situation from an outside perspective. You will be lost in the emotion and see only the possibilities that present themselves as a result of the negative feeling.
            If you do the things that calm you down, like relaxing your muscles and slowing your breathing, you will see alternatives to your original perspective. You will regain your inner balance so that you will be able to decide which thoughts were based on real limitations and danger, and which were simply based on patterns of fear response. From there, you are free to choose which way you want to go.
            If we simply operate based on our initial appraisal and answers, we are missing the level of thought that is referred to as "meta-thought". This is the secondary layer of processing that allows us to further our understanding of the situation. It creates the possibility of deeper complexity to our thought process, which most often is far closer to the truth of the situation. Our first glance at the circumstances is simple. Reality is complex. Take a moment, calm down, and consider the following possibility:
Things may be better than I originally thought.
This is the heart of positive thinking. If we leave the door open for more positive possibilities, we can live our lives without the limitation of neurotic thoughts. If we always consider that things may be better than we initially realized, we create alternatives that are better than our initial appraisal. We can, in fact, walk the path of our lives without fear getting in the way of our dreams for ourselves. We can become unlimited beings.
Transcending Fear is an educational organization devoted to teaching the truth about fear, and the most potent methods for coping with acute stress. We offer books, articles, radio interviews, videos and inspirational talks all with the specific goal of helping people turn their fear into power.

Brian Germain
Transcending Fear