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Physics of Parachute & Skydiving: Forces acting on a parachute

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Man is the most adventurous creature. They have almost conquered everything in the surroundings and take up from the blue sky to the deep blue ocean. The sky is within our limits and now we can leap from the sky and land on our feet showing the thumb in derision to gravity. It is because of the physics of parachutes.

The concept of parachutes came from the ancient age. The main factor or science behind parachutes is the use of air resistivity. We will discuss from A to Z about parachutes and the simple physics behind flying a parachute.

From this article, you can come to know about the origin, different parts of the parachute, materials used in a parachute, physics behind a parachute, how to control a parachute, and last but not least about skydiving.



A parachute is an instrument by which one can jump from an airship and wave safely to the land. The word “Parachute” is divided into two parts, “para” which means Against or counter in ancient Greek, and the other “chute” is a French word for the meaning “fall”.

Physics Of Parachute

Origin of Parachute

The parachute was first designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. The design was pyramid-shaped with a wood frame. It was designed for escaping from those buildings which were broken or burned.

Over the centuries, the idea was improving until the day of October 22, 1797, a man named Andre Jacques Garnerin who was a pioneer balloonist made the first successful jump using a parachute. Since then it became more of a fun game to enjoy

Different Shapes & Parts Of Parachute

The traditional parachute was more Round or Dome-shaped. But now the rectangular-shaped parachute is more used because it is easy to control. The dome-shaped parachute has quite some parts if we look closely. The ideal dome-shaped parachute parts are-

  1. Pilot chute: It is more like a small parachute and it opens before the main one opens
  2. Bridle loop: It connects the pilot chute and main parachute.
  3. Vent: There is a vent on the top of the main chute. It is an important part because it allows some air to go out and prevents the canopy from leaking.
  4. Canopy: Canopy is also known as the main chute. It is the main body of a parachute.
  5. Skirt: It is the lower end of the canopy. It is named skirt since it looks like a person’s skirt.
  6. Suspension lines: It is the cords from all over the canopy to the links. The main goal of suspension lines is to expanse the weight of the parachute riders across the canopy.
  7. Links: It’s supposed to connect the suspension line and the risers
  8. Risers: Riser is similarly to connect links and harness
  9. Control lines, Harness, and Container: These parts are relatively closer to the body of the parachutist. A Control line is used to control the chute. The container is where the parachute was kept initially.

What are parachutes made of

In the first period of making the canopy of the parachute, Canvas was the first choice which was a plain-woven fabric. Then it was replaced by silk. Silk is lighter, thinner, stronger, and easy to use.

In the event of World War II, Nylon came in handy since there was a lacking in the supply of silk. Nylon was wind-resistant, lightweight, and dries very fast. But Nowadays Kevlar is used in parachutes. It is a strong synthetic fabric and does not deform due to temperature because of the heat resistivity.

Another polyester fabric named Terylene is also used to construct the canopy of a parachute. The suspension lines are also known as the parachute cord is actually nylon kernmantle rope. It is very lightweight and has a lot of strength (can carry about 750 pounds)
The other parts like links or connectors are mostly made of steel material.

Physics of Parachutes

The clever usage of air resistance is the main science behind parachutes. We know the air is a set of air molecules and when we move aside, the molecules are pushed aside. As a result, it allows a parachute to originate more air resistance and to steer toward the ground slowly, safely as well. The forces which act on a parachute are a force of gravity and drag.

Basically, parachutes rely on one aerodynamic achievement of physics which is “air resistance”. Terminal velocity of maximum acceleration is a constant speed. This speed reached when the force of gravity is conversed and controlled by the resistance of a medium like air.

The lowest altitude for the opening parachute is 2000feet AGL for expert or experienced skydivers, 2500 feet for less experienced skydivers, and up to 5500 feet for a training jump.

Force acting on a parachute when it falls

When a diver falls freely, the terminal velocity increases to its maximum level. Sometimes it looks the diver has gone upwards at the time of opening the chute.

But it is not the case. At the time opening it the air resistance force increases which slow down the terminal velocity and balance the gravitational force also known as the weight of diver. The terminal velocity becomes minimum. And all these factors slow down the parachute.

This event looks like the diver has gone upwards. So overall the air resistance force is acted on the canopy of the parachute when it falls.

Parachute Landing

The gravitational force is 9.8 m/s^2. This means the velocity increases 9.8 m/s every second. And from an average height, a person’s free positioning fall is almost 55 m/s (around 200 km/h). This is a sufficient speed to get killed!

While the chute is opened, air resistivity constantly increases in order to decrease the terminal velocity. Parachutes are planned to lessen our terminal velocity by almost 90% as a result we hit the land at a low speed of approximately 5–6 meters per second (maximum 20 km/h and minimum 10 km/h) which is more like landing on the ground by jogging or walking.

The highest jump was jumped by Alan Eustace and the total falling distance is 123,414 feet. Usually, a perfect parachute should be in the range from 80 square feet to 200 square feet according to some expert skydivers. So it’s not less than any magic device.


By bringing down steering lines one can control the parachute which alternates the form of wings. In the parachute’s back right and left side there are attached steering lines. Control of these steering lines should take in each hand. If you want to turn left just pull down the control of left. As do it for right. And to stop have to go back the control to its main position.

When you open the parachute, the resistance of air overcast the force of gravity which is down on the other side the net force of the skydivers is upward. As a result after opening the parachute skydiver, this slows down and reaches the ground safely.

Use Of Parachutes In SKYDIVING

We can see the use of parachutes in skydiving. It is one of the riskiest and adventurous actions. Sometimes it’s more like a sport. It is actually jumping from an airplane and landing by opening a parachute. It can be done either individually or with a bunch of people.

To perform this action, training is the first thing you need from professional skydivers. The higher jump requires more oxygen. So it’s risky jumping. Besides, this performance needs full control of body positioning in mid-air and full access to the parachute. The diver must aware of the time and the height as well. Apart from this, in skydive one can enjoy the total freedom and fresh air which makes him feel like flying. This would be a spectacular experience.


Parachute is not a safe instrument. It has some risky parts. Sometimes the opening of the parachute does not go according to plan. A study shows that around one in 1000 parachutes can be faulty. Sometimes the landing speed can be way more than expected which leads to various injuries in ankles, legs, ligaments, and other parts. Sometimes people get fainted due to a lack of oxygen. To avoid these risks, one must strictly follow the rules in training. This work is not for soft-hearted people.

Despite all this, parachuting is more fun to operate. To enjoy the eagle-eyed view of earth is one of the most desired dreams lies within many people. This dream can be true only by the magical parachute.

Rayhan Sarwar

I am a glass and ceramic engineering student at the Rajshahi University of Engineering & Technology (RUET). I enjoy exploring science and technology, which is why I chose to study engineering!

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