Buying a reserve parachute (rescue) can be a complicated decision. A reserve can seem like an unnecessary cost, something you could do without or don’t need to pay much attention to. You’re probably in a safe environment while reading this, so it’s hard to have a clear perspective because your life is not at risk. You might consider that any old reserve is good enough. You might even consider flying without one.
Try a simple thought experiment: you’re soaring late in the afternoon. A pilot blinded by the sun veers into your path and stuffs his boots through your lines. Your wing balls up around him, his wing dives, and you’re falling. Right, can we start the discussion on reserve parachutes again?
Having a reserve parachute is a cornerstone of reducing risk. If you correct aspects of your gear that introduce unnecessary risk, your safety is affected by fewer variables.
Types of reserve parachute
Although there are technical differences between modern reserves, all styles work. But not all reserve parachutes are created equal! From our experience, their build-quality, design, materials and effectiveness can vary significantly. We recommend sticking with the brands we trust that have a proven track record. Choosing the right type from within this selection depends on your needs as a pilot.
Pulled-Down Apex (PDA)
A simple design that works if it’s big enough to give a decent descent. This is the ‘traditional’ tried and trusted design, and is the most affordable option. Pay particular attention to the size (area in m²) as one of the main factors which determines the ‘sink rate’ of a reserve is the load per square metre.
Pros: cheaper, simpler to pack, little tracking sideways
Cons: no steering, heavier, bulkier, can be more prone to instability (oscillations) during descent
A mid-priced option that uses a square design with corner vents to offer the same descent rate (in a certification test) from a smaller canopy and thus a more compact package. It achieves increased pendular stability and lift generation by tracking sideways, but you have no control over the direction. Sometimes this glide could be useful, sometimes not: for an unplanned deployment it’s no worse than a PDA which will drop you on whatever happens to be beneath you. However, if you’re doing SIV/acro over a safe landing zone, you need more space because you can’t reasonably estimate where you’ll track to under a square reserve, and you’ll track even further if you disconnect (or pull in) your paraglider. The lightest version of the square (Independence Ultra Cross) provides an incredibly small package, at a price.
Pros: faster opening, more stable descent, lighter weight, lower volume (compared to PDA)
Cons: no steering, tracking sideways, cost
The Companion SQR incorporates features of the PDA and Cruciform styles combined with other design innovations to offer a ‘best of the class’ approach in the non-steerable category. Due to the stepped skirt and packing technique, it has a fast opening. The channels for air to escape help provide extra pendular stability, but it is not designed to glide. This reduces the risk of mirror-effect when compared to squares or Rogallos. Certification tests show only what reserves do with no paraglider attached to the pilot. The design team used their experience and real-life testing to optimise the behaviour so that it deploys reliably in various situations and resists the interference of the paraglider with the least impact on the sink rate. Overall it presents the lowest demands on the pilot, with the simplest operation.
Pros: faster opening, more stable descent, lighter weight, lower volume (compared to PDA), little tracking sideways, simplest to pack
Cons: no steering, cost
After having thrown a non-steerable reserve and contemplated the many horrors below, pilots often decide to buy a Rogallo style reserve. Many acro and test pilots swear by them, because if you deploy high enough and control or cutaway the main, you can choose where you land. They offer the best descent rate (due to having an aerofoil), fastest opening speed and the most landing options due to being steerable. All reserves present a risk of down-planing if you do not disable the paraglider. Some Rogallos have an increased risk of down-planing due to their gliding tendency, but this is mitigated by having a very large surface area that deploys in a slowed state (High Adventure Beamer 3). If you can get control of your main paraglider (B-stall, C-stall, wrapped brakes or pulled in wing) it is not necessary to cut-away, but you can do so if your harness is equipped with quick-out karabiners and speedbar pins (or a hook knife). That produces increased gliding ability, removes twists and reduces the risk of the wing tangling with the reserve. You can steer yourself into clear airflow and land into wind, reducing ground speed and landing impact.
Pros: fastest opening time, lowest sink rate, steerable, reduced oscillations, reduced landing speed into wind
Cons: tracking sideways (but possibility to steer), might not be able to steer (but will still open faster with slowest descent), more complicated to pack, cost
A cut-away system designed for acro professionals, the deployment releases your main glider and uses it to pull out a standard steerable parachute, giving you complete freedom to reach a safe landing zone.
Pros: fastest deployment time (but not least height loss), no risk of glider tangling in reserve (if not tangled), no need to control a flailing main wing, fully steerable, reduced landing speed into wind, safest touchdown in strong winds
Cons: expensive, heavy dedicated harness, very complicated to pack, requires a minimum height of 100 metres above any obstacle to be considered safe, will not work if you are tangled in your wing, you must remove your hands from controls when jettisoning, could open facing the hill or significantly increase downwind landing speed (but can steer), due to limitations requires a second reserve, and … you might lose your main wing!