Parachute Shapes: History and Relevance

´╗┐Parachute Shapes: History and Relevance

Parachutes are fairly easy to make, as toy ones that is. However the parachutes that are made to use for real life is not as easy as you think. Parachutes have gone through a lot of development but at the costs of several lives.

When you’re free falling thousands of feet up in the air you can fall like pot from a window and literally break when you smash into the ground. No one wants this to happen. Parachutes have to made and prepared correctly. Fortunately modern designs have enabled safer and softer landings.

The shape of a parachute is very important. Parachutes have come in different shapes through the years. Improvements have led to the creation of more stable ones in square shapes.

Shapes and surface area

The early forms before the modern design was invented were conically shaped. They were usually made up of cloth and wooden struts. The very first one was a conic shaped parachute stiffened by wooden struts in 9th century.

The inventor was able to make a landing from a tower in Cordoba and suffered only minor injuries. Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of them but there were no evidence that showed it was put to use.

It was also used for entertainment because it enabled people to jump and float to the ground which was very fascinating at that time. In China parasols were used for entertaining people. A breakthrough in the development was made when silk was used. This time parachutes were intended to be used for disembarking from a hot air balloon.

In 1783 the modern parachute was invented. The shape was round and was compared to the jellyfish. Its major use was in the military in World War I and II. It was given to artillery spotters and pilots. Unfortunately they were heavy in those times. Further developments lead to the creation of paratroopers. These were soldiers dropped into the enemy lines for attack.

There are variations to the round shape parachute. Additions were made for other purposes. Annular and pull down apex were round parachutes with suspension lines. Ribbon and ring designs on the other hand are made for deployment at super sonic speeds.

It later on developed into a cruciform or square shape which is also used in modern designs today. The design gave the parachute more stability. Further improvements enabled the passenger to steer the parachute to a landing site. Modern designs are called “Ram air” with parafoils that enable the skydiver to control the speed and direction of the parachute.

The shape of the parachute is important because of its relation to surface area. The surface are is responsible for creating drag or air resistance which slows down the descent. The surface area blocks the air which creates the drag. The problem is the force of the air changes the parachute’s shape. This spills the air out of the parachute. A distorted parachute has less surface area which leads to less air resistance and more speed.

This is what makes creating parachutes more complicated than you think. The size of the parachute will depend on the payload or weight of its passenger.

Other materials also play a part in stabilizing the parachute and make sure that the canopy does not rip. Fortunately there are experts who can take care of that for us.

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