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BASE Jumping: Articles: Gear: Pilot Chutes

Pilot Chutes updated

by BASEwiki

Pilotchute packing is discussed in packing pilotchutes.

BASE pilotchutes have gone through extensive experimentation, from skydiving sizes to massive 50”+ and anything in between. Modern BASE pilotchutes generally come in one of five sizes: 48”, 46”, 42”, 38”, and 32”. Some manufacturers also offer 34” and 36” pilotchutes, and most will custom-make a PC to your specs for just a few more dollars.


PCs are generally constructed from a disk of rip stop zero- or low-porosity nylon and a matching disk of mesh material (small-hole or large-hole). Zero-porosity fabric allows no air to pass through and it is more durable. Low-porosity fabric (e.g. F-111) allows some air to go through and wears more quickly than zero-porosity fabric. There is some suggestion that F-111 pilotchutes suffer less from oscillations; with the introduction of apex vents, however, top skin fabric is more frequently zero porosity.

Pilotchutes are generally reinforced by a number of radial reinforcing tapes (“spokes”) on the top and bottom skin. The number of spokes varies from 4 (2 sets of 2) to 8 (4 sets of 2). Pilotchutes without reinforcing tapes are not generally manufactured any longer. Although they can be safely used in many applications, they tend to exhibit greater distortion during inflation.


BASE pilotchutes have handles of one of four styles: no handle, internal handle (plastic ball or PVC tube), external handle (ball, PVC tube, or disk), and floater handle (ball, PVC tube, or 35mm film box).

A pilotchute with no handle is preferred for hand held deployments due to its lighter weight and simplicity. A PC with a heavy apex will hesitate more than one with a lighter apex all other things being equal. Like pilotchutes with internal or floater handles, a pilotchute with no handle also presents a smaller entanglement hazard.

Internal handles are sewn on the inside of the apex, and therefore reduce the chances of the bridle becoming tangled with the pilotchute.

External handles are of two types: Disk or a hard handle. A disk is a heavier, semi-rigid disk sewn at the top of the pilotchute. They present a smaller entanglement hazard, but can be harder to grab. Hard handles offer a better grip, but are heavier and add bridle snag points. Leather hacky and monkey fist handles should be avoided in BASE due to their weight and snag points — both are attached at a single point, and therefore leave a gap between the handle and the fabric. The classic PVC tube with the tape running through the handle and attached at its sides offers a good choice for an external handle. The same PVC tube with center attachment point(s) should be avoided for the reasons given above.

Floater handles are handles that are located inside the PC but are not physically sewn to anything, so that when the PC inflates they are free to drop away. The advantages are no extra weight at the apex after inflation, no bridle snagging points, and a pretty secure grip.

Apex vents

More recently, manufacturers have offered pilotchutes with a vented apex. Vented PCs allow some air to escape from the top of the PC hence reducing oscillation by suppressing the formation of a Karmann vortex street behind the pilotchute — compare to the apex vent in a round canopy. This effect becomes more important as air speed increases; on very short delays (0–2 seconds) a vented PC might actually induce more hesitation than an equally constructed non-vented PC.

Bridle attachment

Asymmetrical attachment of the bridle can cause the pilotchute to “orbit” — a phenomenon which has been associated with offheading openings. Some manufacturers also make pilotchutes with a symmetrical bridle attachment point. This is a loop that is right below the PC and does not permit the bridle to be connected asymmetrically.

Pilotchute selection

Personal preferences of one jumper:

  • 0–2 sec delays: Hand held 46”, no vents, ZP, no handle.
  • 2–4 sec delays: Stowed or hand held 42”, vented or not, ZP, internal handle or floater.
  • 4–7 sec delay and Wing Suit deployment: Stowed 38” vented, ZP, internal handle or floater.
  • 8+ sec delay: stowed 32” vented, ZP, external handle (PVC tube with side attachment).

Submitted by BASEwiki on 2007-06-08 | Last Modified on 2010-04-16

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