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    Flight Path : Stable Descent : Fully Inflated Canopy  

Flight Path

Although students rarely point this out on their own, if asked, they can probably say that there are different ways that parachutes fall, and then trace with their finger in ways that follow these three pathways: straight down, gliding at an angle, and oscillating. Is there an ideal path for the chute to travel?

Tests show that the straight pathway does not result in the longest times of descent. And when the canopy sways, its angled canopy engages a smaller column of air, and momentarily goes at a faster rate. This is due in part to the smaller column of air that the canopy would engage compared to the chute that is falling with its skirt level to the horizon. The time for the gliding chute beats out ones that follow a vertical path because lift generated by the diagonal motion allows a lower vertical terminal speed. Since most measure speed as the vertical distance of the drop, this chute would be called the "slowest". (Clocking its speed along the direction of its path would result in a faster reported terminal speed, even though that speed, being diagonal, does not get it to the ground faster.)

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