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Two Main Types of Parachute and Their Parts

There are two basic types of parachutes -- (1) pure drag chutes and (2) lift-producing chutes.

The traditional hemisphere-shaped chute (right) works by producing a vertical drag force that opposes the direction of travel. This chute type produces drag when it falls by forcing the air below it around its sides or through its vent. Materials used in real canopies are also porous to air flow -- air slows down as it passes through the material, providing additional drag. In addition, skin friction is created when air flowing along the surfaces of the canopy and the suspension lines slows down due to its rubbing contact with these materials.

A second type of parachute produces both lift and drag, much like an airplane wing. Such canopies are often cut in a rectangular shape, and create lift when the air flowing over the canopy's top moves faster than the air moving below it. The resulting airfoil -- where the pressure of the faster moving air above is less than that of the slower-moving air below -- creates lift on the canopy. A conventional hemispherical chute will sometimes act like an airfoil, when the requisite airflow gets established across its canopy.

Parachute Design Tip: A chute can be identified by its flight path. In still air, a chute acting in pure drag will travel straight down. Those acting as an airfoil will fly diagonally downward. The angled pathway is longer and so results in longer descent times.

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