Note: The following article
was written by James Hayhurst, and the contents represent
his opinion only. Eiff Aerodynamics makes no claims to the
factual accuracy of this material, offering it only for the
sake of giving the reader some insight to the rich legacy
of the accuracy event, and the story behind the Classic.
"A Brief History of Accuracy Parachutes"
© 1996, by James Hayhurst
In 1971, sophisticated round parachutes dominated the precision
accuracy event. The new ram air inflated "square" parachutes
were an unproven novelty. It was an exciting time for the
sport, an historic era in which new technology lowered scores
by two orders of magnitude over a five year period.
In 1971 there were three competitive round parachutes: the
Pioneer "Competition" Para Commander, the French Pappion,
made by EFA, and the Russian UT 15. The battle between the
Competition P.C. and the Pappion was fierce. Their performance
was very close, and they enjoyed similar jumper loyalty and
But the UT 15 was actually the superior canopy, it had a
better top speed, better glide, crisper turns, and sank better
than the Pap or the P.C. However, it was almost impossible
to get one in the west, with rigid cold war trade embargoes
between the Soviet Union/Eastern Block countries and the west.
While the debate went on over which was the better round
parachute, a revolution was already underway. In began with
an Air Force sponsored research project at Notre Dame. The
Head of the Aeronautics Department, Professor Nicolaitis,
collaborated with Dominic Jalbert to see if they could adapt
Jalbert's ram air kites for payload delivery and manned parachuting.
One of the Notre Dame test jumpers was John Eiff. Eiff was
one of the first persons to learn the design and assembly
aspects of ram air parafoils, and one of the first to jump
a parafoil in competition. The Notre Dame Foil he jumped in
meets during the late Sixties was about 180 square feet, with
speed comparable to today's medium performance sport canopies,
such as the PD 170.
At the time, it was said these new winged shaped canopies
came in the "back door" the "front door" being the way round
parachutes traditionally flew on approach downwind.
Steve Snider was an early skydiver turned entrepreneur who
saw the commercial/sport potential of the ram air canopy.
Snider formed Para Flite to market advanced canopies. Its
first product was the Delta 2 Para Wing a triangular Rogallo
canopy that enjoyed moderate market success. The next canopy
was a ram air, dubbed the "Para Plane."
The Para Plane was almost identical to the Notre Dame Foil,
only the line attachment was shifted up into the rib itself,
to avoid possible legal action by Jalbert. Thus was borne
"direct line attachment," which Para Flite subsequently patented.
The Para Plane was really fast, close to the speed of a Sabre,
and as such, was not much of a accuracy parachute. But it
was a thrill to jump, a real crowd pleaser at demos. The pack
volume was enormous by today's standards, but by far the biggest
shortcoming was a brutal opening shock, enough to leave serious
bruises at any speed above a sub terminal exit.
Para Flite's next canopy, called the Para Plane "Silver Cloud,"
was a viable accuracy machine. It was bigger than the original
"baby" Para Plane, and slower and more docile on final. But
it still had the enormous pack volume and hard openings.
By 1972, a few accuracy jumpers in the United States had
mastered "back door" accuracy. Bill Hayes won accuracy at
the nationals that year, and then as a U.S. Team alternate
he jumped his Cloud on "wind dummy" loads at the World Meet
in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Clayton Schopple was the overall men's
world champion that year, still jumping a Competition P.C.
In 1973, John Wolfe won the U.S. Nationals, jumping a Silver
Cloud. The next three places were also taken by Silver Clouds.
Wolfe's winning score of 0.06m was a full order of magnitude
better than the typical winning 10 round accuracy totals of
round parachutes. It was a stunning development, and one that
signaled the impending demise of the round parachute for accuracy.
In 1974, Jimmy Lowe made the U.S. Team jumping a parafoil
(one of John Eiff's Notre Dame based designs). At the 1974
World Meet in Solnok, Hungary, Lowe piloted his parafoil to
a close second, behind a UT 15. It was the last time a round
parachute would ever win accuracy at the world championships.
The round canopy era was over.
What observations can be drawn from this period? One is that
parachute design, while generally evolutionary, is sometimes
revolutionary. The blank gore 28' "cheapos" of the early Sixties
gave way to the 7 TU Lo Po, which in turn was eclipsed by
the Para Commander, which gave way to the Pappion, which was
matched by the Competition P.C. Both canopies were transcended
by the UT 15, the evolutionary culmination of round parachute
Then the ram air revolution made even the UT 15 obsolete.
But let us not forget what made the UT 15 best in its class:
better penetration and glide, crisper turn response, slower
slow flight, and more stable sink. Downwind or upwind,
these flight characteristics are the goal of all winning accuracy
In 1975, Para Flite came out with the "Strato Star," with
the "pilot chute controlled reefing line" deployment system,
also known as "rings and ropes." The Strato Star became the
first ram air canopy that had comfortable terminal openings,
and most of the leading style and accuracy competitors jumped
it at the 1975 U. S. Nationals. With only five cells, it came
down quite hard, which led many observers to comment it was
simply an upwind version of the Pappion.
1975 also marked the entry of the first canopy to compete
with any credibility against Para Flite: the North American
Aerodynamics "We're the Other Guys" parafoil, a seven celled
canopy based on John Eiff's 9 cell design, the "Parafoil III".
In truth, this first NAA effort was not yet equal to the
competition, and unlike the Strato Star, it wasn't reefed
for terminal openings. Para Flite had the patent on "rings
and ropes," and the slider was an unproven idea. In 1975,
if you wanted to jump a ram air canopy at high style airspeeds,
it had to be reefed with "rings and ropes."
So NAA went back to the drawing boards with a vengeance.
Meanwhile, Para Flite came out with a fabulous new canopy
called the Strato Cloud. The Strato Cloud, reefed with "rings
and ropes" like the Strato Star, seemed huge (at 230 square
feet) compared to its little brother. It had large detached
wingtips, called stabilizers that helped give it excellent
slow flight and sink characteristics. The Strato Star became
The Strato Cloud lowered accuracy totals down another order
of magnitude. Ten men dead centered out on the 1O cm raised
disk at the 1976 U.S. Nationals, making the disk obsolete
and ushering in the era of the flush dead center and the electronic
In 1976, the Strato Cloud was clearly the best accuracy parachute
in the world. At the World Championships, the U.S. men (my
first U.S. Team) won team accuracy with the Strato Cloud,
a decisive technological victory that forced the Soviet Union
and Eastern Block nations to retire their round parachutes
In 1978, NAA delivered its reply to the Strato Cloud. NAA's
new accuracy canopy, known as the Jalbert Parafoil, was developed
by Johnny Higgins and Mark Limond (with some help from the
U.S. Team). NAA's design started to come together at the 1978
Spring U.S. Team training camp at Kissimmee, Florida. The
Parafoil was 252 square feet bigger than a Strato Cloud, with
traditional flares for line attachment and large wingtips.
The toggle pressure was high, and it steered "like a truck,"
but the canopy was stable, and it came down slower and steeper
than the Cloud.
Under the NAA Jalbert Parafoil, Cheryl Stearns won the 1978
World Meet, and in 1980, Belgium's Dirk Bodine dead centered
out at the World Meet, leading to a reduction in dead center
size to the current five centimeter diameter target. The Parafoil
became the most popular accuracy canopy from the early 1980s
In the 1980s, the only canopy to seriously contest the Parafoil's
supremacy was the Challenger. The Challenger was conceived
at the 1982 WPC, at Lucenec, Czechoslovakia, while I watched
Bernt Wiesner jump an East German canopy that featured leading
edge slots. Wiesner flew fairly lean gliding approaches that
transitioned to 2 3 second sinking arrivals on the pad.
I really admired how Wiesner's canopy both glided and
sank. I was intrigued by the leading edge slot it made
the canopy act much "larger" than 230 square feet when it
came down in a sink. Wiesner ran nine dead centers, and his
only miss was a "penny" (one centimeter), this on the new
five centimeter pad.
Another observation I made that summer was that major European
accuracy meets were rarely conducted in winds above five meters
per second (12mph). If the conditions got ugly or the winds
bumped the limit, the meet director would switch events, or
go on hold. Why not design a canopy for "European conditions"?
Back in the U.S., I persuaded John Eiff to design a canopy
that could glide and sink, and tailored for the lighter winds
of European competition. John felt a 9 cell canopy was the
key to good gliding performance, and that a thick, 16.5% airfoil
with a "droop nose" would give it stable slow flight and sink.
We both agreed that making more than one size canopy so that
the jumper would have an ideal wing loading was equally important.
We guessed the ideal sink rate to close on the pad was about
6 8 fps, about the speed you attain when you jump off a chair.
The loading would be about .60 pounds per square foot.
John built the first prototype in March of 1984. With some
minor modifications, we had it flying to design specifications
by early summer. In July, I won the 1984 Canadian Nationals
with it, and was eager to show off the Challenger in September
at the 1984 World Meet in Vichy, France.
An untimely injury cost me a month of jumping before the
meet in Vichy, and my proficiency suffered. Despite my lack
of practice, the Challenger performed beautifully and my misses
were due to erratic foot placement. I still managed to make
the accuracy finals, placing in the top 20.
A few observant jumpers took notice of the new prototype.
One was a member of our women's team, Carol "Chris" Christensen.
She expressed an interest in getting involved with the project,
and I put her in touch with John Eiff. Ultimately, Chris and
a top CPI accuracy jumper, Randy Thompson, formed the New
England Parachute Company in 1984 to build the Challenger.
In June of 1985, Randy Thompson won the U.S. Nationals with
a 0.02 total for 10 rounds. Challengers soon multiplied around
the world. The 9 cell Challenger had a better glide and slower
descent than the Parafoil, and closed at a slower speed in
light winds. The toggle pressure was much lower than a Parafoil,
and it was much more responsive to turn inputs. It was a "pilot's
canopy." With it you could fly up to the transition point,
and then sink down just like Bernt Wiesner had done in Lucenec.
With eight different sizes, at last there was a canopy that
fit the jumper an end to the "one size fits all" mentality
that had long been the norm for accuracy parachutes. The Challenger's
excellent quality control and performance soon made it a popular
alternative to the Foil. By the 1987 U.S. Nationals, 45% of
the American field were jumping Challengers.
Challengers were being jumped in Europe, too. A number of
elite European jumpers had switched over. The Swiss Team bought
Challengers, as did the Czechoslovakian Team. It was these
top European jumpers who were to discover the Challenger's
weakness: it was a "flatland" accuracy parachute. Of course,
that was also its strength, precisely what I had asked John
Eiff to design a canopy for "smooth European conditions."
But most top European jumpers also jumped pare ski in the
winter, and in turbulent conditions, they found the Parafoil
had an advantage. The Challenger was a better calm air canopy
than the Foil, but the Parafoil did better in gusty air, low
level cross currents and turbulence what I call "combat accuracy."
Another problem with the Challenger was that with
the glide of a 9 cell canopy, glidepath control to set up
proper arrival on the pad was more complicated than the simple
"parabolic" arrival of a Parafoil. For a new jumper, glidepath
control is difficult enough, and the flat glide of the Challenger
was hard to manage.
Compounding the situation, by the late 80s there was a move
in Europe to run meets where the public could see the action
in town squares and stadiums. This necessitated the development
of portable landing pits, at first little more than a stack
of gymnastic mats. These foam landing pits let Parafoil drivers
to get away with doing what the Parafoil did best: drop down
on the pad in a deep sink.
To the question, "Which came first, the Parafoil or the tuffet?"
the answer is: the Foil definitely came first. The tuffet
made the high sink vertical arrival of the Parafoil more tolerable,
and it literally saved the rear ends of many top accuracy
competitors who jumped it.
Fast forward to the Verona Cup in Italy, May of 1992. At
this meet I observed that the Parafoil now enjoyed more than
just market dominance it also enjoyed "psychological dominance."
The more competitors jump a certain kind of canopy, the more
likely it is to win. Competitors want to jump the winning
canopy, and so it becomes a self fulfilling cycle. For a jumper
new to accuracy competition, there is no way he can go against
the grain and not suffer a psychological penalty. Psychological
dominance: the Challenger was "out," the Parafoil was "in."
At Verona I concluded that the Challenger, no matter its
performance, was on the way out for psychological and marketing
reasons, but also because in the era of the tuffet, there
was no longer a price to be paid for a high rate of sink arrival
on the pad. The tuffet allowed more vertical (hence, more
accurate) arrivals something the Parafoil did better than
I shared these observations with John Eiff in May of 1992,
and he agreed to design a new canopy, one that would combine
the best features of the old Challenger and the Parafoil.
We agreed it would be a 7 cell canopy, with re designed wingtips
and a new airfoil, and we committed ourselves to the goal
of developing a canopy which would match or better the Parafoil
in every kind of accuracy condition a very tall order!
By June of 1992, John had built the first prototype. We dubbed
it the "RS 2000." The "R" stood for "Redesign," the "S" stood
for "Series," and "2000" stood for the year 2000, the year
we hoped our new canopy would be dominant in the accuracy
event. At the time, I don't think either one of us anticipated
just how hard it would be to surpass the performance of the
After two years and into our eighth prototype, I joked that
"2000" stood for the number of canopies we were going to have
to build before we had the performance we wanted. Along with
multiple combinations of airfoil, planform, and wingtip design,
we tried just about everything from zero porosity fabric (in
every conceivable location), to leading edge slots, to spoilers,
undercamber you name it.
During the process, I earned the well deserved title of "Master
Diddler" I rarely made a jump without making some change to
our current prototype.
In the end, it took us three years and more than a dozen
design evolutions, and together we made well over 2000 test
jumps. John built the twelfth prototype in December of 1994,
and the final design, "lucky 13," was built in the Spring
We named our canopy the "Classic," and it debuted at the
1995 U.S. Nationals, where it took five of the top ten spots
in men's accuracy. More recently, at the 1st USA Cup, at Clewiston,
FL, Classics took seven of the first ten places, with
long time Parafoil pilot Mark Jones taking first place, jumping
a Classic for the first time in competition.
To be fair, Mark Jones could probably jump a postage stamp
and still win accuracy meets, but it is nice to see
how easily he and other long time Parafoil pilots transition
to the Classic.
Your first jumps on the Classic will bring many pleasant
surprises. First, pack volume is 20% less than a Parafoil
or a Challenger. The Classic has a soft opening shock,
even at style speeds. It has 1O m/s forward speed, and a glide
ratio that will get you back from bad spots, with moderate
steering forces and a fairly crisp (for an accuracy parachute)
Getting down to the "nitty gritty" of an accuracy parachute
(or a parachute used for "demos"), the Classic has
a stable sink regime that can be held almost indefinitely.
In the first eight seconds of sink, the closure is comfortable
and steady state (no acceleration) making for more accurate
foot placement, which is especially important as the accuracy
discipline moves on to the 3cm dead center electronic pad.
John Eiff has met the design goals we set forth in 1992:
an accuracy parachute that is deadly accurate in every condition,
is comfortable to jump, and is easy for new jumpers to learn
to fly. I believe the Classic has achieved the same
kind of evolutionary improvement that the Russian UT 15 made
over the Competition P.C. and the Pappion, twenty five years
ago. I believe the Classic is the best precision accuracy
canopy in the history of the sport, and that it's going to
dominate the event into the next century.
As a new Classic owner, you have joined an elite band
of jumpers at the leading edge of the sport. We'll be looking
for you on the winner's stand in years to come. The ultimate
proof of the Classic's superiority will be in the results,
and we hope you will play a role in making it happen!
A word from John Eiff, designer of the Classic:
The Classic was designed for precision accuracy,
but from the start I insisted that it pack smaller, open softer,
and steer easier than existing accuracy parachutes. These
features make the Classic a great all around canopy,
safe and predictable for new jumpers, great for demos, and
deadly for accuracy. Thank you for choosing my parachute,
and welcome to TEAM Classicl