Classic Heritage

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 market share.

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 design.

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 canopies.

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 instantly passe.

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 pad.

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 for good.

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 on.

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 the Challenger.

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 Parafoil.

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 of 1995.

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) turn rate.

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

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