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What do we do with our body position – legs and feet – during landing?

What do we do with our undercarriage (legs and feet) when landing?
Photo: Author Pete Allum by Artem Mitsynskyy

On their first landings as a student, we often see people auditioning for the role of an action figure, legs hanging low, knees straight and a look of grim determination painted to their faces as they brace for impact. Hopefully this is accompanied by a decent flare and the resultant damage is not too great.

Student landing with great concentration
Photo: Brian Buckland

History of the PLF

Let’s look at our landing gear over the ages… I’m sure that there was a time before the invention of the life-saving PLF (Parachute Landing Fall) but it was so long ago that no-one is alive to tell us about it. The PLF had been taught to airborne forces all over the world as a way to save soldiers as they were dropped either in training or in action, as to lose a soldier due to injury from their transport that was delivering them to the front was considered bad form.  See PLF on Wikipedia

As Wiki says, the technique is a way to distribute the landing shock over the rest of the body rather than focussing all that energy into one body part. The PLF will literally save your ass if you are coming in hard and fast and that’s why this technique is so valuable when you are jumping a round parachute.

Hang on… I know this is where you think you can turn away from this article and go back to scrolling on da ‘gram, because it’s very unlikely that you will jump a round parachute…

Newsflash: If you are coming down hard and fast for whatever reason – you mis-judged your flare height, you are landing on an obstacle, you have a double malfunction etc – the PLF will still do a good job of dissipating that initial energy and might still save you.

A PLF can save injuries on a fast landing
Photo by Michael McGowan

One of the coaching points of the PLF is to keep your hands away from the ground but as you are doing your best to slow down your canopy with a solid finish to your flare, your hands will be down. Therefore as your feet make contact with the ground and you start rolling, move your hands to one side away from the line of impact, this will also round your back and help further, – oh, and keep your chin tucked.

The only way that a PLF is going to save you, is for you to practice the skill often, it needs to be a habit and not just something that you read about in an article. Ask your local instructor or canopy coach to demonstrate and practice your PLFs with you as often as you need to build that habit.

PLF Technique

PLF in stages
Practice your PLF till it’s a skill in your toolbox – useful bad weather activity!
Illustrations courtesy of Parachutist magazine/U.S. Parachute Association

Other landings

Ideally you have a consistent flare technique that sets you up for a soft touch-down
Photo: Author Pete Allum, in the active pilot position, by Artem Mitsynskyy

But surely the goal is to not have to resort to a PLF on every jump. Ideally you have a consistent flare technique that sets you up for a soft touch-down; now what do we do with our undercarriage?

Throughout the last seconds before the flare our body is in the Active Pilot position, helping us build speed and getting us ready for the flare. Then, as our hands come down symmetrically to the sweet spot and then either pause or keep going down to the finish, our chest should come forward, leaving our legs below us and our center of gravity over our feet so that we can take a step, slide or begin our freestyle maneuver.

Flight-1 pioneered the Active Pilot position as the foundation for all canopy flight and also created a 3D model called Joe Jumper that is used extensively throughout all flight-1 canopy training courses. Meet Joe:-

Active Pilot Position

Active Pilot position, and flare demonstrated by Joe, Flight-1’s 3D animation

If we have our legs too far in front, we risk having our center of gravity too far back which will put us on our butts.

If we are leaning too far forward and have our legs back, we can end up on our faces, although that doesn’t tend to happen as often. 

How do we decide whether to take a step, run, or slide?

Coming into land, how do we decide whether to step, run or slide?
Image shows author Pete Allum by Vit Kavan

First things first, make sure that you have a good flare technique, do not sacrifice this and only focus on the sliding or running. I see so many people let go of the last bit of lift, as they let their hands up to slide or run, this will throw you at the ground with more speed!

If you jump the right canopy for your size and experience, you should be able to make consistent touch-downs – with the right flare technique.

The Slide

Pete Allum about to Slide
Photo from Skydive Estonia Boogie

However, let’s say that you have started jumping again after an injury and you are keen to protect your ankle, knee (fit relevant body part here), then make sure that you are on the right canopy, consider an up-size for the first jumps. Let’s say that you have a decent flare but you would still like to slide the landing out on a nil wind day. I would strongly recommend that your first point of contact is always your feet, you really do not want to break your spine, then as soon as your feet are touching and sliding, roll gently to one side, offering the fleshier parts of your legs and butt to the waiting ground, in a semi-PLF manner.

If the ground is no good for sliding and you think that you are going to hurt yourself running, then either don’t jump or change to a canopy that will allow you consistently soft landings.

The Slide Landing

Yep, this next sentence is repeated: If you jump the right canopy for your size and experience, you should be able to make consistent touch-downs – with the right flare technique.

Consistent flare technique sets you up for a soft touch-down, even when landing out
Photo: Author Pete Allum by Roy Wimmer-Jaglom

Running it out

If you decide to run a landing out, please make sure that you have completed your flare and then get those legs working. If your canopy is inflated and supporting you, even if your feet are on the ground, keep flying it! 

If you feel like you are always running too hard and too fast on nil wind days, guess what, that sentence is coming again:

If you jump the right canopy for your size and experience, you should be able to make consistent touch-downs – with the right flare technique.

Summary

  • Active pilot position and keep your center of gravity over your feet
  • Flare technique first, last and always
  • Know your options: step, run or slide
  • Be ready to use the PLF, especially if you have extra speed
  • Keep flying the canopy
Focus on your pilot position, your flare and your landing gear options
Photo: Step landing, image by Peter Tornestam
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Meet: Pete Allum

36,000+ jumps
FS and CP national teams, world meet podium in both disciplines.
Flight-1 coach
FS indoor/outdoor coach
Baby free flyer

Pete is proud to be sponsored by UPT, PD, Cookie, Cypres, L&B and Sonic Flywear

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