Parachutes are used to slow down an object falling through the air. They can carry a variety of different loads such as people, food, bombs, equipment and much more. They are most commonly made of nylon, which is capable of handling the conditions in the atmosphere. The modern parachute was invented in 1783 by Louis-Sébastien Lenormand, who also named the invention. If you have ever wondered how this amazing device works, keep reading to find out.
How does a parachute work?
A standard parachute is released by a ripcord system that releases a pilot chute with a spring system. The pilot chute is a mini parachute that uses the force of the air to deploy the main parachute into the air.
When an object falls through the atmosphere it is pulled towards the ground by gravity. The object quickly accelerates until air resistance and weight are balanced. When this is achieved it is called terminal velocity. For a person it is about 190 km/h (118mph), which is far too fast to land safely. The parachute opens to create a larger surface area and increase the air resistance (drag). This slows down the object, to about 15 km/h (9mph) in the case of a person, for a safe landing.
Modern rectangular parachutes also rely on this increase in air resistance. However, they inflate into the shape of a wing so that the person glides down to Earth instead of falling straight down. This provides more control over the parachute so that a more accurate landing can be achieved.
The following video explains the physics of skydiving: