Early Canopy Modification

by Bernard Green

Bernard Green, one of the British Parachute Association’s founders and its first Secretary in 1961, recalls early experiments in canopy modification from the halcyon days of British Skydiving Ltd. (The first commercial parachute school not today’s governing body).

“By this time we were using American surplus military parachutes which we modified ourselves simply with the use of a razor blade. The parachutes were in pristine condition because they had never been used. It was an established rule of law in the American military establishment to discard or sell off parachutes after ten years whether they had been used or had remained in sealed metal drums.

On a trip to London’s East End rag trade warehouses to purchase rolls of high quality cotton cloth, I asked if they ever got parachutes. The chap opened a green steel drum and there was a most wonderful sight; an olive green American back pack parachute. I knew from magazines that it was a B4 back pack with a C9 orange and white 28 foot Ripstop nylon canopy inside the pack. ‘How much?’ I asked while thinking that on 15th May 1959, my own British parachute had cost me over £200. ‘How about £8?’ he said. I kicked the parachute over with my boot to show that I did not think much of it and offered £5. ‘Okay’, he said and asked how many I wanted to take. ‘You might as well fill the van’, I told him.

My van was a brand new Volkswagen with a 1,600cc engine. I drove home so blinking fast over that 45 miles that I blew up one of the four cylinders. Undeterred I drove straight back to London for a second load with the engine firing on three cylinders; an amazing engine. These parachutes were the basis and backbone of the British Skydiving Ltd School.

The parachutes were cheap enough to experiment on, so with a razor blade I cut out four panels down the angled seams. It looked like two figure L’s at the rear of the chutes. This produced two effects; it gave the parachute a forward speed which a standard chute did not have. Secondly, by tying handles and cords to the outside suspension lines of the outer openings it enabled the parachutist to rotate the parachute. This was a most desirable modification for the parachutist; for then he could see where he was going, enjoy a view of 360 degrees, fly the chute away from trees and power lines and, best of all, turn into the wind to reduce the landing speed. I fixed D ring shackles to the harness to fit the reserve and I retailed these modified parachutes at £53 each and hired them out to Club Members at £1 per jump with the Packers getting ten shillings.”