Types of Parachutes

By John London
Skydiving is popular among extreme-sport enthusiasts.

A parachute is a safety device that is designed to reduce the dragging force of an item or person to slow its descent, while maintaining balance to allow it to reach the ground safely. Since parachutes were invented in China in the 12th century and independently engineered in Europe by Leonardo Da Vinci in the 15th century, the world has known many parachute designs.

Conical

The conical parachute appeared in Italy during the 1470s and is considered to be the earliest form of parachute. It was created as an escape device to allow people in burning buildings to descend safely to the ground. There are, however, no written records to prove the parachute was used for this purpose, according to parachute manufacturer NH Global.

Pyramid

The pyramid parachute was conceptualized and designed by Leonardo da Vinci during the 1480s in Milan. It has a square bottom frame with a canopy attached and supported by light wood.

Round

There are two types of round parachutes: non-steerable, which glide in the direction of the wind and can not be controlled, and steerable, which have large holes cut in the edges to allow them to be maneuvered. Early round parachutes caused a number of injuries and deaths among parachutists because they were circular with flat surfaces, making them unstable. Thus, military round parachutes were shaped conical or parabolic to enhance stability. Although round parachutes have at times been among the most popular type of parachutes, they are not normally used by present-day parachutists.

Square

Square parachutes have a cross-shaped design that helps to reduce swinging-type movements. They are most commonly used by sporting skydivers.

Ram-Air

Ram-air parachutes are self-inflating and are similar to paragliders in that they provide greater control over direction and speed. They are constructed to "hold, spread and lessen the tension of parachute deployment on terminal velocity," according to NH Global.

Ribbon/Ring

Ribbon and ring parachutes are designed to cater to supersonic speeds, whereas other parachutes would fail under such a circumstance. They often have a hole in the middle to decrease pressure as the parachute descends. In some instances, the canopy’s ring is broken into ribbons that are fastened by rope to allow more air to pass through. The ribbons lessen the pressure on the parachute to prevent the canopy from breaking.