How to Execute a Perfect Parachute Landing Fall ("PLF")

How to Help Your Femurs Survive a Terrible Landing

A questionable landing area might require a PLF.
A questionable landing area might require a PLF. Image Courtesy Brett Kistler (runningex.it)

The Parachute Landing Fall—“PLF,” for short—was invented when a bonafide fall was the only way to land from a parachute jump.  Before the introduction of square ram-air parachutes, the only available tool was the “round”: the domed canopy under which most cartoon parachutists still descend.

These days, round canopies are used almost exclusively for military and cargo applications—for good reason. Though “Paracommander” parachutes had design details that allowed them some forward speed in no-wind conditions, that forward speed was canceled out by opposing wind as light as 10MPH.

That translates into—you guessed it—a straight-down descent. In laymen’s terms, we call that a “dump-in.” This type of landing broke a lot of ankles. (To check one out, start this video at 1:00. OUCH.)

The introduction of the PLF reduced the instance and severity of injury on landing and quickly became part of the required first-jump training for all parachutists. Though ram-air parachutes have changed the dynamics of the skydiving landing—introducing significantly more speed and glide into the equation—the PLF remains one of the most important tools in the arsenal of an airsports athlete to mitigate the injury potential of a bad landing. Here’s how it’s done.

How To Execute a Parachute Landing Fall (“PLF”)

Step 1: Make the choice to PLF.

Make your choice to PLF as early as possible. Use the radial optic flow pattern to determine where you’ll be landing, as you always do. For instance: if you’re a skydiver on approach to an off-DZ landing, or if you’re heading downwind into a BASE landing area in which you feel unsafe running.

If your canopy is compromised, always PLF.

Step 2: Check your landing area and decide on a direction.

You can execute your PLF to the right or left, though most of us favor one side. Consciously decide to PLF away from any obstacles in your path (such as rocks, stumps, or grass that could be hiding sharp and uneven material) by pointing your toes in the direction of the obstacle.

While somewhat non-intuitive, this posture will position your body in a way that naturally rolls it to the safer side.

Step 3: Keep flying your canopy.

Don’t get distracted by the process of the PLF. Your number-one priority is to pilot your canopy through the flare.

Step 4: Review the order.

During a PLF, you will direct your body to impact in the following order:

  1. Balls of the feet
  2. Side of the calf
  3. Side of the upper leg
  4. Back of the hip/side of the butt
  5. Side of the back, behind the arm

This will happen quickly, so call it up from memory and fix it in your mind.

Step 5: Keep the legs springy at the knee.

In a PLF, springy knees are your landing gear. Never extend them straight towards the ground, which seriously compromises your body’s resilience. If you concentrate on keeping them bent to a certain number of degrees, you'll still be tensing too much muscle--so focus instead on maintaining a sense of buoyant softness.

Step 6: Keep it together.

Pull your body consciously towards the midline, as though you were in a mummy-style sleeping bag. Pilot your canopy from close-held arms. Do not extend your arms or legs away from this protective “cocoon.” As soon as the balls of your feet touch the ground, hug your elbows tightly to the side-front of your body and keep your upper arms to the midline to protect your chest, throat, and organs.

..But What Does It Look Like?

Here’s a good tutorial that shows the body positions.

 

Image Courtesy Brett Kistler (runningex.it)