Skydiving is a beautiful sport. It’s also very well-designed. For instance, since my very first jump course (on October 17, 2009) I’ve been very impressed with the amount of thought that must have gone into the design of a skydiving “rig” or container.
A quick overview for those of you who don’t know:
1. Skydivers do not have death wishes. They live the innate human desire to fly, that’s all.
2. The parachute containers they wear contain two parachutes. One is the main one, the other one is a reserve. If your main canopy doesn’t fly, you need to cut it away and deploy your reserve canopy instead.
3. The two handles you see pictured above are the cut-away handle (the red, cushiony one) and the reserve handle (the one made of metal).
4. Andrew Lee of the Parachute School of Toronto was kind enough to model for me for the photo you see. Thank you, Andy!
How Human Factors Design plays a part in this
When you’re in flight, it’s not a natural state. Human beings don’t normally fly. So it’s an extraordinary situation that people are in when they’re skydiving. Now, if you realize that your main canopy (or parachute) is not working, you’re in an even more bizarre situation.
During training, you’re advised on the emergency procedure in this case which is to grab on to the handle on your right (the cut-away or the red cushiony one), then grab a hold of the reserve handle (the metal hook) then first pull the cutaway (to cut away your main canopy) and only THEN pull the metal hook (to deploy your reserve parachute). It is absolutely crucial that you do it in this order.
Now, when someone is falling at 120mph, how do you expect them to be able to think this through/remember it? Enter: Human Factors Design. The red cushiony handle is there not to look pretty but to give you feedback that it is in fact the cutaway handle. You’ll note that it’s very different in shape, size, look, color and feel from the cold, hard, metallic reserve handle. That’s the whole point. Giving you feedback via your senses. Extra feedback in case your brain blanks out.
So just in case you don’t remember which side of you the cutaway handle is on - at least you’ll remember that its the soft, red, cushiony one.