Federal Aviation Administration Senior Rigger D.J. Styles instantly knew there was something wrong with a new customer’s cutaway cables when reinstalling them after a routine reserve inspection and repack of a rig the customer had purchased used less than a year earlier. Styles routinely measures cables for new customers, as well as anytime he replaces a lost handle, but this time the cutaway cables were several inches longer than the manufacturer’s specifications, and it was apparent there was a problem even without measuring. Cutaway cables that are too long can easily cause an incomplete cutaway that the jumper may not recognize until activating the reserve, risking a main-reserve entanglement.
Accessory components on skydiving rigs are the reserve pilot chute, reserve deployment bag, main deployment bag, main pilot chute and bridle, main and reserve toggles, main risers, reserve-static-line lanyard, 3-ring-release (cutaway) handle and reserve ripcord. All these components require maintenance and frequent inspections. Riggers inspect all these parts during a reserve repack, but it is up to the gear owner to maintain and check accessible equipment between repack cycles. Gear owners not only have to know how their gear works, they also need to know when something requires repair or replacement.
Container manufacturers have done an excellent job standardizing the location and operation of main pilot chutes, cutaway handles and reserve ripcord handles. The position and operation of the three handles on solo equipment is fairly standard across the board, which creates consistency for jumpers. However, because of this standardization, jumpers sometimes wrongfully assume that the components are interchangeable. To the untrained eye, they look so similar that jumpers sometimes replace lost components using those from any old, unused rigs lying around.
Take the simple cutaway cable. There are many types of cutaway cables in use, and they vary in material and length. Because of this variation, it is important that the size is appropriate for the cutaway housing and that the lengths protruding past the risers’ locking loops are correct. These measurements vary depending on the rig they’re installed on and whether the gear has an RSL. Some manufacturers even send out new cables that require a rigger to cut them down to the correct size for installation. Therefore, replacing a cutaway cable is not so simple after all.
While manufacturers all seem to agree that 3-ring and cutaway-cable maintenance is necessary, the time interval that they recommend varies. Be sure to follow the recommendations of your manufacturer. Just remember, maintenance and accessory component replacement takes just a few minutes but can involve a lot more than you might think. Keep in mind that Federal Aviation Regulation Part 65-111 requires you to be under the supervision of a rigger when performing maintenance on a parachute system. So, grab your favorite rigger and get busy, because learning more about your gear is always a good thing!
Ron Bell | D-26863 and FAA Senior Rigger
USPA Director of Safety and Training