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The Art of Falling
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The Art of Falling

Credit: U.S. Army
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/soldiersmediacenter/2990718614/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

After jumping out of a plane that is flying 10,000 feet above the Earth's surface, this skydiver reached speeds of up to 120 miles per hour before deploying his parachute. Within a matter of seconds the increased surface area reduced his velocity to safe enough levels for landing. By using Newton?s 2nd law, you can easily calculate his landing speed.

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Credit: wales_gibbons
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/9678460@N07/7462872938
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Skydivers free fall before deploying their parachutes [Figure2]

  • Since the early 1100s, people have been using parachutes to skydive. Even though they didn?t know it, they were using the most basic principles of physics. By using a parachute, the effective surface area of the falling body is increased allowing for more air to be ?caught?.
  • Effective parachutes will expose a skydiver to 3-4 g's of negative acceleration when the parachute is deployed. This causes the skydiver?s velocity to go from 120 miles per hour to roughly only 18 miles per hour in a matter of seconds. With the forces balanced, the skydiver will be able to safely land.

Show What You Know

Using the information provided above, answer the following questions.

  1. When the skydiver is falling at a constant velocity after the parachute is open, what is their acceleration?
  2. Explain why it is not advised to use a parachute that is as big as possible, assuming you could safely deploy it?
  3. At what point in the skydiving experience is the acceleration due to gravity equal to zero?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: U.S. Army; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/soldiersmediacenter/2990718614/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: wales_gibbons; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/9678460@N07/7462872938; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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