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Investigation on how the Surface area of a Canopy Affects the Rate at Which the Parachute Falls.

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Carly McKenzie

27TH January 2003

Investigation on how the Surface area of a Canopy Affects the Rate at Which the Parachute Falls


We are trying to discover factors which affect the rate at which a parachute falls. I am going to investigate what affect the surface area of the canopy has on the rate at which the terminal velocity is reached.


There are several factors which affect the rate of osmosis such as the potato (in this case) must not have any peel on it as the peel of a potato is impermeable and therefore would prevent the movement of the water. Here are the possible variables (listed below): -

  • The material of the canopy – some materials are more streamlined than others therefore the more streamlined the material the less air resistance, resulting in a faster speed and reaching its terminal velocity slower.
  • Mass/ weight of object – This affects the acceleration downwards of the object. The heavier the object the slower it will reach it terminal velocity and therefore it will reach the ground quicker. If the object is lighter then it will reach its terminal velocity quicker and it will reach the ground slower.
  • Surface area of canopy – This affects the amount of air resistance acting on the weight. The larger surface area you have the more air that gets trapped therefore the slower the weight will fall. The smaller the canopy the faster it will travel as hardly any air would have been trapped whilst falling.
  • Height at which dropped – Dependant on the objects weight a higher height can be more affective, this is because at a higher height the object it given more time to reach it terminal velocity.
  • Length of strings – This can affect the speed of the mass. If the mass is nearer to the canopy it would travel slower but if the strings were longer and the mass was further from the canopy there would be less air resistance and it would travel quicker.
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For this investigation I will need the following list of equipment:-

  • Scissors
  • Plastic Bag (large enough to make 5 parachutes with measurments of 25cm2, 35 cm2, 45 cm2, 55 cm2 and 65 cm2)
  • Plastecine (aproximatley 30.0 grams)
  • Scales (to weigh the plastecine)
  • Metre rule
  • String
  • Stop clock
  • Compass (to pearce the canopy and place the string)
  • Pencil,Pen and Paper etc


Prepare and make 5 parachutes with measurements 25cm by 25cm, 35cm by 35cm, 45cm by 45cm, 55cm by 55cm and 65cm by 65cm:-

  • Use the plastic bag, scissors, metre rule and pen
  • Cut 20 pieces of string and attach them to the canopy
  • Prepare the plastecine and weigh it on the top pan balance (record the weight0
  • Attatch the plastecine to the parachute – its ready for flight.

Find a suitable space with plenty of height to drop the parachute from (a stair well would be adequate) measure the height and ensure that it is reasonable enough for the parachute and object to be able to reach its terminal velocity.Drop the parachute from the same place each time to make sure the investigation is fair.

Drop each parachute and time it with the stop watch until it falls to the ground, record the time and repeat 5 times. Record all results in a suitable table and calculate an average for each set.

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My results were over a suitable range, if I was to extend this particular experiment I would add extra parachutes such as 75cm2, 85cm2 and 95cm2 to see whether the pattern continues.

Now that I have investigated how the surface area of the canopy affects the rate at which the parachute falls I could look into the weight of the object to see how this affects the speed at which the parachute falls. I would have to take into consideration a suitable size canopy to make sure that the parachute will be able to reach its terminal velocity.

I could look into the length of the parachute strings to see what affect this has on the speed at which the parachute falls. I could look at the height at which the parachute is dropped, obviously if it is higher it will take longer to fall but would the parachute travel at its terminal velocity for a longer period of time?

The material of the canopy can make a difference also; different materials have a different weight, some materials are more streamlined than others. Parachutes with a less streamlined canopy would have more air resistance; this would cause the parachute to fall slower therefore affecting the rate at which the parachute falls.  

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