I used to make the "parachute man" toy a lot when I was a kid. I was visiting Danielle and Rhett. He got inspired to make a pulley system to drop parachutes similar to one he'd seen in a science museum with his little boy Rhett.
Here's what we came up with.
It works really well and little Rhett loves it.
Step 1: Parachute Man
It's pretty simple.
Cut a square piece of the lightest cloth or plastic you can find.
Tie four strings to the corners.
Tie the other ends of the strings to the dude that's going to parachute.
The following steps show details of those steps.
If you've already got your parachute and parachutist,
feel free to skip ahead to the pulley system at step 7.
Step 2: Square Piece of Cloth or Plastic
This is ripstop nylon left over from a kite project.
Garbage or shopping bag plastic is as good or better.
Fold your square over both ways to check that it's mostly square.
This parachute ended up being way too big for the weight of the santa doll and the height of the drop.
Step 3: Cut Some String
This is the right length of string to rig this parachute.
It goes diagonally from corner to corner and back.
As mentioned in the previous step, this parachute is way too big for the Santa doll.
The little parachute in the background is the right size.
It's 18" square.
Step 4: String Rig
Here's how I tie the strings.
First I double over two strings and tie a half hitch in the middle.
Then I tie half hitches in the ends.
Step 5: Tie the Corners
Tie the strings to the corners just like this and pull it tight.
Step 6: Harness the Doll
This is a soft doll, so I just put its arms through the two loops at the center of the rig.
Step 7: Top Pulley
We used a step ladder and screwed a hook into the beam and hooked a pulley over the hook.
This pulley has no sides or "cheekpieces".
The cord can fall off the side of the pulley, jam up and stop running smoothly.
Get the cheekpiece kind of pulley.
We didn't put a pulley at the lower end of the loop. We just put a loop of string through it and tied that to a cabinet in th other room. That keeps the loop from hanging down in the middle of the room and getting in the way.
The loop has to be loose while hoisting or the clothespin will open prematurely.
Step 8: Tricky Clip
The loop of cord that goes over the high pulley is joined thus:
We tied two interlocking loops using "sheet bend" knots.
We attached one loop to each lever of a clothespin, so when the cord is pulled, it compresses the levers and opens the jaws of the clothespin.
This system works really well.
When hoisting the parachute the tension is only on one side of the clip, so it doesn't open until you pull both tails of the cord loop.
You could cut square notches in the clothespin jaws or use a metal alligator clip to hoist something really heavy.