This paper quantifies the sensing capabilities of novel smart materials in an effort to improve the performance, better understand the physics, and enhance the safety of parachutes. Based upon a recent review of actuation technologies for parachute applications, it was surmised that the actuators reviewed could not be used to effectively alter the drag or lift (i.e. geometry, porosity, or air vent openings) of a parachute during flight. However, several materials showed potential for sensing applications within a parachute, specifically electrically conductive fabrics and dielectric electro-active polymers. This paper introduces several new conductive fabrics and provides an evaluation of the sensing performance of these smart materials based upon test results using mechanical testing and digital image correlation for comparison.© (2011) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.