Safe landing of certificated aircraft makes $10m investment worthwhile, says Cirrus

An airframe parachute has been used "in anger" for the first time to land a Cirrus SR22 light aircraft successfully - an event the manufacturer calls a milestone in general aviation safety. There have been over 155 documented "saves" of ultralights and kitplanes, but the 3 October incident in Texas was the first of a certificated aircraft.

After experiencing control difficulties, the pilot escaped injury by triggering the aircraft's rocket-deployed recovery parachute and landing in woods. The aircraft was on its first flight following maintenance. Cirrus Design is the only certificated aircraft manufacturer to fit an airframe parachute system, which is installed as standard on its four-seat SR20 and SR22.

The company sees the incident as a vindication of its $10 million investment in the airframe parachute system. "A lot of people thought the parachute was an unnecessary expense that added weight to the aircraft. This incident proved them wrong," says Cirrus chief executive Alan Klapmeier.

The system's manufacturer, Ballistic Recovery Systems (BRS), has supplied over 17,000 parachutes worldwide, most for uncertificated ultralights and kitplanes. The company first certificated a system for retrofit to the Cessna 150. Only a few have been sold, but the programme led to development of the Cirrus airframe parachute system. BRS recently certificated a system for retrofit to the larger Cessna 172, and has begun development of a recovery parachute for the heavier Cessna 182, says sales director Greg Ellsworth.

Cirrus says the parachute can be deployed at any time. Certification included tests at low and high speed and in a spin. Initial deployment stalls the aircraft, which pitches nose down until the harnesses, lines and canopy are fully unfurled, after which the aircraft descends essentially wings level. At maximum gross weight, the landing speed is 26ft/s (8m/s). The recommended minimum altitude for deployment is 1,000ft (300m).

After an earlier incident in which the pilot claimed he was unable to pull hard enough to trigger the rocket, Cirrus issued a service bulletin requiring owners to upgrade the activation system to ensure the force required to deploy the parachute is consistent (Flight International, 9-16 April). BRS, meanwhile, says accidents in which pilots have decided not to deploy the parachute suggest additional training may be required.

Cirrus is continuing its safety drive by offering the TKS ice-protection system as an option on the SR22. The first aircraft fitted with the system have been completed.

Source: Flight International