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Fri, Mar 11, 2016

Barnstorming: Credit Must Be Given Where Credit Is Due…

It's More Than Just Being Honest… It's a Process Whereby The True Innovators Of Aviation Can Continue Their Drive To The Future

Analysis/Opinion/Commentary By Jim Campbell, ANN CEO/Editor-In-Chief

Many years ago, I had an extraordinary adventure… as a test pilot/participant in an innovative, groundbreaking, test program that ultimately resulted in the first certified airframe parachute recovery systems.

Over the course of many months, sitting next to parachute technology expert, the late Gary Douris, we would venture aloft time after time, and fire off a GA-sized BRS parachute (the first generation of such) in a number of attitudes and conditions, in order to fine-tune and perfect what would someday come to save hundreds of lives.

I can't tell you how much fun that was, and how surprisingly fearless the whole procedure became, even when things didn't always go right. But I often look back to that time as one of the most exciting/rewarding of my career. I've often had a chance to be ringside when history is made, and in some pretty extreme circumstances mind you, but those days over Lake Elsinore and the dry lakes near Edwards Air Force Base, certainly count as some of the most exceptional I know.

In the tumultuous years since then, I've watched this technology mature and be adapted for a number of airframes… Most notably the early Cirrus SR-20 and -22 airframes -- based on the absolute insistence by visionary Alan Klapmeier that his airplanes were going to be as safe as he could make them. With the aid of Boris Popov, who built BRS into a force to be reckoned with, both these men made history and lives… hundreds of them… were changed, if not saved.

So… imagine my dismay when I see more and more overtly ridiculous statements -- often following a successful airframe recovery of a stricken Cirrus - where people are swallowing the hype and crediting the current Cirrus company, (or worse) hearing the current Cirrus company taking credit for the visionary leadership and thoughtful innovations that they had little or nothing to do with.

Let me make this clear. Boris Popov and BRS made the airplane recovery parachute a technology and force to be reckoned with. They made it work. They did what nobody else had done up to that time. And, yes, while others did dabble in the technology and a few of them got pretty darned close to getting it all right (in particular, Jim Handbury, who would undoubtedly have also certified a system had he not died before he could see his project through to completion), they finished the job. Outside of very few people, only Popov and the aggressive efforts of BRS could make parachute recovery technology of whole GA airplanes a practical reality.

Years later, it was Alan Klapmeier who first had the guts to mandate that a whole new series of airplanes, that he envisioned decades ago, would all be equipped with such life-saving technology. Mind you this vision was born out of strife and a life-threatening scare… Alan had an incredibly close call in a midair incident many years ago that not only put the fear of God in the guy, but proved to him that there were ways that whole airplanes and their occupants could eventually be saved from midair collisions, among other maladies.

So; when Alan set out to create what became to be known as Cirrus Design, he mandated in no uncertain terms that all his airplanes would be equipped with BRS certified parachute recovery systems, -- equipment that would be rebranded, strictly for marketing purposes, as the Cirrus airframe parachute system (CAPS).

But no matter how it was branded, every single one of those things had a little bit of Boris Popov and a little bit of Alan Klapmeier in every one of them.


Many of you know that I've got quite a bit of heartburn with Cirrus these days. After booting out Alan Klapmeier, in ways that were at the very least shameful, if not ethically questionable; the resulting company went on to conduct itself in ways that I found to be a shameful example of what happens when good airplane companies are turned over (IMO) to outright jerks.

Between Brent Wouters, Dale Klapmeier, Pat Waddick, Bill King and Todd Simmons (among others); I am amazed that Cirrus not only convinced the Chinese to make an investment in a company that was shaky at the time, but managed to somehow convince the same ignorant Chinese bosses that they could be left in charge of the company.

Well, Brent Wouters eventually had to leave the company, Dale Klapmeier has been somewhat demoted, and I've watched a number of Cirrus staffers and people make statements that defy reality and in some cases amidst legal settings that seemed to be beyond all sense. I have also watched them hurt, mislead, cheat, and nearly decimate people and companies that wanted nothing more than to see Cirrus succeed - and to be a part of that success.

To me, the company has no credibility and cannot be trusted -- and despite my faith in the virtue of the basic Cirrus designs, I can't recommend them to any that I have the remotest concern for.

After doing stories about many of the troubles we witnessed, Cirrus attacked us, tried to shut us up, and used the legal system viciously and aggressively to try to silence us. They did not succeed. But I fear for an industry that has such companies working within it, with such a lack of integrity, credibility and trustworthiness (IMO).

Okay, enough of that… you know where I stand.

What I want to get to, is to set the record straight as to what's happening these days and why the truth has to be told.

The current Cirrus business entity loves to take credit for things that Alan did. Cirrus likes to take credit for things that other people/companies did. Cirrus tries to rewrite history on a regular basis… And while that seems like good marketing, it has dangerous/shameful implications for the world of aviation.

It's not just that Alan and Boris deserve credit for doing phenomenally innovative and inventive work… It's the fact that the NEW innovations that they're working on so diligently now, things that could still change the face of aviation in good and great ways, may depend ultimately on the credibility they establish with those that can assist them, back them, finance them, or otherwise help push them forward. Without that, the road to success becomes far more difficult.

I've heard time and time again where people think somebody other than Alan or somebody other than Boris is allegedly responsible for the successes of the BRS derived Cirrus parachute rescue system, and it sickens me to the core.

Not so long ago, I about came out of my chair, after reading an article, and watching a video news program, in which Dale Klapmeier was reported to have claimed to have been the pilot of an aircraft stricken in a midair incident many years before -- which inspired him to invent the emergency parachute system that Cirrus was using.

Of course, this was complete and utter crap.

Alan was the pilot of the airplane that accidentally came so close to destruction. Boris Popov and BRS designed the parachute. The report that Dale did either of those things is beyond fictional. It's disgusting.

As somebody who knew Alan and even Dale for a long time, and was present when both these brothers were still working together -- even before Cirrus Design was a certified reality -- I can tell you that Dale had little confidence in the need for the parachute and denigrated Alan's decisions on a number of occasions. Dale, at a number of times, also denigrated the development of the jet program -- until Alan got tossed out, and he was allowed to take credit for the Klapmeier legacy thereafter.

It's a horrible thing when brothers can't work together anymore, much less function as family, but it's particularly alarming when one of them seems bound and determined to destroy the other.

The horrific result is that the legacy of 'Alan and Dale' Klapmeier, where Alan took the primary leadership role in creating Cirrus Design, is now constantly being rewritten and revised as the 'Dale and Alan' Klapmeier story, with increasingly bizarre variants seeming to minimize Alan's contributions, leadership, vision, innovation, and integrity at every opportunity.

It's shameful… but there's far more to it than that, including Cirrus's apparent efforts to hurt Alan again and again for having the courage to stand up to them - and while I'll address that more fully another time -- the editorial point of this story is primarily about one thing…

If this industry cannot honor and credit those REAL people who create REAL progress through REAL innovation, were going to be left with a REAL mess.

I know for a fact that Cirrus naysaying has created significant obstacles for Alan's efforts with Kestrel and One Aviation, and I certainly know they've created serious obstacles in the past for BRS.

And no matter what Cirrus does with the parachute technology that is being developed for the jet, make no mistake that there would be no parachute for this jet without the BRS system that was developed first for the Cessna 150 and 152 that I helped test with Gary Douris and Boris and the crew of BRS so long ago -- and without the expertise and commitment that Alan brought to bringing this technology to a certified reality.

Hundreds of people have had their lives saved by the BRS system… I have met dozens of people who have used it in various Cirrus airframes and am thrilled to meet them every time…

In the case of the Cirrus deployments, every single one of those people also owes their lives to Alan Klapmeier.

Not Dale.


And even more so to some brilliant innovation by BRS, Boris Popov, every single BRS staffer who managed to certify what many once called the un-certifiable.

Both Alan Klapmeier and Boris Popov, and those who have worked with them, have great plans for the future. But as long as anyone keeps trying to rewrite history and steal the credit for their innovation and ideas, they have a tough road ahead of them.

So let me be clear (if repetitive)… I was there at the beginning…

I (in a very small way) helped test and fired chutes, inflight, out of Cessna's alongside Gary Douris and in cooperation with various BRS test programs quite a number of times.

Despite other reports, Dale Klapmeier wasn't there. He never showed up. Never saw him... Period.

Throughout many years, I worked closely with Alan and observed him as he went from the experimental aircraft company that he created to build and distribute the Cirrus VK-30, and then went on to bigger and better things -- including HIS vision of the Cirrus SR-20 and SR-22, and I know for a fact that the great overriding visionary in all this was Alan. I also watched him, time and time again, prove his integrity and honor under some very trying circumstances.

Dale was not the visionary, and wasn't (IMO) even all that instrumental much of the time - even actively fighting or deriding Allen's achievements and visions on a number of occasions - even to my face…

So I find it bizarre and a little sickening that he and his ilk seem so intent on stealing the valor, and the credit, while rewriting history, so that truly brave and innovative men (and ALL those who TRULY supported them) might not only be denied the applause of a grateful industry, but may be inhibited from contributing to us in the future.

I find that a crime beyond comprehension.

As one who has watched people take credit for things that I've done, or accomplished, I can tell you it's annoying as hell… But the real tragedy comes when you're unable to push further and forward because the accomplishments that you should be able to use as a foundation for further endeavors are denied you because some BS artist thinks they can rewrite history.

Aviation desperately needs its innovators.

Aviation desperately needs disruptive talent and technology.

Aviation desperately needs a new future.

And aviation needs to point disappointed fingers at those dishonest few who contribute so little, and inhibit others from doing great things, so that they can be swept aside -- while we go on to build a better future for aviation, collectively, synergistically, honestly, and ethically.

So the next time you see some clown parrot the "Thanks to Cirrus" nonsense… Make sure you speak up and say very simply this… "No! Thank You to Alan Klapmeier -- and Thank You to Boris Popov."

Just like I'm doing right now.

And by the way... many years ago, in a small aerobatic/experimental aircraft, I suffered a control failure that left me with a severe elevator malfunction... and that elevator was locked in the down postion at 75% of its control range. The ground was coming up fast-- looking kinda nasty... so I was forced to use a BRS parachute... one that was actually past its repack date and not in the best of shape. It worked. I lived. I've had a hell of great life since then and gotten to experience all manner of things I might have missed.

Thanks, Boris and Thanks, BRS... credit must be given where credit is due.

FMI: ANN Readers, What Say You?



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