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Lionel Morrison Speaks About Historic SR22 CAPS Deployment (Part 1)

Part ONE of An EXCLUSIVE ANN Interview

To those who carve out a place in history, the distinction is often unsought… such is the case with the historic action that was performed by Cirrus Pilot Lionel Morrison near Addison Airport (TX), last week. All Morrison wanted to do was reposition his aircraft prior to heading to New Mexico for a fishing trip with friends… but fate, the cruel prankstress she may be, had other plans.

Last week, Morrison was the pilot of N1223S, the first certified aircraft in aviation history to use an emergency parachute system to lower both him and his plane to the ground due to an inflight emergency.

Morrison, 53 (right), a Dallas based architect, is a 400 hour pilot. He has a private pilot license, an instrument rating and had just started work on his commercial ticket before the fireworks of last week. A flyer for eight years, previous ownership of a Piper Turbo-Dakota and a Commander 114 led him to the purchase of a Cirrus SR22 last year when it became obvious that he needed more horsepower for the mountains of New Mexico and didn't care for the complexity of retractable gear. The Cirrus caught his eye… "as an architect, I have an eye towards design, and while there are many reasons to like the Cirrus, something about it also looked 'just right…'"

Morrison is a partner in the architectural firm of Morrison, Seifert and Murphy, and uses the Cirrus for a number of missions, business and pleasure, and likes the rugged and faster nature of the bird. Most of his flying takes him between Dallas and Santa Fe, New Mexico (where he has a second home)… It is beautiful, rugged country that looks like a bit of heaven itself when the weather is good, and something far less pleasant when the weather goes down the tubes. Morrison needed a serious VFR/IFR cross-country airplane for this mission and researched his choices carefully before taking delivery of the SR22 last October 18th.

He has flown N1223S for most of its 145-hour lifetime and had developed an "immense" amount of confidence in the bird, "but not just because of the 'chute."

He obviously loves his airplane and is effusive in his praise--even after all that has transpired. "I love the design of the airplane… it's just a beautiful airplane, the avionics suite and the way that the avionics/navigation systems work… and while the parachute was certainly appealing, I'd probably have bought it, without it. It's a great concept, but it was the icing on the cake that fit my idea of my evolution as a pilot… the Cirrus is considerably faster than my old Commander (114) and without the complexity of the retract gear, I don't have to worry about maintaining it [the retracts]… All in all, I am convinced that the Cirrus is an incredible value. If you look at any other four-place airplane and compare it to this one (price-wise), there really is NO comparison. I had flown a couple of SR20s but because of the flying to Santa Fe, and the mountains, the SR22 was my choice."

It had been a good relationship until last Thursday… "it hadn't given me ANY trouble up until this point… I still have nothing but good things to say about the airplane."

Last Thursday started out as a "good day." Morrison recalls that, "I keep the airplane at Dallas Executive, but the Cirrus service center is at Addison (Monarch). They have done all the warranty and service bulletin work on the airplane so far. I had them do a few things in preparation for a fishing trip (that) weekend and left it with them to take care of it. I planned to take it back to Executive and take a cab back to the office." The head mechanic met Morrison, and said that they didn't yet have the parts to deal with a rudder trim issue, but that they had gone ahead and completed an aileron trim service bulletin that Morrison had not yet been aware of.

Morrison thanked him, went out to the airplane, and preflighted it carefully. "It's funny… I remember thinking about checking the connections to the aileron… which aren't that easy to see. It was a pretty uneventful pre-flight and the only thing that gave me any concern was a failure sign when testing the autopilot's 'NAV' mode."

"I rebooted, tried it again, and it still failed. I pulled the breaker on it , and sensitized to the autopilot issue, I checked it out carefully but since I didn't need it for the flight to Addison, I wasn't concerned about it and expected to have it looked at (later)."

"I finished the run-up and everything... and departed on Rwy 15. The wind was easterly, 090 at 8, so it was a crosswind takeoff but not a big deal crosswind. I intended to depart to the East and I took off, (normal take-off). At 500 AGL, I turned East (still climbing) and leveled the plane off at 2000 feet MSL (due to the Class B veil).

Just as I leveled off, I pulled the MP back to 25 inches, leveling for but a few seconds… and then the control yoke and the left wing started going OVER. There was a tremendous control force… I thought it was the autopilot going haywire. I didn't know what else to think."

Morrison knew he was in big trouble… he was less than 1500 feet above the ground, rolling/descending hard left and losing altitude like a plugged Mallard…

"I thought it felt like the autopilot… but it felt like the autopilot on steroids… it was really pulling hard, I mean I couldn't get it backit just kept going. That was the only time in the whole episode that I was really frightened, because the airplane was going over. I'm still thinking 'autopilot;' I'm hitting the thumb switch (autopilot disconnect) and nothing's happening… so I reach down, thinking to pull/check the circuit breaker and when I do, I happened to glance down/out the left side of the airplane and at that point, I notice that the left aileron is hanging by ONE hinge point."

"The only good news about that," Morrison noted, was that, "now I knew it wasn't the autopilot."

Morrison wrestled with the side stick control with both hands and pulled it over as hard as he could (along with some right rudder) and eventually got it somewhat leveled off and started climbing. Scant seconds had passed since the first violent lurch to the left…

Morrison knew he was in trouble but at least, now, he had some breathing room. As he leveled out, he "unsafed" the chute (removing a cover and a small pin that prevents accidental activation), and called Addison Tower, declaring an emergency. This problem had originally occurred at 2000' MSL, from an airport that lay at 660' ASL. Lionel estimated that "at least" 500 feet was lost while struggling with the initial bank/descent, which he characterized as "steeply down." 

So... less than 1000 feet off the ground, he reported to the tower operator that he "lost" the left aileron… which was still attached and creating tremendous drag and control difficulties. "She (the controller) asked me if I could make it back to the airport and I said 'I don't think so' and at this point, thinking aloud and talking to her, I told her that I was afraid to try and land the airplane because if I get this thing low to the ground and not knowing to expect... if I lost control of the airplane, I'd be too low to use the parachute." Morrison knew he was technically (by specification) already below the recommended deployment altitude as it was, right then, and started to climb back to a safe altitude. Lionel noted that the area around the airport was "very built-up" and heavily populated, so he made plans to fly the aircraft away from population and to a clearer area while the controller cleared the airspace around him… responding to Morrison's telling her that he was probably going to have to use the parachute. "In fact, once I said that, I decided that was what I had to do."

By the time he recovered the aircraft, it was headed Northwest. Once he got close to Lake Lewis and some unpopulated area, with 2800 feet in the bank, (talking to the tower the whole time), he did a wind check, turned the aircraft slowly into the wind (eastward) slowed it to 120 knots, shutting the engine down and pulling the trigger on the chute.

Lionel Morrison was about to take a ride only a few test pilots before him had chanced… but this time, Lionel was going to have to ride it all the way to Mother Earth.

To be continued… Check back tomorrow for the conclusion of Morrison's amazing tale of cool thinking, as well as his discovery of what the term "ground rush" really means…

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