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Tue, Aug 06, 2002

A Closer Look At The BRS Cessna 172 Chute

By ANN Correspondent Kevin "Hognose" O'Brien

A couple of weeks ago at Arlington, ANN was the first (ahem... as usual) to report that BRS announced that its ballistic recovery chute was certified for the Cessna 172. While we ran a story at the time, we have since had a chance to get a good look at the system in its native element - the Cessna 172.

BRS chose a 1978 Hawk II because it's the heaviest version of Cessna's venerable machine. "If it works in the heaviest one, it works in any of them," Dan Johnson says. The complete system exacts a 79-pound weight penalty. The plane is as neat as you would expect a factory demonstrator to be. "We bought it like that," Dan told ANN, "With the paint and interior as it is. We wanted to find a 172 that looks good."

System Components

The system consists of the rocket, the parachute assembly, the risers, and the attachment points. The risers attach at the spar/fuselage attach points forward, and on the centerline behind the rear window. The forward attach points are made of steel and wrap around the spar. The rear attach point is built up; the structure in the area is not strong enough to bear the stress of a chute deployment without reinforcement. The BRS installation includes a number of reinforcements and doublers, which add crucial strength in this area. Installed, these parts are indistinguishable from the factory work to which they're attached.

The rocket and chute are the same ones that are used in the Cirrus Airplane Parachute System (CAPS). The chute has been tested at 180 kt and 4,400 pounds, both numbers rather unlikely to show up in C-172 operations.

The deployment T-bar handle is held in a small console on the floorboards, aft of the fuel selector. There is a cosmetic/safety cover over the handle. To deploy the chute, one pulls the plastic cosmetic cover off (it has a metal handle on it) and then pulls the T-bar.

Functioning

Once you pull that T-bar, things happen fast. The rocket fires, blasting through the passenger side rear window with a loud WHOOSH. The rocket has some serious power behind it - if it had no load, it would be at 30,000 feet when its 1 1/4 seconds of thrust was over.

The chute can be deployed in any attitude or at any airspeed. It does need about 250 to 300 feet AGL minimum for full deployment. But repeated tests have shown that the aircraft can be upright, inverted, spinning or tumbling - the chute will wind up on top and the plane on the bottom every time.

Certification

The system required a number of tests to be certified - far fewer than the Cessna 150 (the first ballistic parachute approved for a certified airplane) or Cirrus versions. In fact, certification of the Cirrus chute smoothed the path of the Cessna 172 version, because the FAA sensibly did not require new tests or documentation for already-certified components.

Because the installation was similar to the 150/2 version, a proven quantity, and the chute and rocket were identical to the Cirrus, BRS didn't have to demonstrate an inflight deployment (as was done with the 150 and Cirrus). This was welcome news to the test pilot, said Dan: "You think that firing the chute is frightening. Imagine sitting there with zero airspeed and knowing you have to pull that knob and cut the chute away."  Of course, the cut-away knob is only in test machines; on customer planes, the chute risers are permanently attached to the plane.

What did require a lot of certification is the physical landing. Here neither the 150 data nor the Cirrus data were much use.  BRS took a 172 airframe, loaded the wings with sand to represent fuel and lifted it up, and then dropped it.

BRS has a video of this test and the video, taken by a high-speed camera, is eye-opening. The 172 slams onto the ground, and in the video you can see the extreme flexing of the ill-fated machine's wings. Despite that, the permanent damage was relatively light.

Service

The chute is inspected at routine 100-hour (if required) and annual inspections. After 10 years, the chute must be repacked and the rocket replaced. The chute must also be replaced after use (although that will be the least of your problems by then.

FMI: www.BRSparachutes.com

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