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Fri, Oct 04, 2002

Followup: Cirrus CAPS Deployment Makes Aero-History

Cirrus SR22 Pilot Deploys Parachute and Walks Away

What a day Thursday was... it was aviation history in the making.

But for those of us at ANN, it seemed a true vindication for General Aviation... It distinguished GA's power to innovate, as well as our collective ability to make aviation safer. But most of all, it was a celebration of those hearty individualists who had a dream about the bringing of tomorrow's aviation to today's pilot... in ways that offered more value, utility and safety than we'd ever seen before.

Now... let's all hope the rest of the world can be made to take notice of this milestone and the uncommon talent that pervades the aviation industry.

ANN's Thoughts on "History In The Making"

It is the first time a certified aircraft has landed using an airframe parachute, and it is a legitimate piece of aviation history. We've talked to a number of parties involved in the matter and it now appears that this is about as "textbook" a case for emergency parachute usage as we have ever seen. Mind you: we know something about this subject.

ANN Editor-In-Chief, Jim Campbell, a guy who has flown just about everything, in various states of readiness (and occasional unreadiness...), was a test pilot for not one, but two prototype GA parachute systems a decade ago. He has flown, as flight crew, on multiple deployments in a BRS equipped Cessna 150 as well as deployments in the late Jim Handbury's mortar fired Cessna emergency chute.

His thoughts so far?

"I have confirmed the fact that the left aileron came off the aircraft... which is a hell of a good reason for the use of the 'chute; because no matter the circumstances, the separation could not have been gentle, and a pilot can only imagine what else is next. When a critical control system fails and a CAPS system is available, the decision to fire the 'chute is a no-brainer. If everything I've heard is accurate, it appears that SR22 pilot Morrison did a heck of a good job and executed some very good reasoning in reaching his decision. I congratulate him on his good fortune and obvious abilities. I am also overjoyed to see a concept I have championed, for so many years, so dramatically and successfully validated."

The Official Cirrus Statement

A Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) was deployed near Dallas, Texas, yesterday [Thursday], when the pilot of an SR22 deployed the system after experiencing control difficulties. This marks the first time a certified aircraft has successfully landed under an airframe parachute canopy. According to FAA reports, the pilot radioed to the tower yesterday afternoon that he was experiencing compromised control of his SR22, and had decided to deploy the CAPS. The aircraft landed in a wooded area between Lewisville and Carrollton in northern Texas. The FAA also reported that the pilot was uninjured in the incident.

"Saving the life of pilots is the reason we chose this route," stated Alan Klapmeier, President and one of the company's founders. "Cirrus Design pioneered the use of this innovative safety measure in its planes to help set the course for all personal aviation. Building CAPS into our aircraft was done to contribute to the overall level of safety in personal air travel and protect the general aviation pilots of the future. Although our first measure of safety is prevention, we are delighted that CAPS worked to save this pilot. All of us at Cirrus Design can feel good about that."

The company that supplies the parachute to Cirrus is BRS (Ballistic Recovery Systems, Inc.), of St. Paul (MN). President and CEO Mark Thomas was quoted by the Aero-News Network stating, "This is a very exciting day for BRS. This is why we do what we do... and it solidifies Cirrus's amazing vision for making aviation as safe as they can. This time, that foresight averted a catastrophe and they need to be applauded for their vision." CAPS is standard equipment on all Cirrus aircraft, which are the only certified aircraft to employ such a system.

Cirrus Alone in Providing Parachute Protection

When Alan Klapmeier and his brother, Dale, founded Cirrus Design in 1984, they were committed to designing and manufacturing the safest general aviation aircraft possible. That philosophical decision was grounded in personal experience. As a young man, Alan Klapmeier survived a mid-air collision in which another pilot was killed. As a result, he was determined to find a way to make flying safer. "Even under the best of circumstances, crises can happen," said Alan Klapmeier. "Our goal was to design an aircraft in which they didn't have to be fatal."

Cirrus has spent over $10 million to develop, test and implement the CAPS, and is the only company to manufacture certified aircraft with an airframe parachute as standard equipment. It's a decision that was derided by much of the aviation industry. "A lot of people thought we were nuts," said Klapmeier. "They believed the parachute was an unnecessary expense that added weight to the aircraft to boot. To make things worse, they thought competent, macho pilots didn't need it and wouldn't use it anyway. Yesterday, Lionel Morrison proved them wrong."

Ballistic Recovery Systems (BRS), supply Cirrus the parachutes and helped them design and certify CAPS. The system uses a parachute that is located in a canister behind the aft bulkhead. The parachute is connected to Kevlar harnesses embedded in the fuselage, coupled with 48-foot-long suspension lines. When the system is deployed, a solid rocket motor extracts the pressure-packed parachute assembly from its canister. The parachute achieves full-line stretch in about 1.5 seconds and fully extends in another few seconds, lowering the aircraft and its occupants to the ground. 

The system is designed to be used as a last resort, when all other means of controlling the aircraft safely have been exhausted. Possible situations when it could be appropriate to use the CAPS include mid-air collision, control impairment, mechanical failure, pilot incapacitation or loss of orientation or fuel exhaustion over hostile terrain.

The safety features on Cirrus aircraft don't end with the CAPS. Both the SR20 and SR22 feature seats tested to 26Gs, incorporating a four-point harness on all four seats to meet the most stringent FAA requirements. Similarly, the Cirrus roll cage and composite airframe construction increase energy absorption and provide greater structural integrity, offering up to 3g-rollover protection to the pilot and passengers. All these features contributed to yesterday's successful deployment and landing.

Cirrus Design Corporation is based in Duluth (MN), with additional facilities in Hibbing (MN), and Grand Forks (ND). 

FMI: www.cirrusdesign.com, www.airplaneparachutes.com, www.cirruspilots.org

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