More on Cirrus Ditching and Insane Drone Video

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Last Sunday's Cirrus ditching off Hawaii was so well documented via video that it has raised some interesting questions about how the CAPS system performed. Not the least of these was that seemingly interminable nosedown moment after the initial deployment.

Did that take longer than it was supposed to? Not really, according to Boris Popov at BRS Aerospace, who makes the CAPS components. If you view other video of BRS deployments in the public domain, they look about the same. The BRS canopy has a reefing system that, like all parachute reefing devices, slows the canopy opening and spreads the load of opening shock over a longer period.

Popov told me on Thursday that during initial trials of the BRS idea, the opening shock was energetic enough to cause the airplane to execute an inside loop within the shroud system. The reefing lines prevent that by staging canopy inflation. Once the canopy is fully deployed, pyrotechnic cutters part the reefing lines and the airplane assumes a near-level attitude. (I thought those lines running from the wing to the tail, visible in the video, might have been the cut reefing lines, but Cirrus says they're an HF antenna.)

Not that the nosedown attitude really matters much. Some aircraft have landed under BRS canopies nosedown with no injury to occupants. And some glider manufacturers specify a nosedown touchdown attitude, preferring that to a flatter attitude. A well belted-in occupant, the thinking goes, should survive either kind of touchdown. Easy to see why you would want to avoid the flat touchdown unless the aircraft is equipped with energy-absorbing seats, which the Cirrus is.

BRS has no meaningful data on sea-state performance after touchdown under CAPS and I don't think Cirrus does either. "It sounds cold," Popov told me, "but once the airplane touches the ground, our responsibility is over." Although the Sunday ditching wasn't the most challenging landing for a CAPS deployment, it represents the highest wind and sea for a water touchdown. (Seas of 8 to 10 feet and northeast winds at 24 knots, according to LT Tucker Rodeffer, from USCGAS Barbers Point.)

As was obvious from the video, that raises egress survival issues. The CG video—shot by PO2 Bartholomew Williams, by the way—shows that the Cirrus touched down with the pilot's door on the windward side. Once the parachute re-inflated after the initial unloading of touchdown and went into spinnaker mode, it sailed the aircraft quite vigorously downwind and within 32 seconds, it was capsizing. Had that leeward door been open--indeed, even if it could have been opened--the airplane would have flooded much more rapidly. As it was, the pilot had a full 15 seconds to get out of the cockpit with his raft. That appeared to be more than enough. Could other occupants have gotten out, too? No way to say for sure, but I'd guess yes, based on the fact that occupants routinely get out of inverted aircraft and helicopters with a high degree of success.

An obvious question is has BRS ever considered a canopy that could be cut away after landing? It has, but Popov says the idea has been rejected as introducing more risk than it might mitigate. I don't think I have to explain why.

The film shows that during descent to the surface, the pilot opened his door. The Cirrus POH says to "consider" opening the door during an impending ditching under CAPS, so it's an option. Good thing or bad thing as a survival factor? I shopped that one by Survival Systems Inc., a Groton, Connecticut, company that trains commercial helo and aircraft crews in emergency egress. SSI's Jon Ehm told me the company's training is less focused on jettisoning or opening doors pre-impact than it is on concentrating on a good landing in the first place. Their advice is if opening the door won't compromise structural integrity, consider opening it.

Otherwise, their training is all about knowing how to let the aircraft come to rest, opening the door and then unbelting for exit. I've been through the training myself and although it's a day of being wet and cold, it's effective training. One thing to consider with an open door: Cold water gasp, the involuntary reaction of inhaling deeply when suddenly immersed, may be more intense with an open door, rather than controlled flooding. On the other hand, it takes nerve to stay calm while the pressure equalizes on the door of a sinking airplane sufficient to open it.  As with so much in ditching, there's no must-do advice. In warm water, I think I'd open it. Cold water? Let me think about that.

Because the Cirrus ditching was successful, this discussion is largely academic. But then that's how pilots figure out what they'll do if ever faced with the same circumstances.

Drones: Cleared in Hot

I opined on how Monday's report of a drone encroaching the White House grounds must have caused Olympic-class heartburn at the FAA. But this video, sent to me by colleague Tim Cole, will cause full-up apoplexy. Go ahead, watch it. I'll wait. Watch it twice, because it's better the second time around.

Now I know as a serious aviation journalist, I should engage in some sober panty twisting and hand wringing about this and caution that this is just another example of the crazies out there who need to be separated from their drones.

I'm having trouble doing that, I'm embarrassed to say. I'm not a very good scold, especially when I'm doubled over laughing. Plus, that's some seriously good shooting, hitting a moving target with FPV and the ballistics of roman candles.

Standard disclaimer: Please don't try this at home. But if you do, send me the video. I'll try not to share it. 

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Comments (33)

I see a future Darwin award for the guys with the drone.

Posted by: Stefan Sobol | January 30, 2015 10:18 AM    Report this comment

Well, at least the target bozo was wearing a helmet - safety first, right? On the other hand, this stunt is pretty much the textbook definition of "careless and reckless", not to mention the reg prohibiting dropping objects from an aircraft (91.13 and .15). On the other other hand, it was, indeed, insanely funny.

Posted by: Neal Lawson | January 30, 2015 11:07 AM    Report this comment

California to Hawaii in an Single Engine anything is below my personal minimums as it is somewhat reckless in my opinion. However, having the audacity to take selfies is definately daring and ingenious. Sort of a last challenge for the next generation of ferry pilots.

Flying drones with incendiaries is plain stupid. Do not do this in California. It is not funny!

God grant me the serenity...

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | January 30, 2015 11:45 AM    Report this comment

"California to Hawaii in an Single Engine anything is below my personal minimums ..." And yet, it was not the low count of engines, but the null amount of fuel feeding them, that brought this flight to its less-than-optimum end.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | January 30, 2015 12:03 PM    Report this comment

That's the modern high-tech version of "naval battle with bottle rockets fired from canoes" we did as kids. You just can't legislate stupid, you have to grow out of it. Hopefully these two will live that long (especially the idiot in the football helmet). You're right, I can't stop laughing after watching it twice!

Posted by: A Richie | January 30, 2015 12:26 PM    Report this comment

"However, having the audacity to take selfies is definately daring and ingenious. "


I'd be more impressed with the narrated video that shows us--with demo--why the fuel transfer failed. That might actually be useful to prevent such a thing from happening again. Not to mention perhaps forestalling the likely lawsuit between the tank company and the ferry company.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 30, 2015 1:03 PM    Report this comment

"California to Hawaii in an Single somewhat reckless in my opinion"

As a solo (or possibly two-pilot) ferry flight, I don't consider this reckless, provided the proper precautions are taken (as it appears was the case in the Cirrus flight). One or both occupants are aware of the risks and know what the flight will entail, so it's not endangering any more lives than are strictly necessary for the flight. Putting other passengers (friends, family, paying public) at risk, however, is a different story, and THAT I would consider "reckless".

The more I think about it, the more I believe I would have popped the chute if I were in the same situation as this pilot was. Having never performed a ditching (either real-life or simulated), I wouldn't be sure I could safely put it down in the conditions that were present and would rather take my chances with the chute. As it turns out, this one worked out just fine. No idea if I would open the door or not. On land in my chair, I think I'd lean toward opening it, but maybe I'd change my mind upon seeing the ocean coming up at me with those waves (I'm not fond of being in open water).

Posted by: Gary Baluha | January 30, 2015 1:15 PM    Report this comment

Lesson learned: evacuate ship after impact in less than 32 seconds.

Question: was the auxiliary fuel used first?

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | January 30, 2015 2:42 PM    Report this comment

Dunno. What data is available said the problem was first reported seven hours out. The system is set up to gravity feed the fuel from the ferry tank, perhaps into one main. There are various ways of doing this, but one ferry pilot told me he liked to start using the ferry fuel as soon as he could to make sure it would transfer. But you can't do that with a main-tank feed system.

The ferry tank company doesn't want to talk about it, for obvious reasons.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 30, 2015 3:46 PM    Report this comment

Makes me sad we didn't have drones when we were kids.......

Posted by: Joe Goebel | January 30, 2015 4:49 PM    Report this comment

If we had drones in 1964 I would probably be just getting out of jail.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | January 30, 2015 7:08 PM    Report this comment

We'd have been in adjoining cells.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 30, 2015 8:58 PM    Report this comment

I wonder if the pilot, was briefed about the ferry tank system.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | January 30, 2015 9:43 PM    Report this comment

In my opinion the ferry tank system could have benefited by an backup electric fuel pump to transfer to other aux. tanks to solve for any of the tanks not feeding.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | January 31, 2015 1:21 AM    Report this comment

According to "The Flight Academy," the people who provided the ferry and installed the additional fuel tanks, the pilot screwed up. He didn't follow procedure. He didn't follow his checklist. Lesson to be learned for all I guess.

Posted by: Thomas Cooke | January 31, 2015 5:36 AM    Report this comment

Well, you'd expect them to say the pilot screwed up. But what lesson is to be learned without further information? He says, she says at this point.

That's why I was hoping the pilot made a video of whatever anomaly he may have had. That would be excellent evidence. The insurance will pay either way, but on a loss that large, the insurer may try to subrogate if there was indeed a mechanical fault. At the moment, hard to make an informed judgment either way.

But the CG video is quite informative, I thought.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 31, 2015 7:41 AM    Report this comment

Question: could all this lead to the pilot not getting paid?

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | January 31, 2015 8:53 AM    Report this comment

Door open or door closed? With a low wing having the door open seemed to work well, but would a high wing alter the equation?

As to the counterinsurgency drone video, it is hellaciously funny but hardly "insane". After all most of us would have done the same thing back when we were young and bulletproof. "Insane" is a highly overused and misused term, kind of like "jaw-dropping", the sort of bait the tabloids have used for years and is being adopted by the legitimate media as they transform from being a source of facts and information to being entertainment.

Posted by: Richard Montague | January 31, 2015 10:40 AM    Report this comment

In the modern vernacular, according to several sources, the colloquial insane means outrageous: "They were making insane amounts of money." Another colloquial U.S. use, according to Oxford, is astonishingly good or impressive.

Now if you were offended by the drone trick, I meant the first instance. If you were offended only to the extent that you're pissed about not having thought of this drone idea yourself, then I meant the second.

Being agnostic, I remain uncommitted either way except later in the evening after a few drinks. Does that help?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 31, 2015 11:20 AM    Report this comment

"I wonder if the pilot, was briefed about the ferry tank system."

Nahh, I'm sure he set off from California to Hawaii on a 2070 nm flight over open ocean in an SR22 with a normal range of about 1050 nm and he didn't have the first clue on how to operate and manage the ferry tank.

But you can keep wondering if it helps.

Posted by: ANDREW PATTERSON | January 31, 2015 2:36 PM    Report this comment

Go Seahawks!

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | January 31, 2015 5:07 PM    Report this comment

Well, you'd expect them to say the pilot screwed up. But what lesson is to be learned without further information? He says, she says at this point.
Follow the check list Paul. Follow the check list.

Posted by: Thomas Cooke | January 31, 2015 7:48 PM    Report this comment

Yeah, that's what I always say. If a rod bolt breaks or prop departs the airplane, just follow the checklist. That'll fix it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 1, 2015 6:12 AM    Report this comment

This is an excerpt from a published article regarding this specific Cirrus incident which is the topic of discussion here in which the owner of the ferry company is quoted as follows:
Ortenheim said the pilot must manually activate the reserve system before the main tanks run out.
"You have to move a valve. So if you know what you're doing, you turn a valve. It's very simple," he said. "(The pilot) should check both the rear tank and the front tank within the first two hours, because if you have an issue with something, you can turn around to the mainland. This pilot didn't check the rear tank and did something else to make the fuel come out. He did a mistake."
No rod bolts breaking or props flying off, just a pilot who screwed up. Had he followed the check list there would not be any use for a BRS, no coast guard and no cruise ship. A whole lot less costly.
Personally, I think the guy wanted to pull the chute so he could claim hero and take selfies of himself.

Posted by: Thomas Cooke | February 1, 2015 6:46 AM    Report this comment

"He did a mistake." No rod bolts breaking or props flying off, just a pilot who screwed up."

Seriously, Thomas? So if I understand you correctly and if you're not joking, you are taking the word of a source who has a powerful vested interest in blaming the pilot. And you're doing this before any investigation has been completed? And from media reports?

I find such thinking astonishingly prejudiced and quite naive. I'm glad I'm able to resist going there until more is known.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 1, 2015 7:51 AM    Report this comment

As the plot thickens the blame game is on. Perhas Morton has a cockpit video while activating fuel flows - but then perhaps not. Stay tuned, we'll be right back.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | February 1, 2015 8:56 AM    Report this comment

Paul, yes, I am half joking. That being said, I am only quoting what the owner of the ferry operation has stated. I am giving the owner of the operation a degree of credibility, at least as much as the pilot. I would like to think that the owner is not going to blindly point fingers without some degree of knowledge and responsibility. Maybe on that front I am naive. As you have pointed out, an investigation will take place and hopefully it will be conclusive and it will be what it will be. That is what the insurance company will take to the bank.

Posted by: Thomas Cooke | February 1, 2015 9:25 AM    Report this comment

One factor to consider in the debate over whether it was the best idea to open the door: only the pilot's door was usable on this flight. The ferry tanks obstructed the copilot-side door. So, if he had kept his door closed, and for some reason was unable to open it after impact with the water (e.g., if it had jammed), he would have been forced to try to break out through a window. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to try that maneuver as the plane is being capsized by the 'chute and then sinking.

Posted by: MICHAEL KOBB | February 1, 2015 4:24 PM    Report this comment

Oh, also, regarding the ferry system, the news reports I saw said that he had been on the satellite phone for hours troubleshooting the system and trying to get fuel flowing. So it certainly seems that there was something wrong with it beyond pilot error.

The only "didn't follow the checklist" criticism that would make sense if those reports are true would be if that checklist includes an operational test of the ferry tank valves early in the flight -- while airborne and within safe return distance -- and if that test was not performed.

It would then be partly the pilot's fault for failing to do that test, but there would still have been a mechanical failure that was out of his control.

Posted by: MICHAEL KOBB | February 1, 2015 4:29 PM    Report this comment

Getting back to silly drones.

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Posted by: Rafael Sierra | February 1, 2015 4:56 PM    Report this comment

Google much?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 2, 2015 4:25 AM    Report this comment

"He did a mistake" it!

I'm going to start using that phrase from now on.

Posted by: A Richie | February 2, 2015 9:57 AM    Report this comment

Conventional wisdom among spotter pilots I have spoken with (I am not one) is doors open prior to impact, and if possible let something hang out to keep the door from closing. Granted, these guys are flying high wings; the concern is that if the landing does not go according to script and they flip, the wing could crimp upward and bind the door shut. I like the idea of doors open on general principle. You're going to get wet anyway. Also, far as 32 second goes, don't bank on it. Back in the 1970s a friend put his 170 into the water off Duxbury, Mass. He got out as quickly as he could, but by the time he got clear and turned around to look at his plane it was on its way to the bottom. The editor, I think, of Yachting or Motor Boating magazine was there and picked him up, and wrote it up.

Posted by: Jerry Fraser | February 6, 2015 1:15 PM    Report this comment

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