More on Cirrus Ditching and Insane Drone Video


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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