Will Parachutes Ever Be Other Than A Cirrus Thing?


I got into aviation journalism because I possess exceptional perspicacity and a keen sense of what the future holds. This talent, sadly, deserted me when I reduced $1200 to $1.27 in a sure-bet penny stock buy and further ill served me with regard to predictions about the Cirrus parachute system.   

I bet a friend that the first activation of it would be by accident on the ground. He graciously never insisted on pay up after this never happened. I further predicted that the first STC to apply to the Cirrus would be to remove the parachute. This hasn’t happened, either. Every one of the 7500-plus Cirrus airplanes out there, including the jets, still have parachutes.

This dubious record might cause a more reasonable person to be timid about future futurism, but not me. Well, maybe a little. When I wrote about Pipistrel’s new Panthera RG last week, I mentioned in passing that it has a full airframe ballistic parachute. While lots of light sport-type airplanes have parachutes, it’s an idea that only Cirrus has gotten to work on a sustainable scale. Cessna, Mooney and Diamond haven’t given it the time of day.

Why this is so would be a good Wharton study. Or maybe a reality series. I’m sure hideboundedness is part of it, as is the prohibitive cost and complexity of certifying a legacy airframe for a parachute, although that has been done for the Cessna 172 and 182 as a BRS STC. Then there are the numbers. Would a parachute really affect overall system safety? As I explained in this week’s video, for Cirrus, the answer is yes. There are a few people who are alive today who wouldn’t be were it not for the parachute. It’s also true that some who used the parachute would still be alive if they hadn’t used it. They would have survived, as Clausewitz said of war to politics, by other means.

This kind of misses the point or at least deals it a glancing blow. Yes, it’s a safety enhancer, but the real genius of CAPS is that it’s a powerful sales lever, both for buyers or buyers’ spouses who might be fence straddling on buying an airplane and for the parachute true believers. The new version of this is Autoland. I suspect it will be used in anger far less than CAPS, but enough people will push the buy button who might not otherwise to make it worth the effort of certification.

When Cirrus was maybe seven years into its golden success story, we conducted a survey bluntly asking owners if the parachute was a factor in the buy decision. About a third said it was. I think the real number was higher then and is probably higher now, particularly those new to aviation. And don’t forget, Cirrus delivered a capable airplane at just the right time and hit its stride in the early 2000s.

When I was making my failed predictions, Cirrus co-founder Alan Klapmeier was making a couple of his own. One was that Cirrus would prove you didn’t need special DNA to be a pilot and the other was more a philosophical statement of purpose than prediction: A pilot shouldn’t have to die for his or her mistakes. I think he’s batting about .500.

Cirrus still has its share of accidents, including fatals. Many of them are serious landing accidents. This tells me that to survive flying airplanes, you do need enough special DNA to master situational awareness and enough hand-eye coordination to at least keep the greasy side down. Not everyone can do this well and some can’t do it at all. Automation hasn’t proved to be an effective substitute. Yet. But it is true CAPS has saved a few pilots from their own blunders.

So now comes Pipistrel offering the parachute as standard but not a condition of certification as is the case for the Cirrus. How many buyers accept it may be a measure of nothing at all or how well the technology has been embraced as just another thing like seatbelts and backup batteries. I predict most, if not all, buyers will want it and to that extent, Pipistrel might be surfing on the wave of the Cirrus success story.

Even though I’m a skydiver, I’m not a parachute-for-airplanes fundamentalist myself. For me, it’s kind of a 55-45 thing in favor, with my reservations related to lack of toggles and brakes once that puppy is out of the bag. But the arguments against having the parachute as an option sounded silly 20 years ago and they haven’t improved with age. A real pilot, the reasoning went, should be skilled enough to land after an engine failure or loss of control. And, if not, well, isn’t it better to just die? Isn’t a good pilot a trained pilot who should avoid these situations in the first place? I hear this less often than I once did, but I still hear it.

I’ve been through every single Cirrus accident report and, as I explained in the video, the data supporting CAPS efficacy is compelling if perhaps not overwhelming. If Pipistrel makes a go of it with the Panthera, we’ll have some baseline comparison, perhaps on both sales and safety. And maybe 30 years from now, every manufacturer will offer it as at least an option. Assuming there are any manufacturers.

Meanwhile, weigh in on the question yourself in this week’s poll.

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  1. Airframe problems on a Cirrus are almost nonexistent; same as engine failures. They also have excellent auto pilots and You can get synthetic vision. The “accident” reports show that perfectly good airplanes are simply being destroyed by really bad pilotage. Your research also showed that just some type specific training brought Cirrus bad accidents back down to the same as other GA planes.

    There is no rationale for a Cirrus chute for trained pilots who make good preflight checks and good flight planning. None.

    • I recall the first ‘real’ Cirrus save was due to a faulty aileron repair. I think there was some debate about whether or not it could’ve been discovered during a preflight inspection.
      (maybe a ‘good’ preflight is not ‘good’ enough – it has to be ‘great’ or ‘perfect’).

      More recently, the cam gear failed causing total loss of power in a Cirrus over Long Island (New York). The parachute came in quite handy when the aircraft was at low altitude over a densely-populated area.

      Then I recall another Cirrus save into the Hudson River after medical incapacitation. The pilot survived with minor injuries. It was only while getting x-rays of his injuries that an unknown brain tumor was discovered.

      So there’s an airframe, engine, and medical event just off the top of my head. Maybe they’re so rare they’re the only ones to remember. And maybe, as Paul opined, they would’ve been resolved successfully in some other fashion. But I consider parachutes-on-planes like ABS/Airbags-on-cars – we’ve gotten along without them, but that doesn’t make them unnecessary. Or at least really nice to have.

      • There are more accidents than that that might not have been resolved successfully without CAPs. Off the top of my head, maybe a dozen or so. On the other hand, fatal loss of control accidents are frequent with other types.

        You can argue all you like that the pilots should have been proficient enough to save themselves but the blunt reality is that many simply are not. And they’re dead as a result. A BRS at least offers a second chance. I think many pilots still believe that old astronaut axiom, it’s better to be dead than to look bad.

        • Paul, not arguing at all. I just don’t see how people get into those situations with all the good airframe design, fantastic autopilots, synthetic vision, ABS-B near live weather and GPS navigation with color moving maps. Seriously, you would have to do a lot of work to die in a Cirrus w/o a chute. I just don’t it.

      • Nice post Kirk. IIRC, the aileron had only two attach points making each one a single point of failure. Did Cirrus ever change that?

    • I believe the reason for the chute is the aircraft has bad stall characteristics and will go into a flat spin. I remember the test pilot being killed in one due to it going flat and unable to recover during flight test when I was up in Minn.

      • That’s what I remember, also. The Cirrus could not pass FAA Part 23 spin testing and the chute was added to achieve an equivalent level of safety.

        • The American ( and later Grumman) Yankee had the same issue. They solved it with a placard that said “Spins Prohibited”.

          • IIRC the spin prohibition came after the AA1A was already certified. I recall that there was a NASA experimental flight test program with pro-spin rockets on the wingtips and during that program it was determined that the spin recovery characteristics were challenging. I’d be glad to hear from someone who has a clearer memory. I did own an AA1A years ago but never tried to spin it.

          • That little placard didn’t solve anything. ALL single engine planes have to meet the FAA’s spin certification requirements… unless…
            The Cirrus was granted an exemption BECAUSE of its whole-airframe parachute. Tee FAA apparently was in a good mood that day.

      • This understanding about Cirrus spins seems to persist. In 2001 on a visit to Cirrus, I had a long discussion with a Cirrus production test pilot. We talked about spins, entries and recoveries. He told me the airplane enters a spin with effort, but recovers normally with normal anti-spin control inputs. He didn’t say anything about it flattening.

        I took him at his word. The skeptical reader can decide if I was mislead. CAPS was always intended as a safety system, but Cirrus talked the FAA into allowing its presence in lieu of a 500-point spin test program. I have never heard anything to disprove this.

        • Thanks Paul: That description sounds likely. Cirrus judged that the BRS would be a sales tool and additionally it saved flight test effort.

    • There’s always a cost/benefit ratio to consider, but your note, “There is no rationale for a Cirrus chute for trained pilots who make good preflight checks and good flight planning. None.” implies that a manly pilot can handle anything and a good preflight is 100% accurate in predicting problems.
      Have you ever been the only pilot in the airplane (with passengers)? Is there a case for giving them an option to survive if you happen to have a fatal heart attack?
      Does a thorough preflight check and good flight planning predict that heart attack or a mid-air collision?
      On the other hand, is it worth $250,000 and 500 pounds to provide that parachute option? Some would say not.
      Is it worth $1,000 and 25 pounds for the parachute? Many (virtually all) would say yes.
      Finding that happy point in between the extremes I just mentioned is complicated (how much are your passengers’ lives worth if you drop dead in the pilot’s seat?) so Cirrus made the decision for them. You cannot buy a Cirrus without a parachute.
      Is it worth

    • I keep thinking about the terrible accident a few years ago where some poor folks in a Bonanza lost the engine in low IMC. The pilot tried his best to maneuver to a position that would give them some chance, but they popped out of the clouds low, had very little room to maneuver, and ended up hitting a house. As I recall, the fatalities included everyone on the plane and others on the ground.

      Now, imagine if that same flight had been conducted in an SR-22. They could have pulled CAPS, and the statistics suggest that everyone both in the plane and on the ground would be with us today.

  2. Wasn’t it Bill Booth who said, “The safer skydiving gear becomes, the more chances skydivers will take, in order to keep the fatality rate constant”?

    Along those lines the argument was made that some (most?) Cirrus owners push the envelope more knowing they have a parachute to back them up. And for awhile it seemed Cirrus was going to take the “doctor killer” crown away from Bonanza.

    However, COPA seems to have done a good job developing a type-specific training syllabus that has gone a long way towards reducing the accident rate. At least, among those who take the training. Which begs another question – does more/better training produce better/safer pilots, or do better/safer pilots avail themselves of more training?

  3. My experience has been that the pilots who least need training are the ones that take extra training and the ones that most need training are the ones that don’t take any.

    The pilots that complete the full Cirrus initial and recurrent training almost never have an accident. Almost all of the Cirrus accidents are by pilots that have either not completed the full, excellent initial training and/or did not keep up with the recurrent training.

    Cirrus IMO is to be highly commended for being the only GA aircraft manufacturer who has been serious about providing professional pilot level training. This type of training has resulted in a dramatic reduction in accidents in the corporate turbine and airline world. The difference is that in professional pilot world the training is effectively mandatory. In light GA it is optional. However I think that Cirrus commitment to providing good training is far more responsible for the generally good accident stats for this airplane than the existence of a whole airframe parachute.

    • And yet Diamond has a better record. Not sure where the R and later Mooneys stand, but they also had a better rating at some point.

      I’m a whole plane man. Parachute is likely a plus, but once it’s on the plane, it’s the whole package that matters.

      Panthera isn’t going to get a big sales bump from the parachute though it does help with spouses.

      What sells planes is putting people in them that can afford them and selling them. Cirrus, unlike everyone else except sort of Cessna, actually does this. Cessna gets by because the school system is overwhelmingly Cessna. You have to either sell to non pilots or help create pilots which will buy or rent your planes. Or, sell you company to the Chicoms.

      Why this is a mystery to so many companies I cannot say.

  4. Engines do fail, although not often, especially if well maintained. Fuel tanks do leak, although not often, and such leaks are usually detected in a good pre-flight – but not always. Pilots are sometimes incapacitated in flight, although rarely. For anyone who flies over water and/or mountains, I think it’s impossible to argue that an airframe parachute isn’t a good “tool in the bag” even for the best-trained pilot in the best-maintained airplane.

  5. I have no problem with the concept of the chute and can see where even the best pilot could be put in a situation where the chute would be a lifesaver (pilot incapacitation or controls jammed). On the other hand, the cost, complexity, maintenance requirements and weight penalty vs the likelihood of needing it pretty much balance out.

    If I were in a position and of a mind to buy a new Cirrus and there was a choice of whether to get one with a chute or without, I would opt for no chute.

    • You bring up a good point – cost vs safety. In addition to the initial cost to purchase and the continuous weight penalty, there’s also the 10-year repack cycle. Currently that’s around $10,000. A hefty figure for something that, ideally, will never be used.

      In many ways it’s like insurance. The parachute is about $1,000/year of insurance. But, unlike insurance, it can prevent the injury and death, not just pay for the pain and suffering after the fact.

      Is it worth it? Each person has their own calculus. Some fly with million-dollar smooth insurance polices. Others with no insurance at all. Some people buy the newest car with all the latest safety features, others get 10-year-old used cars.

      These are not always rational decisions. I know one guy in the 1980s who removed all the seat belts from his Jeep Wagoneer. He weighed the belts and found they added up to 24 lbs of “dead weight” that he was no longer carrying around. He was quite proud of that savings. Frankly, he could’ve stood to lose 24 lbs of weight himself.

      • There was an absolutely pristine Cirrus in a hangar next to mine. It was loaded up with all manner of goodies. The 10 year repack time was coming up and the owner elected to sell the thing rather than deal with it. He then bought a near new airplane to avoid the hassle. $1K/year on top of all the other costs of ownership seems like a lot to me. If I were in a position to own one with or without … it wouldn’t be there.

  6. None of that stall/spin stuff people repeat from rumors they heard is true about the Cirrus FYI. For European EASA certification for the aircraft they required full spin testing and the aircraft spun and recovered normally

    The chute was always part of the original design because of a fatality caused by a midair collision that resulted in a wing separation (neither planes Cirrus). The original designers realized that a chute would have likely saved that person’s life, it’s a sad story and worth reading about the Klappmeiers and why they built the Cirrus the way they did from the outset

    The accident referenced in the other comments above was due to controls jamming in a cross controlled fashion during flight testing (a result of linked stick and rudder). The design defect was resolved for production models

    I have hundreds of hours in various Cirrus, g1, g2, g3, g5, SR20 up through 22 turbo. They all stall very comfortably.. you can pull the power and sit in a smooth controlled falling leaf stall. In my opinion it stalls nicer and recovers more easily than a hershey bar Cherokee or Grumman

  7. I have to wonder if one reason other mfrs have not incorporated airframe parachutes is due to potential exposure to liability lawsuits. It could possibly be argued that if a parachute was to become available on a legacy airframe, that is, not a clean-sheet design, it could be seen as acknowledgment by the mfr that their older pre-chute models of the same airframe were less safe.

    • There might be some of that. But seatbelts, airbags, and ABS brakes were introduced on cars without the majority of the public complaining the old cars were less safe.

      It may be more of a mindset among the consumers. In the car industry the mantra for decades was “safety doesn’t sell”. In 1956 Ford set out to disprove this by offering things like seatbelts (gasp!), padded dashboards (instead of hard steel), doors that would stay closed in a crash (to not eject people), and energy-absorbing steering wheels. This was all based upon crash surveys and engineering studies that showed such simple measures would dramatically improve survivability

      So what happened? Sales floundered, and Chevy handily outsold them. The catchphrase became “Ford sold safety while Chevy sold cars.”

      It took awhile for the public to catch on to the idea that safety is a good idea.

      • I was referring to how a mfr might be portrayed to a jury in court. The actual market is a very different segment of reality than the version a jury may hear or is even allowed to hear.

    • One reason, sure. We were told by a top guy at Diamond About 15 years ago that adding the chute would mean a complete redesign. Given comparative safety records it was a no brainer not to do it, but that it would be something they would seriously Look into on all new models.

      Anyways, there is no free lunch. If you look at the weight and money used on a chute, you might find something that adds more safety. Then, choosing the chute becomes putting sales over safety. The original owners of Cirrus did not do that. They believed in the chute, and their record has been reasonably good. Diamond did better but gets much less attention, positive and negative.

      Cessna has done nothing, and really deserves an internet roasting the likes of which is usually reserved for people who take a job in the Trump administration.

      • I think that’s a bit harsh on Cessna. All of their current piston singles are restarts of legacy aircraft, not clean-sheet designs. I’m sure they ran the same calculations as Diamond and arrived at the same result.

        The 162 Skycatcher was a clean-sheet design, and did have a BRS parachute.

        There was also the Cessna NGP (Next-Generation Piston/Propeller) prototype. Little is known about the prototype, but since it was aimed at the Cirrus market presumably it had a parachute, too. Unfortunately, I believe it was the victim of multiple levels of bad timing. Soon after it appeared Cessna bought Columbia aircraft and positioned the 350 and 400 as Cirrus competition, leaving the NGP without purpose in the line-up. Although the 350/400 looked like Cirruses and went as fast, they weren’t designed to have parachutes. Soon after that the recession of 2008 hit. Combined with poor marketing, the 350/400 went away. Along with Jack Pelton. I don’t think there’s anyone left at Cessna that wants to win over the piston GA market.

        • Kirk,
          Cessna needs harsh treatment. There have been more changes to the DA20 and DA40 than to the 172 since those planes were introduced.

          Cessna owes the community a 172 replacement as it has for over 20 years. There really is no excuse except greed and not caring.

          Comparing the record of the much bigger and higher performance Cirrus to the 172 is not at all fair. Cessna should be competing with Diamond 20 and 40 for safety and they are not even close.

          They failed with the 162. They should have taken their lessons learned and replaced the skyhawk. The government needs to end the infinite certification game and make it a liability issue to keep making antiques while making it faster and cheaper to certify new designs.

  8. Boy, if there’s anything that proves the theory of Primacy of Learning, it’s instant rumors about new aircraft. Whether it’s that Cardinal are hard to land, 152s have 30-degrees of flap because 150s couldn’t climb with 40, or Cirruses can’t spin so they need a parachute, rumors die hard.

    It doesn’t matter how much explanation is provided. Once a rumor takes hold it’s like a weed – no matter how many times you pull it out, it grows back.

  9. In France, most recreational flying is in what are called microlights — a category which includes weight shift and three axe two seaters, giros, helicopters and small balloons.
    It is a category exempt from legislation about who can work on aircraft and motors, where you can land etc etc.
    Many are built by owners from kits, others bought ready assembled from factories or from agents who get the kits and build them to market.
    And for the last 10 years or so, almost all of the new three axe and weight shift aircraft sold have had parachutes. And where people buy second hand, often the first thing they do is fix a parachute.
    Reported parachute rescues are not high, and when they are ususally involve local authorities — firemen spending half a day figuring how to get a pilot with a broken collar bone, out of the top of a tall oak in an inaccessible forest is one — but trying to sell with out a parachute is like trying to sell a car without air conditioning.

  10. No one mentioned mid-airs yet. That would be my main reason to buy something with a chute. I was almost a statistic around 30 years ago flying a Cherokee VFR up the east coast of Florida, with flight following. ATC said goodbye as I was in sight of Ft. Pierce. Just as I reached to reduce power and drop in for gas, a Mooney flew out from maybe 50 feet below me, departing in my 2 o’clock at about 150 kts, just ahead of the right wing. Had I reduced power a few seconds earlier it might have ruined my whole day. Having thought about the angles, airframes and trajectories, the chances of either one of us seeing the other (pre-ADS-B) were extremely small. I’m sure he (or she) never knew how close we came to a rude introduction. Assuming the Mooney was also VFR, ATC were not at fault but I was pretty pissed they didn’t call traffic anyway. The point being, if someone takes a big chunk out of your wing, or tail, it doesn’t matter how good you are. Just depends how lucky you are. I like the option of pulling the emergency handle to stack the deck in my favor.

    • Sounds a lot like a chapter from Fate Is The Hunter. I too had a near-midair (though not quite as close a call as yours) on a cross-country training flight for my commercial rating. For whatever reason, my instructor and I weren’t getting flight following. We were about half way through the first leg when my instructor pointed to the right wing as he saw another plane pass up from behind and below. We probably only had about 50 feet vertical separation and maybe 200 feet horizontal separation (it’s hard to say exactly, but suffice to say, much closer than I’d like). I don’t think the other aircraft saw us.

  11. Cirrus made the chute a normal part of aviation conversation and nomenclature. If Cirrus was only selling 20-30 airplanes a year, the merits of the whole aircraft parachute would be a constant debate, with little data to support or disprove their validity, and their marketing value. But the chute is very hard to debate when Cirrus became the piston engine sales leader, and stayed there. 7500 airplanes and counting at 350-450 per year when all of the other airplanes comparable in price are selling in miniscule quantities, the merits of the chute are not debatable anymore.

    Mooneys may be faster…but that hasn’t been selling. The TTx was faster with a similar look, similar price, similar construction…and it is another orphan airplane. The G36 has a following but still sell in handfuls compared to the Cirrus. All have leather, all have at least four seats, all have similar panels, all are powered with essentially the same engine. It would be difficult to argue that Cirrus has simply just out marketed the competition.

    Today, a single engine, high performance airplane is expected to have a chute. That is now “standard” equipment. Sort of like building a high performance car and making airbags, bucket seats, disc brakes, EFI, AC, and dual exhaust options. Cirrus set the standard for customer expectations by making the perception of improved safety and survivability a normal part of the Cirrus flying lifestyle by making it not only standard, but part of its airworthiness, including the 10 year chute repack at 10 large a pop.

    It won’t be long a chute and Autoland will be synonymous with a high performance single, especially Cirrus. Chrysler has a “hemi”. It’s expected fare in that product. Cirrus has a chute, with Autoland soon to follow. I would wager Piper will only sell Autoland single engine turbines…it will be expected. And at current price levels, there is no Cirrus lost leader, stripped cheapie. No need for those kinds of airplanes. All Cirrus aircraft have chutes.

    And when the competition figures that out instead of suggesting a chute as an option, all single engine, high performance airplanes will have them. I would suggest that at some point, all new GA airplanes will eventually have a chute. It is expected in LSA’s, European microlights, in all Cirrus products, and I believe it will be expected in all production aircraft sometime in the future.

    Perception is most folks reality. The Klapmeiers figured that out real early in the launch of Cirrus.

    • “I would suggest that at some point, all new GA airplanes will eventually have a chute.”
      Think about that. A King Air 350 with a whole-airframe parachute? A Gulfstream? A Falcon?
      Even in the Vision Jet, the plane has to remain flyable – to achieve an airspeed between 60 and 160 knots – in order to deploy the chute. Heavy and/or fast just isn’t parachute territory. Four seats and 160 knots seems to be the high end of the sweet spot. Plenty of utility there. But it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see a parachute-equipped A-380. 😉

      • YAR’s….I have thought about that…and I am paraphrasing your past comments that basically stated that you have engineered systems and things that was considered impossible. You got paid well to do what had never been done before but took the concept, and in one form or another, came up with a solution.

        I agree, there is no evidence to a layman like myself that a 6,000-12,500 lb airframe can be engineered for a whole airframe parachute. But I do think that it could be developed.

        Having said that, I will add an amendment by GA, I mean an airplane, of 6,000lbs or less, which covers a significant portion of GA airplanes currently being manufactured, will need to be CAPS equipped to remain competitive in particularly the high performance single market. Eventually, if piston twins are still being manufactured, I would think a whole airframe parachute will be needed for the same reason…that being expected as the safety “new normal”.

        A whole airframe parachute covers the area that Autoland will not…engine failure, fuel exhaustion/starvation, flight control issues, etc. Autoland covers the areas where a chute could be used but not necessarily had to be used if there was an alternative way of getting the airplane down safely such as pilot incapacitation, or potentially for a pilot in over his/her head but not in full spatial disorientation , graveyard spiral scenario.

        With both available today, I predict a company like Cirrus will incorporate both as standard equipment. That will force the competition to do something similar or be happy with single digit sales while Cirrus continues to sell 300-500 airplanes per year. The new normal for GA safety ( for those 6,000 lb or less airplanes) will be both and it will become expected as the boomer pilots head west.

        Somewhere along the way, I would not be surprised of a cottage industry, maybe headed up by BRS, will emerge, retrofitting the 4 place market of legacy aircraft, the RV series of airplanes, and other popular airplanes like the Carbon Cub. While not popular in the past, it could be the time is now right for that market to emerge.

        It won’t be bought by us curmudgeons. We like to argue about whether we have the stick, rudder, and decision-making skills to handle any and every emergency simply because we think we can with our “there I was ” story to justify our position(s). But we are not the demographics setting the demands, the new normal for safety with the chute and Autoland.

        At this time Garmin and Cirrus are focusing on the market expectations that is coming more from a younger demographic of both experienced corporate/commercial pilots, and affluent private aviators. I predict this combo as the new normal for safety resulting in more aircraft sales for those who embrace the entire concept as “standard equipment”.

        • Limiting the weight is half of the solution.

          But chute deployment above 160 knots is a craps shoot. The Vision Jet system relies upon a flyable aircraft (control system failures?) in order to get the airspeed into the deployment window.

          With Autoland available, I’d trade the Vision Jet’s chute for additional fuel.

        • “Somewhere along the way, I would not be surprised of a cottage industry, maybe headed up by BRS, will emerge, retrofitting the 4 place market of legacy aircraft, the RV series of airplanes, and other popular airplanes like the Carbon Cub.”

          Such a cottage industry already exists, exactly as you describe. It’s headed up by BRS and can install parachutes into 172s and 182 and all the other aircraft you listed:


          However, it remains a ‘cottage’ industry. With the Cessna 172/182 the kit costs about $16,000. Plus 40-50 hours installation. And weighs about 80lbs. And requires a repack every 10 years at cost of $5,000.

          Interestingly, BRS’s first certified product was back in the 1990s for the Cessna 150. But the cost and weight penalties were so great on such a small and inexpensive aircraft that there were few takers.

    • It’s not hard to argue that Cirrus out marketed the competition. If you had been selling against them you would know they did. The chute is one part of a safety solution, but was many parts of the marketing solution.

      You are absolutely correct that it’s about perception. A chute isn’t bad, it’s just not a free lunch safety wise.

  12. I just came across a recent fatal of an SR22 in Chester, AR on Sept. 4, 2020. The pilot and three passengers were headed to Pickens, SC from Muskogee, OK at night in what sounds like marginal weather. They only made it about 50nm to the area of Ft. Smith, AR where it sounds like the pilot lost control and spun it in without activating the CAPS system. The relatively new private pilot was low time (~120hrs TT) and had participated in the Cirrus Embark program without finishing the online portion. He had owned the airplane about eight months. Worth noting, the pilot told his flight instructor / mechanic what he was going to do and that flight instructor recommended that he wait until the next morning.

    Sure sounds like the classic case of, “You can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink” scenario to me. A (likely) operable CAPS system could have been used to save the day … but wasn’t. Three trusting people might have survived had it at least been deployed. Earlier discussion was that Cirrus training tells pilots to use the system when in doubt yet this pilot didn’t do that. I wonder if that’s taught in the flight portion, or not? Unless the pilot pulls that handle, the system may as well not be there. Also sounds like a case of improper ADM, too.

  13. The ‘chute conversation is becoming civil and reasonable contrasted with the polemic I observed as a new pilot finishing the PPL/IR in 2008. Back then it seemed like a great complement to the Lexus-inspired interior of the new Cirrus. And it created a confidence for my wife that brought her back to aviation after an uncle terrorized she and some little cousins in the 80s with a wild ride in an Arrow. He landed after a couple of them vomited in the back of his plane. Served him well. For a moment, however, let’s consider the flip side of the ‘why shouldn’t we have a chute?’ argument. Can anyone here identify a certified airframe of which at least 10 were made that all pilots (with measurable IQs) would agree should definitely have had a CAPS system if it existed at the time ?

    • I completely agree with Marc. Cirrus aimed squarely at the market of owner pilots with enough money to afford their aircraft. Those people in the main had partners, many (possibly most) of whom were not pilots. I know from some conversations that I’ve had myself, that to a non-pilot partner, a plane with a parachute is a lot more appealing than one without. When you’re trying to get your other half to agree to you spending $500K-1M on a plane, and you can say not only does this look great, go fast, it’s really comfortable and stylish inside, but also this one has a parachute for the entire plane in case something bad happens… It’s a much easier conversation!

  14. This is the best comments section I’ve seen in a while. No one mention politics.

    I heard that predictions are notoriously difficult, particularly about the future.

    Despite the current nonsense we’re clearly heading towards the next phase in air transport. Which is apparently smart fridges with fans. There will inevitably be “total envelope protection” systems with various parachutes, airbags etc. As with buying Tesla cars, anyone who buys a Cirrus is sponsoring the development of this next stage.

    I’m coming back to flying after a break and intend to treat every flight as aerobatic and wear a chute. The extra layer of protection, even if mostly BS, means something. A final layer of protection that I will never use.

  15. Another notable aircraft with a ballistic parachute as standard, is the wonderful Sling 4 TSI made near Johannesburg, South Africa

  16. It’s the rare mid-airs and airframe failures (like the ERAU Arrow) that worry me, and why I would be perfectly happy with an airframe parachute. Cry out all you want that a good pilot should be able to see all traffic, all the time, then tell me you’ve never had a near-miss. And if you say you haven’t, then I would say you just didn’t notice it. Even with ADS-B, it’s still possible to get closer to another plane than you’d like (and that’s not counting crazy things like the VFR arrival into KOSH, like from 2 years ago).

    • What causes you to believe that – subsequent to an airframe failure, regardless of its cause – whatever is left of the vehicle will be able to descend under an unharmed, fully-deployed canopy?

          • I am not aware of any in-flight breakups (overstress or mid-air) where the cabin area was ripped to pieces. Any BRS worth having would be integrated with the cabin area, since that’s the part it’s trying to save. I would still take my chances of having a BRS than not having one, even if it only improves my odds slightly.

  17. If the original V-Tail Bonanzas had chutes, just think how many more doctors and lawyers we would have had.

  18. First, consumers didn’t buy into safety equipment for cars government mandated it.

    Second, the straps holding the chute to the plane are built into the fuselage – in a midair, damage to a strap is a distinct possibility.

    That said, I hate airbags, but I would happily replace them in my cars with six point harness for each seat.

  19. I’ve never been a fan of the Cirrus BRS for competent pilots.

    (A lot of the Cirrus accidents have been VFR pilots with more money than airmanship taking off with all their friends, and promptly climbing into IMC. In the SF Bay Area, EMS uses shotspotters, intended for triangulating gunfire, to locate those accidents after they augur in like lawn darts.)

    But today we have a generation of young people (Snowflakes) who are glued to mobile phones all day, and may not be able to sustain the focus needed to become good pilots. The combination of Facebook and Instagram literally takes all their waking moments. Some people have even argued, “Why get married in 2020 when your partner will always be busy on their phone?”

    So the BRS might be a solution that finally found a problem to solve.

    • What happens if that “competent pilot” becomes medically incapacitated and their non-pilot passenger(s) are left to fend for themselves? What happens if that competent pilot has an engine failure in IMC over inhospitable terrain (mountains, heavily wooded area, water)? Or what if that competent pilot is just having a bad day and finds themselves in a bad situation – tell me no competent pilot has ever found themselves in over their head despite the best of intentions (if that were the case, there would never be any airline crashes due to pilot error).

      It’s also a bit disingenuous to say all these young people make poor pilots. I have seen (and flown with) more younger pilots that make some of the more seasoned pilots look like amateurs, than with younger pilots who clearly weren’t up to the task. Consider that it’s not the age or wealth or gender of the student pilot that determines how good of a pilot they’ll be, but rather their serious dedication to learning (or lack thereof), and the quality and dedication of their instructor. I’ve had plenty of excellent young and old instructors, and a few mediocre young and old instructors.

      BRS is no different than a glass cockpit: it doesn’t change how an airplane flies, and it can be used either as a false sense of security that causes some pilots to push the envelope, or it can be used to enhance the safety of flying.

      • Gary Baluha, you’ve NAILED IT! (Experience matters)

        “BRS is no different than a glass cockpit: it doesn’t change how an airplane flies, and it can be used either as a false sense of security that causes some pilots to push the envelope, or it can be used to enhance the safety of flying.”

  20. I think it’s fine to look at the history of Cirrus CAPS pulls (or ballistic parachute pulls generally) and opine on how many of them might have been successfully resolved without the parachute. But I think that paints an incomplete picture in a couple of ways.

    First of all, I think we have to be realistic and acknowledge that some number of those incidents that didn’t “need” CAPS when looked at in retrospect likely would have resulted in fatalities or severe injuries had CAPS not been used. For example, an engine out within gliding distance of an airport should be survivable. No farm field, no highway, what could be better than an available paved runway? But there was just a multi-fatality accident a couple of days ago in a Piper JetProp conversion that appears to have stalled and spun in as the pilot was maneuvering for a forced landing, and that sort of thing happens more frequently than I think a lot of people would like to admit. An early Cirrus fatality occurred in exactly such circumstances — the pilot elected not to pull CAPS because there was a runway within gliding range, but he misjudged the glide, came up short, and in trying to stretch the glide, stalled the plane and spun it in. It’s unrealistic to expect perfect performance from even experienced pilots under the stress of a serious emergency.

    I think it was one of the Patey brothers who posted a video talking about engine-out practice, in which he related the story of an instructor who taught engine-out landings all the time. But when he actually suffered one, the actual glide ratio of the airplane was different from what it was with a simulated failure, and he came up short and crashed.

    I recall that there’s a statistic that says that 90% off forced landings are survivable. Well, that means 1 in 10 aren’t. Meanwhile, CAPS has a perfect record when deployed within the recommended parameters.

    Anyway, the second big thing, and perhaps the more important one is this: I think it would be informative to examine all the fatal accidents in other types (and in Cirruses where the pilot didn’t pull the ‘chute) that could have been survived had CAPS been available and deployed. I mentioned one in reply to Arthur F’s comment above — the Bonanza that crashed into a house after an engine failure in low IMC conditions. But there are so many others that come to mind. So many fellow aviators (and their families and friends) who could still be here.

    • Anecdotally it makes a good story, but statistically even more could be saved if aircraft simply used the Diamond formula instead (Excellent low speed and stall handling, crashworthiness, Etc.) Or maybe both would be even better assuming you can get it all in.

      And you could, but you cannot. Given the state of GA, the economy, and the certification costs no one will. Makes me think about joining the libertarians until I remember they never win.

  21. For the peace of mind and reassurance to family for what that’s worth I gladly pay the price in costs and payload for CAPS. But, in truth and fact, if you can avoid stalling your plane before you reach the earth you and your pax will probably survive and in most cases walk away.