The Cirrus line of aircraft have been flying for 20 years and although most people in aviation know they have full aircraft parachutes, it’s fair to ask how effective these have been. With more than 90 uses of the so-called CAPS, has the system really saved lives? In this video, AVweb’s Paul Bertorelli analyzes the record.

24 COMMENTS

  1. I really like the analysis on the Cirrus parachute safety. A report on why the Piper Saratoga has such a high fatality rate would be interesting. The kit built industry has a few parachute recovery offerings, but their data may not be as good as the aircraft in this video. Keep making these videos, please.

  2. The negative reaction to CAPS by some pilots proves once again the pilot is the most dangerous component in the aircraft. I was an early Cirrus Standardized Instructor Pilot (CSIP) and like many was skeptical of how effective the parachute would But the results are in and the bottom line is there are people alive today who would be dead if not for CAPS. The pilots who whine about how the chute is somehow too wimpy are, and I say this bluntly, fools. They are probably the same people who complained about GPS (“children of the magenta line”) and their ancestors probably complained about how the introduction of VOR’s would degrade everyone’s ADF skills! As Paul points out, like ejection seats pilots need to be trained in when and how to use CAPS to get the safety benefits from this technology. I do a lot of the Embark training Paul mentioned here in AZ and the latest Cirrus curriculum has been improved to incorporate the experience of the last 22 years. As aviators we should applaud technological advances that enhance safety, not belittle them.

    • You can keep your parachute Robert and stuff it. I have yet to be convinced how many of those CAPS saves would never have occurred if a bad decision would never had been made. By the way Robert, I have plenty of magenta lines in my cockpit. I also, have the green ones too. 🤓

    • Robert, I won’t quarrel with your basic premise except to say I would refrain from using the descriptor “fools” in the context which you did. I wish collegiality was still the norm. Also, I will say that my recollection regarding “children of the magenta” is that this phrase was coined during the late 1990’s / early 2000’s to describe pilots who were too becoming dependent on automation to the extent that they were prioritizing automation management at the expense of basic airmanship. And, as I recall, it was “children of the magenta”, not “children of the magenta line” and originally had nothing to do with GPS.

      • HI John,
        Well said John. Somehow we seem to think that attacking the person “fools” rather than the issue makes our argument stronger. I have a friend that does this all the time and now I find myself avoiding talking to him about issues.

  3. “So what happened? Well 2011 happened”

    COPA proves that training saves lives, not technology. Once again we see that sufficient training makes the Cirrus on-par with other aircraft AYA did the same thing with the AA1 Yankee back in the day. As your data showed, the BRS cute is irrelevant; in-type pilot training brings aircraft accident rates to acceptable levels.

  4. Nice job on a controversial subject once again, Paul. To me the bottom line is that CAPS can save lives when used in the right circumstances. Structural failures, stall/spin at low altitude, spatial disorientation and maybe emergency landings in trees or water are possible circumstances where CAPS might help by restoring level attitude and reducing vertical and horizontal speed before impact. Of course, once CAPS is deployed the pilot has very little control of the aircraft if the chute deploys properly and the airplane will most likely be severely damaged or totaled. So the question is whether or not the pilot made the right decision in CAPS deployment. The statistics don’t seem to offer a definitive answer to that question but the trend is toward a lower fatal accident rate. Overall, I’d say that CAPS is a good thing if the pilot is properly trained in it’s use.

  5. Great analysis!
    The video made reference to the original Cirrus contention that “the airplane is a total loss if the chute is pulled. I wrote a magazine article on Cirrus when it first came out–the person giving the factory tour also said it–“there would be too much structural damage caused by the chute activation to rebuild the aircraft.”

    Question–How many aircraft HAVE BEEN rebuilt following a chute activation?

    I also did an article on Ballistic Recovery Systems (BRS)–the manufacturer of the chute. Interesting folks! As a former skydiver, it was interesting to see how the chute is packed into such a small area–they use a hydraulic press to compact it into a virtually solid “brick”–it’s a wonder that it is able to unfold and deploy. They allow the compacted parachute to dry out in a special dehydrator before final packaging.

    Related question–how much does BRS get for a mandated repack–and what is the mandated calendar time for repack? I have a BRS system on my Kolb–the cost of the repack was nearly as much as the initial cost, so we removed it. Just wondering what a Cirrus owner has to factor in for the cost of the repack annually.

  6. That was a very informative video and explains why Cirrus aircraft are such a great selling airplane. I still say that a well trained and proficient pilot will survive in every accident/incident that these Cirrus aircraft had the CAPS deployments. The key is to fly under control all the way to the crash site and touch down at slow speed at least 1.2 times Vso or slower without stalling. The crashworthiness of most aircraft WILL protect the occupants after that. I will bet my life on that each and every time. Parachutes are great pacifier/security blanket, but most importantly a great marketing tool for Cirrus.

  7. It seems that CAPS is like an autopilot; it is just something else that you have to learn to control, to fly the airplane. What doesn’t help is just reading the number of instances that Cirruses have crashed, both with and without the chute. The numbers just sound terrible, a lot more than we expected.

  8. I would suggest that the focus on the CAPS misses the point. Cirrus, unlike the other GA manufacturers got serious about training. Their program is highly developed and evidence based and is much more than just how to use the CAPS. Cirrus pilots who complete the full initial training program and maintain their skills through the Cirrus recurrent training system basically don’t crash. My understanding is that almost all Cirrus crashes had pilots who had not attained and/or maintained the full Cirrus training regime.

    A few years ago I was flying a pressurized twin Cessna in mid Texas on a not very nice winter day. There were 4 GA airplanes working centre, myself and 3 Cirrus’s. This airplane seems to get used for a lot more A to B hard IFR flying than comparable GA big singles. This inevitably exposes them to more challenging conditions and elevates flight risk contributing to accidents, particularly when poor or no training for pilots who get in over their head