Fatal Cirrus crashes are way down – thank the parachute

Everything is on video these days. Everything. The latest evidence? Two airplane crashes made headlines in recent weeks – one a general aviation airplane, one an airliner – and both of them were recorded so the talking heads of cable TV could instantly dissect them.

Cirrus parachuting into Pacific Ocean
Good publicity for general aviation?

There was one notable difference between the two news stories, though. The Cirrus SR22 that splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after encountering fuel problems on a ferry flight received glowing coverage because of the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) it used to descend. The stories were all about “the save” and the pilot who lived. The ATR-72 that crashed in Taiwan, by contrast, was a gruesome video to watch. The pilots and many passengers died as the airplane appeared to stall and spin out of control before crashing into a river.

For once, general aviation wasn’t the one with the black eye.

The “trend” of Asian airline crashes is overblown. In spite of a few headline-making accidents, airline flying remains incredibly safe. But another trend has received far less attention, and the Hawaii video hints at it: fatal accidents in Cirrus SR20s and SR22s, the most popular general aviation airplane of the last decade, are down. In fact, they’re down significantly.

In 2014, with just under 6,000 airplanes in the fleet flying an estimated 1,000,000 flight hours, there were only 3 fatal Cirrus accidents. Considering the demanding weather conditions many of these airplanes operate in, that’s an impressively low number. This isn’t a fluke either: the number of fatal Cirrus accidents has dropped from a pretty awful 16 in 2011 to 10 in 2012, then 9 in 2013. The indefatigable Rick Beach at the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association has calculated a fleet fatal accident rate of 0.42 per 100,000 flight hours for the past 12 months, or 0.84 for the past three years. Both of these are down dramatically compared to recent history, and are probably below the rate for general aviation as a whole. Suffice it to say, that has not always been the case.

What’s causing this drop in fatal accidents?

A compelling case can be made that it’s the parachute. While some pilots spent the past few years debating the merits of a whole airplane parachute (“real pilots don’t need one!”), the Cirrus community was busy changing its training philosophy. After too many accidents where the pilot tried to be a hero and deadstick his airplane into an impossible situation, the mantra became “pull early, pull often.” While somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the lesson is serious: CAPS is an essential safety feature of the airplane, not an afterthought. A good pilot will integrate it into his training, his everyday briefings and his emergency planning.

The numbers tell quite a story. While fatal accidents have been dropping, the number of CAPS deployments have been increasing. In fact, 2014 marked the first time the two curves crossed, with more CAPS events (12) than fatal accidents (3). This is significant, because while pulling the red handle may total the airplane, the pilot and passengers will almost always survive if it’s done within the limitations of the system. Out of 51 total CAPS events, there have been 104 survivors and only one fatality.

Cirrus fatals vs parachute events

Numbers like that should make even the most hardened cynic stop and think. In a world overrun by technology, why is this one still so exotic?

Certainly, adding a parachute to an airplane is neither cheap nor easy. At roughly 80 lbs. and $25,000, it’s not practical to add one to every airplane. But it deserves more serious consideration than most pilots give it. After all, we pay lots of money for other tools of marginal use. I think parachutes will save more lives over the next 10 years than angle of attack instruments, to take just one popular example.

Adding a parachute also won’t make you a better pilot. The red handle can’t do anything to prevent scud running and it can’t help you fly a better ILS. This raises the one serious question that remains about CAPS, and it has been debated since the first Cirrus was delivered in 1999: does the presence of a “get out of jail free card” encourage pilots take more risks? Psychology suggests that it might, but the statistics above don’t necessarily show that to be true. At a certain level, though, it doesn’t really matter. Pilots with thick wallets and thin logbooks always have and always will wreck airplanes. But if they walk away from it because of the parachute, at least they have the chance to learn from their mistake. Many doctors in V-tail Bonanzas never had that chance.

So a whole airplane parachute isn’t magic. Fine. Whether it’s ejection seats or parachutes, new safety technology is rarely perfect or cost-free. But neither is it mere marketing spin. The last 15 years have proven that CAPS is both effective and reliable technology, and with proper training it is a major safety enhancement.

The parachute is also beneficial on another level, and this affects all pilots. The ditching in Hawaii shows how powerful it is for improving our safety image if nothing else. After all, when’s the last time thousands of people watched a video of a successful airplane crash?

Cirrus pilots reexamined how they look at CAPS. Time for the rest of us to do the same.

84 Comments

  • Thank the persistence over decades and creativity of Boris Popov and BRS for advancing and making a reality of the whole-airframe parachute. It baffles me still as to why the concept has been so controversial and slowly accepted. I agree with John that Cirrus’s success in this realm is a game-changer. The availability of airframe parachutes for ultralight-like and “airplane” type Light Sport Aircraft should provide equally compelling evidence that many lives can be saved with this equipment. When push came to shove, I’d pull the red handle; wouldn’t you?

  • The backlash against CAPS and other BRS installations seems to be primarily a self-justification tool for those who fly legacy GA piston aircraft not equipped with BRS. After all, admitting that it is a valuable safety tool and that your 1970-something bugsmasher doesn’t have it sets up the cognitive dissonance that you aren’t being as safe as you could be. Easiest solution: denigrate the safety tool and those who choose airplanes equipped with it.

    Hopefully the stats, the penetration of BRS into the fleet and the natural refreshing of the pilot population overturn this nasty trend in the coming years.

  • Some thoughts—
    1. All else equal, I’d like to have the chute option than not have it; e.g. when the right wing falls off because a 737 ran me over or I have sudden health issues, my wife wants the chute
    2. There’s a cost benefit analysis that we all make and it’s different for everyone; the chute has a cost; just read Airfacts to find out how sensitive GA pilots are to costs
    3. The chute does offer a type of safety option in some situations that an “autoland” feature does not; AND vice versa… we will hear from the autoland/no pilot crowd shortly
    4. There’s still a lot of difference in flying a Cirrus with a chute and a Skyhawk (bugsmasher) with a chute. e.g. landing speeds are a lot higher in the Cirrus; you’re still comparing apples to oranges even if both have chutes; the bugsmasher may argue he’s safer in other ways besides the chute; just saying

  • This argument always comes down to one side saying “If you knew how to fly, you wouldn’t need that parachute” and the other side saying “You’re just jealous because I can afford a more expensive plane.”

    One thing not discussed in this article is that the rate of spin accidents compared to all fatal accidents for the SR22 is two to six times higher for the SR22 than that of other GA aircraft such as the 172, 182, BE36, etc. Stalls are similarly higher, percentage-wise.

    • To Andrew’s point, I wonder if a large portion of Cirrus owner/pilots are new to aviation, that is, folks with considerable money who take a hankerin’ to fly fast in their own little airliner, buy the plane, and train in it. Could the stall/spin figures (if they really are that high) result from the airmen not having worked their way up the ladder from simple-and-slow to increasingly faster and more complex aircraft, gathering stick-and-rudder skills and that reflexive forward shove on the controls that saves one’s behind when the stall warning blares? John Z., do you know if there are any data on the time since licensure and flight experience of Cirrus pilots vs. the fleet averages?

      • That depends on your definition of experience. I believe a previous AirFacts article found an average of ~1200 hours total time for Cirrus fatal accident pilots. I haven’t crunched all the data for the 182 and 172 yet, but the average total times for fatal accidents in the 170/180/185 are significantly higher than that for the Cirrus. In the end though, they are all equally dead.

        • A good many accidents happen to “pilots with thick wallets and thin log books” true but the kind and quality of training as well as attitude play a major factor. Safety has always been paramount with me and has served well for 22,000 hours PIC.logged as a ag pilot

      • It’s an interesting question, Hunter, and that certainly is the stereotype out there about Cirrus pilots. I did a quick look at the last 3 years of fatal accidents and there is no obvious trend. In general, about 1000 hours total time seems like a common number. Not a grizzled veteran, perhaps, but hardly a new pilot. And many of these pilots were flying over 100 hours per year – a lot for GA.

        Cirrus accident causes are varied, but IFR conditions play a role in a lot. Some VFR pilots pushing it, but a lot of IFR pilots who lost control too. There are also a few accidents on landing or during go-arounds. So yes, there may be some airmanship issues there, but I don’t think you can say there’s a “spin problem.”

      • Cirrus is the most popular plane for students/new private pilots. The stall/spin statistic is a result of the fact that Cirrus COULD NOT CERTIFY the plane without the parachute because of the terrible stall/spin characteristics of the plane. That fact combined with the overall inexperience of a majority of cirrus owners led to an initially high accident rate. However, insurance companies caught on fairly quickly and required specific in type time/training. The training is what has caused the accident rate/fatalities to decrease, not necessarily the parachute itself.

        • @Clay Smith: “The stall/spin statistic is a result of the fact that Cirrus COULD NOT CERTIFY the plane without the parachute because of the terrible stall/spin characteristics of the plane.”

          Sorry, Clay. That is not a fact. It is not even history. It’s a myth. And it’s wrong.

          Read clarifications posted elsewhere in these comments.

          Cheers
          Rick

        • @Clay Smith: “That fact combined with the overall inexperience of a majority of cirrus owners led to an initially high accident rate.”

          As one of those early Cirrus adopters (2001) with only 65 hours total time, this myth got me started on studying aviation safety. Was I about to become an accident statistic? Turns out, no.

          The majority of fatal Cirrus accidents involve pilots with more than 800 hours of total time. Those are not inexperienced pilots.

          Another myth. Not a fact.

          Now, if you meant low time-in-type experience, then yes, about half of the Cirrus pilots who died had less than 200 hours TIT. But that’s true of the Killing Zone, so applies to general aviation, not just Cirrus.

          Cheers
          Rick

      • good example the Vee tail doctor killer. it wasn’t the airplane it was pilots with deep pockets buying a aircraft before they were ready for it.

    • @Andrew Tuohy: You state that the rate of Cirrus spin accidents to all fatal accidents is comparable to other GA aircraft. Where is that data available? And how do you determine that a fatal accident is a spin accident?

      Cheers
      Rick

      • Rick

        I went in to the NTSB database and counted the number of fatal accidents, then broke them down by NTSB probable cause. You can narrow the database down by aircraft make, or model, by fatal accidents only, by VFR/IMC, etc, which makes the job considerably easier.

        The Cirrus side has been covered in detail, but I calculated data for the SR22 because so many others had written about it that it would be a good way to check the accuracy of my other calculations.

        My spreadsheet does not include the latest SR22 fatal accident which occurred in mid-January 2015, but of 70 fatal SR22 accidents from 2000 to the end of 2014, 8 were attributed by the NTSB to spins. That comes out to 11.4 percent. Because at least half a dozen fatal accidents not fully investigated by the NTSB are in the total accident count, that number could go up, but not down. One additional accident was described by several pilot witnesses as a stall/spin, but the NTSB report only said it was a “loss of control in flight.”

        For comparison purposes, whether we count accidents back to 2000 or back to when the first aircraft rolled off the production line, the Beech 36 has a fatal spin accident rate of 2.7% of all fatal accidents.

        Andrew

  • I took away two main points from John’s very interesting essay:

    1. If you have a BRS and the sh*t hits the fan, you should use it.

    2. Lots of airplanes – beyond the Cirrus SR-series – could benefit from equipage with a BRS system.

    I may have mis-identified John’s primary intended thrusts. But with regard to the two ideas that I identified above, it’s hard to quarrel with either one of them. The results simply speak for themselves.

    Mr. Collins may have a lot to offer on my next thought. I think that a proper analysis of the available data would look at this metric: ((Fatal Accidents PLUS Chute Deployments) / Fleet Size). I readily admit that Hours Flown should be used in lieu of Fleet Size, but that figure is at best a questionable estimate, whereas the fleet count is readily available. Additional Editorial Comment: I think that it’s just a matter of (surprisingly little) time before the FAA will mandate that ALL aircraft maintenance records AND pilot logbook records must be entered into a provided online FAA database. The good news ( ? ) is that we’d be able to get our hands around the actual number of hours being flown, among other datapoints.

    The second question that I identified above is closely-coupled with another of John’s points: does the presence of a BRS affect pilot behaviors? Soon, we may – MAY – begin to get some insight into that. Or at least fodder for more argument. I’m referring to Cirrus’ plans to incorporate a BRS system into their coming personal jet.

    Disregarding the technical challenges posed by a deployment from a 6,000 pound payload at more than 300 knots, there’s the opportunity to re-examine the rationale of the BRS in a situation where the worlds of the “amateur pilot” and the “professional airplane” are about to co-exist.

    Mid-airs and RPG-induced airframe failures aside, most of the BRS action has come as a capitulation to the likely outcome of the very-recent bad judgment of the pilot-in-command. I find it legitimate to ask “how far up the ladder of performance are we willing to go, while entertaining the idea of a capitulation-based catastrophe-mitigation system?” Would a BRS-equipped Boeing 777 be a good idea? How about a Gulfstream? Why or why not?

    As a widely-reviled advocate of autonomous aircraft control systems, I opine that in instances other than airframe failure, ceding control of the vehicle to a capable machine is a more-sensible, more-practical, and simply more-preferable alternative to ceding control of the vehicle to a parachute. It’s also scalable, which is to say that the basic machine could be installed in anything from a C-150 to a B-747. And produced in one-quarter-fleet quantities, it would give us full glass cockpits for less money than a Cirrus SR-class BRS.

    Returning to the Cirrus Vision personal jet, I have to concede that:

    1. Cirrus’ management knows their customers very well.

    2. Cirrus seems bound and determined to include that BRS in their jet product.

    This fascinates me. And I have to admit that it scares me just a little. I guess in an age in which we see multi-thousand-hour airline crews lose control of passenger-laden jumbo-jets, I shouldn’t be surprised at Cirrus’ tacit admission that a few of its Personal Jet pilots probably will lose control of one of their birds. I know this much: as a design engineer for more than 40 years, I’d rather be tasked with designing a full-on autonomous control system, than with designing a BRS for a light jet.

    Full disclosure: if my latest software project gets past its next major milestone, I’m a good prospect to buy one of Cirrus’ little jets. And I’d happily forego the BRS in favor of 400 pounds of additional fuel capacity.

    Now Cirrus hasn’t said how much their Vision BRS will weigh – that 400-pound figure is my own ballpoint-on-napkin figure. But I suspect that it’s pretty close to reality, if you sum the weights of the parachute, its various deployment apparatus, and the consequential penalties from introducing U-channel lanyard trajectory discontinuities into a pressurized carbon fiber fuselage. In the non-pressurized SR aircraft, the lanyard channels’ weight penalties are relatively trivial; if you’re clever, you can make them double as longerons. In a pressurized fuselage they’re very meaningful, because they interrupt the incredibly lovely force distribution across the structural carbon fiber drag surface.

    Admittedly, Cirrus has chosen to use hand-layups of carbon fiber cloth, which facilitates use of variable-thickness technique in its fuselage design (I have a personal preference for filament-wound design technique). Still, the penalties are there, and they increase with increases in cabin pressure differential. As an old-school guy, I’m still skittish about cycle-fatigue failure modes in composite structures. That’s why I love the force-distribution pattern of uninterrupted circle-equivalent shapes, and why I prefer to execute such shapes as complementary alternating helical-ply filament buildups. The manufacturing scalabilities are attractive, too.

    So, is there a practical boundary that divides BRS-equipped aircraft from thanks-but-no-thanks aircraft? Is it based on aircraft weight? Speed? Cost? Ego? I’m interested to hear what others think.

    • As always, Tom, thoughtful comments. Your comment about fatal accidents plus parachute deployments is something I considered myself, as some sort of total safety measure. But in the end, that’s not fair. Bent airplanes are bad, but if the pilot lives, that’s a vastly superior outcome. A CAPS event is a big deal, but oftentimes the pilot walks away. Hard to equate that with a fatal.

      As for hours flown, it is worth mentioning that Cirrus aggressively collects flight hour data on their aircraft. They can track it easily with the glass cockpit’s FDR features, and they share those numbers with COPA. So the hourly rate is reasonably accurate for these airplanes.

    • @Tom Yarsley: re “does the presence of a BRS affect pilot behaviors?”

      My experience talking to about 400 Cirrus pilots every year at the Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Program is a resounding “Yes and no.”

      Yes, because these pilots know that they have an out in scenarios that would need one, such as mechanical failures over inhospitable terrain. Yes, because they fly with their right-seat partners much more often, something that has affected sales quite positively.

      No, because few admit to making preflight decisions based on the presence of the CAPS parachute system when dodgy weather or other factors suggest a no-go decision. And No, because the aviation community is so caustic towards Cirrus pilots who fly plastic airplanes with parachutes.

      IMHO, that aviation community attitude has killed a few Cirrus pilots, pilots who either spoke about their unwillingness to use the parachute (Palm Bay, FL) or talked about it and yet never used it in exactly the situation they said they wood (Morton, WA, and Manhattan, NY).

      Tough to overcome the inhibitions and pre-programed habits so that consideration of the CAPS parachute system becomes a new habit.

      Cheers
      Rick

    • @Tom Yarsley: re “most of the BRS action has come as a capitulation to the likely outcome of the very-recent bad judgment of the pilot-in-command.”

      Sorry, Tom, but that’s not consistent with the data of use of the Cirrus parachute system.

      Of the last 13 CAPS deployments, 9 were mechanical issues in which the pilot avoided the risk of an off-airport landing by deploying the parachute. That’s 69%, over two thirds. Yes, there was one icing incident, a demonstration of slow flight that resulted in a spin, and a fuel exhaustion event (in Japan, not Hawaii that was mechanical), which reflect on the pilot’s judgment. But there was also a survivable CAPS deployment after the mid-air collision at Frederick.

      So, three of 13 involved questionable pilot judgment. That’s 23%, or less than one-quarter.

      Now, unless one starts questioning the pilot’s judgment on handing a loss of engine power event, I can’t support your claim of most CAPS deployments involve bad judgment.

      Cheers
      Rick

        • @Tom Yarsley: Prior to the 13 CAPS deployments in 2014-2015, we have a much lower level of usage of CAPS. And we have many more fatal accidents where pilots died when encountering scenarios in which the CAPS pilots pulled and lived. So, the penalty for poor judgment was much more often death.

          Specifically, for the prior 38 CAPS deployments, my categorization looks like this:
          Mechanical – 13
          Disorientation – 11
          Fuel exhaustion or starvation – 6
          Icing – 3
          High stall – 2
          Incapacitation – 1
          Mid-air collision – 1
          Not yet determined – 1

          Unfortunately, I do not have data for “bad judgment” as I do not have any objective criteria. Lots of opinions on these, and easy to pass judgment post facto; much harder to assess the judgment in the accident chain. For example, 2 of the 3 icing events were limitations on the forecasts and combines both pre-flight and in-flight decisions. Interestingly, many of the CAPS pilots admit to judgment issues, often berating themselves and having to manage survivor guilt. Tough situation for anyone.

          More importantly, in reading through the accident reports for fatal accidents, 60 of 107 had a good or great chance of survival only if the accident pilot deployed CAPS in their scenario that matched other survivable CAPS deployments. For example, in VFR into IMC disorientation or mechanical issues. That is 121 lives lost (of 210 total fatalities) because CAPS was not used when it had proven to keep others alive.

          Fortunately, this article and others point out that things have changed — many fewer fatal accidents and many more CAPS survivors.

          Cheers
          Rick

          • Rick,

            Mechanical – 13. I look at that as being engine failure and most NTSB reports read internal mechanical failure.
            I read that as more such events than should happen.

            David

          • @David: “Mechanical – 13. I look at that as being engine failure and most NTSB reports read internal mechanical failure. I read that as more such events than should happen.”

            David, two points: 1) what should happen is fewer accidents with fatalities and serious injuries, and 2) the NTSB investigations of Cirrus mechanical failures go well beyond engines and internal failures.

            Mechanical issues involved in parachute deployments are wide ranging with no simple cluster of causes. These include several MIFs (maintenance induced failures) affecting oil loss and missing safety wires, water in the static line, ignition issues, fuel pump issues, fatigue cracks of a crankshaft, a camshaft and a cylinder barrel. More diligent inspections would help, whether by mechanics or preflight checks, but no simple guidance for pilots would avoid all of those issues.

            Cheers
            Rick

      • Thanks, Rick, for the data.

        I really don’t see or buy the apparent argument that the CAPS is somehow of lesser value due to it use in response to instances of bad pilot judgment, or “pilot error” as the NTSB would call it.

        After all, we all know that most fatal aircraft accidents today are caused mostly by pilot error. If that’s what causes most fatalities, then what is wrong, or somehow illegitimate, or less useful, about a safety system that allows pilots who exercise bad judgment – and just as importantly, their passengers – to survive and live to see another day?

        I guess that’s what I especially dislike about most of the anti-CAPS or anti-BRS crowd’s complaints. They often comes across as judgmental, holier-than-thou, and having a case of the proverbial sour grapes attitude (because most CAPS equipped airplanes are relatively expensive). I don’t care how great they think they are as pilots – nobody who ever lived is immune to the occasional lapse of judgment, regardless of what aircraft they fly.

        • I violently agree. Which begs the question that I asked above: How far up the ladder of aircraft performance should we go? Would a BRS-equipped Boeing 777 be a good idea? How about a Gulfstream? Why or why not? This is why Cirrus’ decision to equip their Personal Jet with a BRS fascinates me.

          • Yars – Interesting question you pose here

            If it were feasible, not just technically but financially, to guarantee a soft landing for passengers on big jets, of course it would be the right thing to do, and would be demanded by national governments and the flying public, without question.

            So, is someone going to be incentivized to provide the equivalent of a CAPS for B777s, finally eliminating the last of our commercial aviation fatalities? I think the answer is “perhaps, but not likely”, for the simple reason that commercial air travel is already the safest means of human travel ever used. With so few fatal accidents today, the perceived need for a fix is much less now than it was a generation or two back.

            But still, I suppose in the event of a flight crew suffering a massive brain fart, as in the Air France 447, or perhaps in the recent Air Asia accident which seems outwardly somewhat similar, perhaps a final pull of a handle theoretically could indeed save the lives of a plane-ful of passengers, if only the air crew had the presence of mind to admit defeat.

            Again, it’s a very interesting question you pose.

          • Hey, Duane!

            About your comment that “perhaps a final pull of a handle theoretically could indeed save the lives of a plane-full of passengers, if only the air crew had the presence of mind to admit defeat.”

            That’s a big part of this equation. Under the present paradigm, somebody has to pull that handle…

            Now, with what currently is being marketed as “envelope protection,” the automation steps in and rescues the pilot – in that case, by flying the airplane out of trouble. That doesn’t do much for mid-airs, but even a BRS is no guarantee of a happy outcome when that happens.

            I doubt that very many airlines would be willing to give up 100 seats on their 777s, in order to install BRS systems. (Air France might want to ponder the question a while longer.) In the case of their SF-50 Personal Jet, it seems that Cirrus is perfectly happy to give up 400 pounds of payload in order to install an as-yet-undemonstrated BRS system.

            I would have opted for an “envelope protection” auto-land system, and gotten back that 400 pounds. But Cirrus knows their customers…

            If we DO start to see a plethora of parachute landings made by personal jets, I’ll be absolutely fascinated to learn about their reasons for deployment.

            I remain concerned that somehow, Cirrus jet pilots will be fundamentally different from other jet pilots. Perhaps time will tell…

            -Yars

    • There is something that gets rarely attention in all publications and that is the relationship between fatal accidents and high performance airplanes. one sunday afternoon I feld morbid and decided to cruise the AOPA website to watch a couple of their accident movies. Im drawing from memory but one movie pointed out that accidents in high performance airplanes are most certainly fatal. I think the video said something about 94%. That doesn’t make high performance planes unsafe far from it. But i f the proverbial sh*t hits the prop, somebody for sure is not walking away from it. The descision of more fuel vs. parachute would not be so easy for me.

  • The CAPS parachute is a logical air safety enhancement, but it costs too much and is available on only a couple of legacy airframes. To see widespread adoption in the legacy fleet, which is what most recreational pilots fly, the price has to come down, way down.

    If the cost could be reduced to something closer to $5K installed, we’d see a lot more of them around. Perhaps that is an area where the anticipated Part 23 certification reforms could help actually improve fleet safety.

    In the meantime, the Cirrus pilots are usually serious transportation flyers, flying mainly cross country in varying IMC conditions, which is an inherently riskier proposition than just short hop, VFR-only flying around the local area. Having an out for when things are going very wrong seems an entirely reasonable proposition for that kind of flying. Anyone who criticizes pilots for daring to pull the handle and live for another day, when the armchair critic is sitting safely in his or her easy chair at home, simply needs to be ignored.

    • Duane Quote “Anyone who criticizes pilots for daring to pull the handle and live for another day, when the armchair critic is sitting safely in his or her easy chair at home, simply needs to be ignored”

      Amen!

  • I’m an avowed anti-chute type, but willing to admit that Cirrus has done and is doing a very good job of selling airplanes and training the pilots; and the parachute is a big part of that success.

    An airplane designed to cruise fast is going to have a small wing and will hit pretty hard in the event of an engine failure. Historically, people were sold on two engines for that scenario. But as Dick Collins and others have shown, the twin engine thing just didn’t work out; too many other problems. So the chute appears to be a better design for the high speed cruise type of plane.

    For us Weekend Pilots, I still think a big wing is better. Doesn’t weigh or cost anything except speed. That would be bad except I like the flying part, so it doesn’t matter how soon I get there (wherever that is).

  • I would like to see a more detailed study of the Cirrus chute deployments – specifically, why did they pull the chute? I know of two cases where it happened because the ran out of fuel. The latest one in the video, and one in CT I think a couple years ago. I’m glad that lives were saved but I think we are being too easy on pilots who make horrendous errors, like fuel starvation. In the end, most of us safe pilots pay the price in terms of higher insurance costs because so many other pilots are making avoidable mistakes and totaling airplanes.

  • What I’m wondering is why so many stories about ballistic chutes which either fail or are ‘improperly’ deployed resulting in worse outcomes than might otherwise be expected with a slow flight emergency landing procedure?

    • @Clark Johnson: why so many stories? Because there are only a few that get repeated over and over again!

      For the record, in the Cirrus fleet, there have been 62 deployments of the CAPS parachute before ground impact. 51 events had survivors. All but two of the fatal deployments involved activations too low to the ground (often 50 to 200 feet in a high-speed descent) for the parachute to decelerate the aircraft. One was at very high speed, perhaps 300+ knots indicated, and another was a mid-air collision that the investigators determined was activated by impact forces.

      There have been two anomalous deployments, one where the rocket trajectory was compromised by the pickup collar since revised by an AD in 2007, and another where the parachute did not come out of the aircraft due to excess forces from either airspeed or roll rates.

      However, the following remains a true statement:
      in every CAPS activation above 1000 feet AGL and below Vne airspeed,
      no one has died and all occupants have survived. Pull early, pull often!

      Cheers
      Rick

  • A Cirrus driver who deploys a parachute and lives is touted as another life saved by the CAPS. On the very day of the Cirrus deployment featured in this article a single engine Cessna, also low on fuel, ditched 11 miles west of Oahu. Just like the Cirrus, all aboard survived and were rescued because, also like the Cirrus, the pilot recognized their predicament, declared an emergency that allowed help to be there soon after they hit the water. Another case where only fatal accidents are news because they are so rare, non fatal off airport landings happen nearly daily without the need for a parachute to save those on board. The CAPS success is a result of hype in a small market served by several journalists joyfully repeating any legend major advertisers throw their way. Personally I would not want to rely on several pounds of line and rip stop nylon all activated by the aeronautical equivalent of a rocket propelled grenade that I have to sit 6 feet away from any time I am in the airplane. I would rather have the extra useful load.

  • One other point, Cirrus, about 3 years ago started working hard to ensure their Cirrus Certified instructors were following curriculum and keeping current with the syllabus that Cirrus wanted them to be using. Not sure how much this helps, but I know they worked hard to clean up (ensure standardization) the training and improve the training at their certified training centers.

  • I learned to fly in a Flight Design CT and passed my SP checkride in same… A lite sport plane with a chute. I went on to get my PPL in an SR20. And then passed my IFR checkride in an SR22. All these planes have chutes. I own an SR22 and fly primarily 300+ nm cross country flights…
    Cirrus’ story is well told and the chute was incorporated from the start due to a midair that one of the founders experienced while doing IFR flight training. Most of the back and forth on these boards are between the ‘we’re so smart… We don’t need no stinken parachute’ types… Who would never ever run out of gas….please check the NTSB reports… Non Cirrus drivers run out of gas and kill themselves and their passengers each and every year! Versus those of us who actually fly SR’s because we believe they provide the greatest margin of safety for the missions we are flying. And most importantly for the non-pilot family and friends who join us in the right seat. The parachute system and inflateable shoulder harness airbags, crumplezone protective seating, etc. provides a degree of safety not available in other GA birds.

    Those who think themselves such great pilots might want to take a moment to consider an engine loss over mountainous terrain at night… Sure nice knowing I and my passengers have a chute and airbags.. Just in case.

    My family, my passengers and myself are all ‘ worth ‘ the extra few thousand dollars for these safety features… And over the long run my insurance costs will be lower because of them. I would ask all the Cirrus haters to consider other issues and get all the available facts before spewing hate.

    Just my take on te debate…

    • Greg, you have drank the Krapmeier Kool-Aid. I don’t find arguing on websites useful but your rant against those of us who do not think whole airplane parachutes are worth the weight/cost penalty reminds me of the recent statements by the State Department’s Marie Harf who asserted that those who disagreed with her were just too dumb to know better. Your post indicated that a number of non-Cirrus pilots and passengers die each year because they run out of gas. I would note from the referenced article that Cirrus pilots and passengers die each year as well. If you are happy buying and flying a Cirrus, by all means that is what you should do. Just don’t overlook the large number of off airport landings made each year that do not result in fatalities by (in your opinion) in lesser aircraft. For me, I want to follow Bob Hoover’s advice of flying the airplane as far into the accident as possible, rather than pulling a red handle and becoming a passenger as I descend into, I don’t know, power lines, a pond, a church or a playground full of children.

      • See I think this is part of the problem – the parachute discussion becomes a religious war very quickly. To me, that’s giving it too much credit. It’s just a tool, a system. This doesn’t reveal some fundamental truth about your character.

        I think the parachute helps, just like seat belts with shoulder harnesses, datalink weather and autopilots. Are you a bad pilot because you fly with one? No. And you’re not a bad pilot if you don’t. Everyone has to make the call. For some, the trade offs are well worth it; for others they aren’t. My point in writing the article was to encourage us to examine the issue rationally, not emotionally.

        It’s neither a miracle cure nor a gimmick.

      • Charlie,

        You have mis read the intent of my post. I to was taught to fly i to the ‘crash’… That said I would ask what your plan is while flying over the hills of WVa at night and you lose your engine? And you have a plane load of wife and kids? You still have all the power lines etc to deal with… Along with flight into the side of a mountain.

        If you fly with non pilot family and friends how would you suggest they address a sudden stroke or heart attack by the PIC? Or do you only fly solo or with other pilots?

        My response on the gas issue was to a post by D Eberhardt who made some very ill chosen ideas which needed to be addressed.

        My opinion is not that other aircraft are ‘ lesser’ just that Cirrus pilot’s are very aware of the inherent risks involved in operating airplanes. And when we assume the transport of non pilots that we will attempt to mitigate those risks as much as possible. This is serious business. No egos need apply. That’s where you end up if problems and deaths.

        This certainly isn’t the first blog to have this discussion … Cirrus vs non – Cirrus.. Or as Eberhardt stated “safe pilots ” …

        All that I asked was that all the ‘safe’ pilots might want to do is consider their own bias and the other point of view.

        • Again Greg, I will not argue with you. I hope you continue to fly your Cirrus and find comfort in its flimsy airframe and more flimsy parachute required by its little rudder that prohibited it from demonstrating a spin recovery.
          Over the hills of WVA ( which I fly over often) I monitor the health of my engine and try to keep in gliding distance of a suitable landing spot. Remember, you can wedgy most single engine planes into a pretty small spot. If I die while PIC? Well you really are a glass half empty person aren’t you! What if you die while operating your car within inches of a semi – or a school bus. My wife can land the plane and if we are flying a mile above the ground she will have several minutes to maneuver. If I die driving it is only a few seconds until the crash. I am not a Cirrus hater, I am not a fan of the Krapmeirers because their marketing, of which you are a believer, incenuates somehow Cirrus are safer and their drivers are smarter than us great unwashed country folk clinging to our guns, religion Cessnas and Pipers.

          • @Charlie: “Again Greg, I will not argue with you. I hope you continue to fly your Cirrus and find comfort in its flimsy airframe and more flimsy parachute required by its little rudder that prohibited it from demonstrating a spin recovery. … I am not a Cirrus hater, I am not a fan of the Krapmeirers because their marketing, of which you are a believer, incenuates somehow Cirrus are safer and their drivers are smarter than us great unwashed country folk ”

            Okay, that’s not an argument. But it certainly seems disrespectful. And factually inaccurate.

            Flimsy? Not based on test data.

            Rudder prohibited from demonstrating spin recovery? Wrong. The FAA granted an ELOS without spin testing and Europeans acknowledged that a Cirrus SR2X recovered from the subset of spins tested and they too gave an ELOS.

            Krapmeieers? The Cirrus co-founders are in the Aviation Hall of Fame as Alan and Dale Klapmeier.

            Somehow smarter? Don’t go putting words in our mouths. Folks didn’t say that. And Cirrus owners and pilots generally would like other pilots to just get along. Better if we all promote GA rather than sling insults.

            Cheers
            Rick

  • Call me the biggest fan of BRS system. I used to fly in a club in Iran with over 50 Light Sport 2 seater planes that over 90% had the BRS. We had two cases that pilots used the parachute below the recommended 200 feet and both survived without injuries. I have written about them in my site which is in Persian (To Pull or not to Pull). I have attached the picture of one with the happy faces of the pilots right after landing. Actually one of the three parachute cables got snapped during parachuting but they still survived the low altitude stall.

  • I have been a pilot, skydiver, and a parachute designer for over thirty years. I find the discussion about the Cirrus’ red handle very interesting but also somewhat disturbing. Sure, I would use it if I deem it appropriate for the particular situation at hand. But I think the “pull early and pull often” attitude is pushing it why too far. Why? It lacks perspective and context.

    Situational awareness is always needed. If you are in a situation where a forced landing is not likely to be survivable, then yes, go for it. However, I believe that when you “commit aviation” you also have a personal responsibility to make that airplane go somewhere that won’t harm others. Pulling the red handle and letting the aircraft drift where the wind takes it should be a last resort. If there is a reasonable chance of a safe off airport landing, I think it should be considered as a better alternative than dropping a airplane into a populated area by parachute, damaging it in the process. And in case someone thinks a gliding and steerable ram air parachute is the answer, it is not. Gliding parachute design and testing is my specialty for thirty years, and it just isn’t the answer for this application. When you have an airplane as the payload, the aerodynamics of the airplane may sometimes tend to fight the aerodynamics of the gliding parachute. This is especially true if the airplane is disabled or tumbling, particularly while you are deploying the parachute. Also, as a parachute designer, I know the uncomfortable truth that parachutes sometimes just don’t work properly, for various reasons. I have seen this referred to as a “mystery” when I read about Cirrus parachute deployments where the outcome was not successful. I don’t know the particulars about these situations, but I do know that in many cases involving more conventional parachuting, the reason for failure is the user’s total lack of understanding of the actual operating parameters of the particular parachute. In the case of an airplane recovery systems, I can tell you that the most common lack of understanding is the maximum safe deployment speed and the minimum safe deployment altitude. I know neither official number for the Cirrus, but if I owned one you bet I would learn all about those numbers and what effects them. I have never met a Cirrus pilot who didn’t love his BRS. But of those I’ve met, none could tell me how high he must be to deploy it or what speed he must not exceed when deploying it.I am sad to say that a few of these pilots looked quite surprised that this was even a factor. These two factors are not hard and fast numbers for all situations. Bottom line is that parachutes do fail, and fail more frequently when you push the limits.

    I have spent decades trying to tell pilots why skydiving is just a different form of flight, and that it is not that crazy to parachute from a “perfectly good airplane.” But now, I see so many pilots now suddenly want to put all their faith in a parachute as soon as the slightest little thing goes bad. The Cirrus BRS is a great thing, but why put so much faith in it, and not put at least some of that faith in their piloting skills…or perhaps put some more attention on sharpening their emergency skills beyond the “pull the red handle” variety?

    So, to sum up, I am certainly not anti-parachute or anti BRS. If there is a
    structural failure, control system failure, or an engine failure over mountainous terrain, YES, I will go for the red handle. A spin that won’t recover? YES! But to pull the red handle when an airport is right in front of me within easy gliding distance? NO! To pull the red handle at the slightest provocation and possibly drift over a populated area to destroy your airplane? If a reasonable alternative exists to glide away from that populated area? Probably not if I could reasonably glide to an unpopulated area. In that case, I take full responsibility for insuring that me and my airplane will finish this flight where I don’t put others lives at risk, and very likely without damaging my airplane. Again, it is about situational awareness, decision making, and skills. A parachute doesn’t replace proper decision making, but when I hear SOME Cirrus pilots speak, I fear that they think it does. A few of these pilots see the parachute as their savior in ANY situation. I don’t buy that at all, and I would rather not fly with someone who has that attitude. I think it is an unbalanced attitude, and an irresponsible one. At least it is that unless and until you learn one heck of a lot more about parachutes and how they work. And if you did learn that much, you would probably also put way more effort into building ALL of your skills in emergency procedures. Then, if you do find yourself pulling the red handle, I bet that it will be for the right reasons.

    • John,

      Has it been established by any credible source, such as NTSB accident reports, that Cirrus pilots routinely pull the chute when they had a perfectly flyable airplane, in controlled flight, and an airport runway within gliding distance? I don’t know that there is any such reporting … rather, that sounds more like an assumed apocryphal story than an actual data-based conclusion.

      I suppose that there is in fact some sliver of the pilot population made up of stupid people who’d rather total their aircraft than simply fly it to an airport … but it can’t be very many. In 40 years of flying, I’ve never personally known an obviously stupid pilot (though some had better judgment than others). Actually, I believe most owner/pilots take great pride in their birds, so I’d rather suspect that there are by far way more owner/pilots who would rather unwisely try to fly the bird to a controlled landing than pull a chute handle … in an attempt to prevent damage to their pride and joy, as well as damage to their own egos.

      Finally, just because an airport runway is right there in front of you, perhaps as little as a quarter mile away, it is not a sign that the airplane is in fact flyable. Aside from the aftermath of mid-air collisions in the traffic pattern, one of the most common fatal accidents in general aviation is the proverbial stall-spin accident on the base to final turn at only 300 to 500 feet AGL. As often as we say that that’s an entirely preventable accident, and that all pilots should know better than to tighten a turn with rudder when low to the ground, it still happens A LOT. So, in the event that a pilot makes such a preventable error, it is still better to pull the handle and live to regret it than to die (along with your passengers) in a fiery crash mere hundreds of feet from the beckoning unway threshold.

      There is never a good substitute for good airmanship and the exercise of good judgment as PIC … but since all pilots are humans and subject to human error, such that even highly experienced ATPs and other professional pilots have killed themselves and their passengers on the infamous base-to-final stall-spin, or in mid-air collisions in the pattern, there actually is a substitute for that unhappy ending, at least for those who can afford it.

      • Duane,

        No I have not heard of an actual and verifiable case where someone pulled the red handle within easy gliding distance of an airport. That statement was hypothetical, and was used only to illustrate the things I have indeed heard from SOME Cirrus owners, in one case a statement was made that, “I would pull the handle and not take the risk, even if the airport were within easy gliding distance.”

        My point was, and still is, that as a pilot you have a responsibility to make sure that your airplane does not do harm to people on the ground. If it is disabled, if your are over remote and hostile terrain, then it is an easy choice. If you have a populated area downwind from where you are when an engine quits, and you can glide away from that area, then I think a wise decision should be made based on all the factors exist.

        And to point to the stall spin situation while turning to final, the Cirrus parachute is not likely to have made a difference this low, and many pilots I have talked to don’t know this. Another commenter mentioned data that excluded deployments below 1000 feet. I don’t know the minimum altitude for a safe deployment. I don’t have a Cirrus, but I would learn all I could about the parachute system if I did.

        As I said to Mr. Klasson, I have no dog in this race. My life career is in parachute design. I would love to install a BRS in one of my three aircraft, a small high performance experimental with a high approach and landing speed and demanding characteristics. It would open up a bunch of other possibilities in bad situations. But I am also saying that the parachute will not save the day in every case. So it is unwise to throw out other options just because you have a “red handle.” Hopefully most Cirrus guys are smarter than that, but I have met many who have fallen in love with the coolaid far too much, based on their crazy comments, such as some that I mentioned. Thank you for your comments, Duane.

        • John – according to Cirrus, there is no minimum specified altitude for deployment, however deployment at 400 feet AGL or higher in straight and level flight for all but the latest (heavier gross weight) G5 aircraft will assure full deployment, deceleration, and likely survival.

          Even at altitudes less than 400 feet (the recommended minimum decision height when approaching a runway in straight and level flight), pulling the chute will slow the aircraft at least partially. Given the other safety design features including seats tested to 26G and other factors such as airbags, when combined with the chute deceleration may still allow survival. For non-chute aircraft, however, If you lawn dart from any altitude over as little as 50-70 feet, you’re almost certainly dead. So even a partial chute deceleration can still save lives and minimize injury.

          Aircraft in a full 1-turn spin are assured full deployment and deceleration at 920 feet.

          To date, Cirrus says not a single fatality has resulted in any straight and level deployment over 400 feet AGL and any spin over 920 feet AGL.

          • Without wanting to dispute generally correct information, I am pretty certain that there have been two straight-and-level deployment of a CAPS over 400′ AGL that did result in a fatality, but not because of a ‘chute failure.

            In the first I remember, the reason was because the IAS at the time was well over the 133 knot stated speed limit for that (I think in that instance it was something like 190 KIAS even) and it just ripped the ‘chute apart on deployment. The doomed aircraft and whoever was inside had no chance anyway and no way to regain enough control to reduce indicated airspeed to within certified tolerances, so it was worth a try, but unfortunately didn’t work.

            I think the second one involved an engine fire and the pilot and passengers succumbed to smoke and/or fire in the time it took the plane to get to the ground under the ‘chute. I also think that incident is on the web on video somewhere.

            I think there is an instance (maybe more than one) where the CAPS was deployed at greater than 133 KIAS (something like 150 or 160 KIAS) and it held up anyway and the pilot and passengers survived.

            It is accurate, so far as I am aware, if Cirrus states that when deployed under approved conditions and barring unrelated circumstances (the cabin being on fire) there have been no fatalities.

          • @Gabriel: “I am pretty certain that there have been two straight-and-level deployment of a CAPS over 400′ AGL that did result in a fatality …”

            There have been fatalities when pilots deployed the Cirrus parachute. However, they were either at airspeeds well above Vne of 200 KIAS or in descents at high speed.

            To your examples.

            1) Norden, CA was the event where the parachute ripped off. The pilot reported loss of control due to icing. Radar tracked the descent at over 300 knots from 16,000 feet MSL. Too fast for the system.

            2) Boulder, CO, was a midair collision with a glider and tow plane. Several witnesses on the ground recorded the Cirrus descending under canopy with heavy smoke. Medical experts believe that the occupants were incapacitated by the collision at 140 knots or more. Investigators determined that the parachute was activated by impact forces and not the occupants.

            3) High speed deployments include 168, 171, 187, and 190 KIAS, in which all occupants survived.

            4) Cabin fires, other than the Boulder midair collision, have not been reported in any Cirrus accident investigation. And only one engine fire has been reported when on downwind during departure that prompted an immediate precautionary landing. No post-impact fires have resulted after a parachute deployment.

            So, the following statement remains accurate:

            No one has died when the Cirrus parachute was activated above 1000 feet AGL and below Vne (200 knots) airspeed. Pull early, pull often!

            Cheers
            Rick

    • @John Leblanc: “But I think the “pull early and pull often” attitude is pushing it why too far. Why? It lacks perspective and context.”

      As the person who started the “pull early, pull often” mantra, let me share my context.

      It began in 2005. Cirrus pilots were dying in accidents where other pilots had survived by deploying the Cirrus parachute. The context was loss of life that was avoidable. Too many dead people. Yet, lots of derision. Lots of calls for more training.

      Except, for decades, that clarion call for more training had not made much of a difference in fatal accident rates. People found old ways to kill new airplanes. Recall the insanity definition — trying the same thing over again and expecting a different result. Pull early, pull often was something different.

      By 2011, we had made some progress with promoting a better understanding of the success of Cirrus parachute deployments. But it was not enough. That fall we had a horrific period with 8 fatal accidents in 3 months, 3 in 24 hours. We did something more.

      The instructors at the Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Program began promoting the use of the parachute in emergency procedures by a first step “0. CAPS…. CONSIDER” The answer should never be no. It may be not yet.

      Through a confluence of events, including a SAFE Symposium on Pilot Training, a COPA safety keynote talk, a Cirrus Aircraft Training Partner Symposium, and a photogenic parachute save in the Bahamas during a humanitarian mission to Haiti, we created a different outcome. That’s what John’s article here reports.

      Was it pushing too far? By my count, 121 people died in Cirrus accidents where the scenario matches a survivable parachute deployment. And 104 people have survived in 51 parachute deployments.

      I believe we have not gone far enough. The comments in this thread reflect upon the conventional wisdom. I believe that will only result in more fatalities. Pull early, pull often!

      Cheers
      Rick

  • Mr LeBlanc
    It is apparent that you have not spent much time flying with Cirrus pilots. If you had you would know that as a group.. Pulling a red handle is the last resort. Which is actually why many SR pilots died when they never had to… They refused to pull the chute. To Cirrus’ credit they learned from those stats and changed their training… And the results of that change in training are the reason this article was written…. A significant reduction in loss of life.

    My experience leads me to believe that SR pilots as a group are probably better trained and more current than the general GA pilot population. I would venture that more are instrument rated and current than the general GA recreational pilot population. Any suggestion that we can’t or wouldn’t chose to glide to an available airport is on the face absurd. Further a discussion with any SR student pilot would assure you that they know when and how to operate the systems at the appropriate speeds. Seriously…

    And Charlie… What can I say. I respect your right to your opinion. Personally I am not a half empty person. I’m glad that your wife is a pilot. You still did not bother to answer the question of what you would do at night with an engine failure in the mountains. My guess is that the car you own has both seat belts and airbags… Would you let your family go for a drive without wearing them? I doubt even you would place your family at risk of death if there were simple safety percautions that might mitigate possible loss of life.. Would you? Really?

    From your posts you seem to have some personal issue with Cirrus and the company founders. Not sure where that comes from… But I doubt that they ever did anything to you personally.

    As such…your posts are personal attacks in nature and show a closed…Small mindedness. Not generally what I have experienced in GA.

    Fly safe.

    • Mr Klasson,

      I do believe that you are correct when you say that Cirrus pilots are, “…as a group, probably better trained and more current than the general GA population.” That they should be, as should pilots of any higher performance aircraft. I also agree, thankfully, that it is absurd to think that, as a group, Cirrus pilots would rather pull the handle rather than glide to an available airport. However, I have heard such things from Cirrus pilots. I realize that I am speaking of the “fringe” of Cirrus pilots, perhaps not as knowledgeable as the rest, and not representative of the whole. My point is that this fringe does exist, and they scare me, much in the same way the some of the non-Cirrus GA population does. My point was that there are times when I have heard some pretty crazy things come out of the mouths of some Cirrus pilots, and yes, even one Cirrus salesperson. Perhaps that may have been because someone (not me!) backed that person into a defensive stance. But they still said these things. I hope that the majority of Cirrus operators will help clean up that fringe stuff up. Remember, I am a parachute guy as well, and would love to have one in my small high performance experimental if the CG limits would allow. I appreciate your comments, Mr Klasson. Thank you

      • Mr. LeBlanc,

        Thank you for your thoughtful comments..

        I truly wish that all pilots could follow a ‘live and let live’ philosophy. GA has enough issues to deal with.. Without having these type of conversations that tend to divide.

        My comments were never intended to cause a stir.. Rather to try to correct misguided thinking where observed. The total lack of basic knowledge regarding SR and their operation and their pilots never seems to surprise me.

        There are enough misguided and ill informed opinions to go around. Both from Cirrus pilots and non-Cirrus pilots. I try to remember that a PPL is a license to learn and that is something that hopefully all pilots try to do each day.
        Thanks

  • Wow. This has been a surprising thread for me. In contrast to most other comment threads of this fine journal, this exchange has gotten uncomfortably close to the edge of incivility and disrespect. I urge an end to rehashing this clearly unresolvable disagreement. I remain on the side of a device that might keep my passengers and me from prematurely meeting the angels, but I understand why others may differ. Chacun a son gout, as the French might say: each to his own taste.

  • I don’t know that I agree with this statement in the article: “parachutes will save more lives over the next 10 years than angle of attack instruments” but I readily admit that it is impossible to know for at least two reasons. Firstly we buy into the logic of the BRS manufacturer’s count and assume that everyone who lives through an airframe parachute pull was saved (from absolute certain death) by it. That isn’t logical, but I can’t blame them for wanting to err on the high side! However, we can’t prove (let alone count) that but for the AOA indicator someone on the edge of airflow separation would have stalled and crashed (and also died), so the argument, if we were to have one, is unwinnable (and therefore surely sounds like a perfect aviation debate to start!).

    My first plane was an SR-22. I have always believed that Cirrus had the best marketing machine in GA, but definitely not the best flying machine. The ‘chute never once crossed my mind in any situation as a justification to fly any differently than if I didn’t have it. I thought I was going to have to use it once when I lost a cylinder over densely forested Pennsylvania hills but I managed to limp/glide to an airport. I don’t believe that bad decision making is an outcome of having a BRS. It is an outcome of poor training and overall bad attitude, and some times just naive poor judgement. It is not a case of “I have the ‘chute so I can power through this thunderstorm/ice/whatever” kind of thing.

    I think training to get people to use the ‘chute instead of other options has been effective. I think there was another potentially relevant thing that happened at about the same time the rate of deployment went up and fatal accidents went down: the insurance companies all agreed to waive the deductible on ‘chute pulls. Again I don’t think the correlation is that people were previously not pulling the handle because they were worried about that $10k or $25k. I do, however, think when the insurance companies made that decision they empowered the pilots to accept that it’s okay to pull the handle instead of flying it all the way into the ground/ocean/trees/building, and that subtle message was powerful. While we were all debating whether a “real pilot” would have or use a ‘chute, people were dying without trying to use it to save themselves. The insurance companies provided the “it’s okay” message that was very needed.

    I will point out something about the Cirrus design that may have inadvertently led to worse flying over time. The side yolk (it’s not a side stick in a Cirrus, it’s a side yolk) has two features that I believe cause pilot stick and rudder skills to never develop (if starting early in a Cirrus as I did) or to deteriorate over time later. This may even be why the accidents show an average logbook time in the 1,000 hour range, rather than 250 or 500 as one might logically predict.

    That side yolk, firstly, is interconnected to the rudder, a feature that I believe may have its roots all the way back to a Wilbur and Orville design. The Wrights (again, I think) came up with it to help with impossibly squirrelly early designs. Today Cirrus’ feature allows dead foot pilots, and I think it actually develops dead feet, because rudder inputs aren’t needed for shallower bank coordinated turns. Take a harder turn, though, Mister lazy feet, and there is your higher stall/spin ratio waiting to rear its head.

    Secondly, for luxurious pilot comfort, the side yolk has bungees that counteract and relieve control input pressures. I guess the Cirrus view is that it is better to save the wrist than worry about the feel. I disagree. When I got a Mooney it was amazing to learn how much an airplane can talk to you by the control input pressures I was numb to because of those bungees (that was on top of figuring out that those pedals down by my feet weren’t just for braking any more!). That was even before I flew a tailwheel.

    Every plane has its own nuances, and that necessitates type-specific training, which absolutely must include a very frank dialog about the gotchas and the downsides to whatever that plane is, not just the sugar-coated hype of all the good things. Type clubs generally do that well. Factory training not as well, but think about it, who wants to buy a spankin’ new expensive airplane and as the check is still clearing get into a training session with a factory guy that tells all about the plane’s faults, bad points and how it can kill you?! Whether it’s COPA or MAPA or LOBO, etc. the data shows a great correlation between type club training and lower accident statistics. Combine that training with the other comments in this long post and the details in the article and then there is really a chance accident rates drop.

    • I wrote this long (hopefully not too rambling) comment as my first here on AFJ in a long time, but posted it before I read the second half of the dialog above where it seems to have crash landed into an unsavory damp brown pile of stink. I will gladly discuss if my thoughts actually prompt someone else’s thoughtful reply, but my further responses will end without warning if it unnecessarily heads that direction.

  • Does anybody know for sure how the parachute affects insurance premiums?
    When the Cirrus was in its conceptual stage, I remember reading an article somewhere which questioned how insurance companies will feel about the chute thus affecting premiums and claims. The consideration and concern was that pilots may pull the chute prematurely or unnecessarily. People panic at different levels. So as an example, if a pilot notices low oil pressure without the engine quitting, or if the avionics display goes out, or if the engine begins to runs rough but hasn’t quit, the high panic pilot may pull the chute immediately rather than fly on until catastrophic failure leaves no choice. I believe the key here is that insurance carriers would like that the chute be deployed for TRUE airframe and or
    engine catastrophic failures and not workable difficult situations that some pilots may just THINK are catastrophic. Some people just go into Panic Mode and give up prematurely knowing that they can just pop the chute. As an example, years ago I was flying and monitoring a Unicom freq at an uncontrolled airport when a young lady pilot transmitted that she had an emergency. The sound of fear and panic were so high in
    her voice that it upset me greatly. When the airport attendant transmitted and asked her what the emergency consisted of, she said that her tachometer quit. By this time was crying uncontrollably. The attendant managed to calm her and convince her that she would be able to land the airplane without the tach by coordinating her power applications in conjunction with indicated airspeed. Happy ending–she made it, but given the level of panic for such a manageable problem, I bet she would have popped a chute if the airplane was so equipped. So do insurance companies take this into consideration before paying a claim? Do they have the right to deny a claim if after inspection of the wreckage they conclude that chute deployment could have been avoided if only the pilot didn’t panic over something minor and was able to proceed to an uneventful landing? So as an aviator, I applaud the chute concept, but in the eyes of insurance companies, the plane does “crash” even if the chute does its job because there will be major airframe damage in consideration of the rate of touchdown speed. I’m willing to bet that the damage would be substantial enough to consider the airplane totaled rather than repairable. So I have to wonder if the insurance company can deny a claim under the scenario of premature chute deployment and additionally, if the chute in and of itself creates substantially higher premiums.

  • A couple of comments refer to aviation insurance companies and their practices regarding the Cirrus parachute.

    Deductible: several underwriters will reduce the deductible to zero if the pilot deployed the Cirrus parachute. They reason that they would much rather repair or replace an aircraft than deal with a fatality or large medical expenses. Apparently, roughly a third of their payouts are for litigation or medical costs. Use of the Cirrus parachute helps reduce both of those costs.

    Losses from parachute deployments: about a quarter of the Cirrus aircraft that landed under parachute have been repaired and flew again. Owners of totaled aircraft report that they have gotten their checks and bought a replacement aircraft within a few weeks. But pick your underwriter carefully based on how they handle any aviation loss claim. YMMV

    Inadvertent or avoidable parachute deployments: underwriters do not judge the reasons or pilot decision-making that leads to a claim, so believe the quip that “insurance covers stupid.” They don’t have criteria for a “TRUE” incident or accident, just an appraisal of the loss claim. To my knowledge, no insurer has denied a claim for a parachute deployment. And reviewing all of the investigation reports suggests that no parachute deployment was inadvertent or inappropriate. They will deny claims if you break the rules/regulations. YMMV

    Premiums: market forces in aviation insurance seems to dominate rather than loss ratios. That is, several underwriters have entered the market with rates that bought them market share. With almost 6,000 aircraft produced and high hull-values of fully featured aircraft, the Cirrus market looks attractive and rates seems comparable to other high-performance aircraft. Recent moves by some underwriters have granted premium discounts and greater liability limits for pilots who undergo recurrent training.

    In summary, the insurance market for Cirrus aircraft operates like most other aircraft. Claims get paid out. Pilots fly again. Planes get repaired. Planes fly again.

    Cheers
    Rick

  • I have a question about all of this. Has anyone taken the time to look at accidents from the perspective of injury or fatality to both people and airplanes? Maybe this view is over simplified but to me a good pilot strives to bring both his bird and his passengers back in one piece, and the easiest way ensure a safe flight is to make sure the bird returns intact. Afterall, if the bird comes back healthy so will the people.

    There is a lot of talk questioning if Cirrus pilots are safer or more recless that the rest of the GA pilots in other airplanes. IMHO that can only be determined by looking at casualties of both the people and the airplanes they fly.

    • @Peter Hodges: re looking at injury or fatalities in Cirrus aircraft.

      Yes, COPA provided the author with several charts, one of which shows fatalities in Cirrus aircraft. There have been 107 fatal accidents with 210 fatalities and 24 serious injuries. With parachute deployments, there have been 51 deployments with 104 survivors and 10 serious injuries. But the distribution is heavily skewed and shows dramatic improvement.

      In the past four years, things changed:

      2011: 16 fatal accidents, 31 fatalities, 4 serious, 1 minor
      2012: 10 fatal accidents, 22 fatalities, 2 serious
      2013: 9 fatal accidents, 16 fatalities, 2 serious
      2014: 3 fatal accidents, 5 fatalities, 0 serious

      With survivable parachute deployments over the same period:

      2011: 3 deployments, 0 fatalities, 0 serious, 0 minor, 3 uninjured
      2012: 6 deployments, 0 fatalities, 1 serious, 2 minor, 10 uninjured
      2013: 7 deployments, 0 fatalities, 0 serious, 2 minor, 9 uninjured
      2014: 12 deployments, 0 fatalities, 1 serious, 8 minor, 14 uninjured

      Seems that those Cirrus pilots who deployed the parachute avoided much greater harm to people. To a lot of people, in bad situations.

      Cheers
      Rick

      • Of all the statistics you quoted above, how many came back with their airplanes intact? Of total hours flown in type, how many airplanes were destroyed or seriously damaged? How many fatal accidents occurred where there where there was little or no damage to the aircraft?
        How do these answers stack up against other aircraft types? You can’t compare safety with BSR without taking into account the overall safety record of the type including people AND aircraft combined.

        Take care of your bird and the people inside will automatically be taken care of. The fact that there are any accidents attributable to pilot decisions means there are problems that leave room for improvement.

        The gist of the article appears to be that the CAPS are saving lives, and that is good, but if the pilots were doing there jobs properly there should not be any CAPS deployments in the first place! Certainly not any because the pilot decisions put himself or his airplane beyond their respective capabilities. It is kind of like unauthorized flight into the Washington SFRA. We, as pilots and navigators, should be able to miss an object 50 MILES across!

        How hard is it to commit to completing each and every flight with both the aircraft and people involved intact and healthy? The very fact that we are talking about these statistics at all means there are problems to be addressed.

        • @Pete Hodges: seems like you have more questions than answers, eh?

          You ask how the answers would stack up for Cirrus against other types. Good question.

          But why single out Cirrus? Just because it has safety innovations? Perhaps because ideological disagreements about the role of a pilot, such as “a real pilot doesn’t make bad decisions” or “real pilots don’t need parachutes because …” Perhaps because folks do not like the hype, the marketing, the zealotry, the anecdotal evidence that not all Cirrus pilots are aviators first. Who knows? But it sure seems persistent.

          If pilots did their jobs, we would have seen a significantly lower fatal accident rate. That should be seen over the past three decades. During the time that pilots needed to do their job. Long before Cirrus came along. Yet, we don’t. The GA fatal accident rate over the past decade has been flat, resistance to change. It’s tough. And simple statements like that have not worked.

          Are there problems to address? Yes, in all types of airplanes flying Part 91.

          At least this article suggests that the Cirrus community has made a difference.

          Cheers
          Rick

        • Pete: “if the pilots were doing there jobs properly there should not be any CAPS deployments in the first place!”

          Firstly, many of those ‘chute pulls were mechanical (less than half, I grant you, but a bunch of them). Kind of hard to say that about those situations. The guy that pulled the handle over the ocean near the Bahamas a couple years ago splashed reasonably gently with his wife into the drink as opposed to trying to manage a dead stick splashdown at 65 knots and hope that it didn’t incapacitate them too long or damage the airplane too badly to safely exit the way they did.

          So maybe if you first go outside of things like mechanical failures that’s a wonderfully idyllic statement, but that is true of every airplane make and model out there, and the point here (and I’m years removed from flying a Cirrus) is that in those situations, the BRS saves lives compared to what some of those outcomes would be. Yes, spacial disorientation when it’s VFR into IMC is a pilot error usually (but not always), and yes, icing problems are generally avoidable (but what if your TKS just failed without warning?), but these things happen to Pipers and Mooneys and Cessnas, too, and those planes in the same situation usually end up in a small charred hole. Only occasionally do they end up sliding in unstalled safely next to a barn and cows, and manage to miss the big oak tree. Under ‘chute deployment, that’s not a risk, especially at night or when over a densely wooded and/or mountainous area.

          I no longer fly a plane with a BRS. I know I am not the only one that thought it a bit gimmicky at one point in time. When I lost a cylinder (and more) over the hills of Pennsylvania 20 miles from anything resembling a road, I thought I was going to have to pull that handle, though. I managed to nurse the remainder of my engine long enough to get to a runway (which had been behind me) and land something slightly better than dead stick. I looked at that handle, more than once, and I will say I was damn glad it was an option. Some people might think that necessity (not having one) will force a pilot in that situation to “find a way” they might not find if they can take the easy way out with the ‘chute. Could be true? I will say that the opposite could also be true – the calming effect of knowing there is still a safe last resort may be enough to help someone not panic (enemy #1) and do something worse (stall/spin, kill the engine completely, etc.) and that may actually get them to an airstrip, even without pulling it. What Cirrus has focussed on in training the past several years is telling people that it’s okay to pull, and to make sure not to wait until it’s too late if it is needed.

          • Gabriel – You make a very good point about the mental relief provided by having an ultimate “out” that you know will save your life, and the lives of your passengers, thus making the pilot less susceptible to panic and loss of capacity to select and conduct a safe approach to a forced landing.

            Panic is an extremely strong factor in causing pilots, as well as anyone else, to lose the ability to think clearly and make rational choices. The Air France 447 accident is a perfect example of what panic can do to a professional air crew … in the presence of a rather minor glitch in the cockpit that caused them all to forget how to fly a perfectly airworthy/under-control airplane.

            The anti-BRS folks seem quite willing to assume that Cirrus pilots routinely engage in unsafe flying practices, bolstered by the belief the BRS is their guarantee of safety. Frankly, that just seems preposterous to me.

            Virtually all pilots want to fly safely, to get themselves and their passengers to their destinations safely and without incident or worry or getting the living bejeezus scared out of them.

            Is it possible there is indeed some Cirrus pilot out there who prefers to routinely scare himself/herself with near-death experiences, and destroy perfectly good airplanes worth upwards of half a million dollars or more? I suppose that such is theoretically possible, but in my 40 years of flying I’ve never met a single pilot who acted, talked, or flew that way, at least in my presence.

        • Mr. Hodges

          Oct 2014 @ FDK there was a mid air collision in the traffic pattern between a Cirrus SR22 and a helo… Three dead in the helo…. Two walked away from the SR22 after it pulled it’s shute.

          The old saw goes something like… Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.

          Not every chute deployment is the fault of a Cirrus pilot not doing their job the correct way. The safety equipment in a Cirrus is just an additional safety layer should the stuff hit the fan.

          Your post is written as though pilots of non Cirrus GA planes always do the right thing… And always bring their planes home safely….

          That attitude is just naive… I would suggest that you do some research in the NTSB databases and see how many non Cirrus aircraft have had fatal accident over the last 30 years… Then you may get a better appreciation for the additional safety features included in every Cirrus.

          Thanks

  • The BRS has become synonymous with CAPS (the Cirrus branded version of that feature), and this article is about CAPS pulls increasing and the resulting reduction in fatal Cirrus crashes, but since that invariably leads to debates about Cirrus pilots somehow, let’s not forget that there are plenty of other airplanes now flying that have had people saved by BRS deployments.

    The piolot in this video is doing what appears to be a very standard routine in an acrobatic plane, when his left wing snaps off, and bizarrely seems do so opposite what should be the direction of force on it at the time. Having done a little acrobatic flying myself in a Decathalon, this guy was dead but for the BRS – there was a 0.1% chance he was going to get himself out of that plane and pull his own personal parachute, given the plane’s altitude and the instantaneous spin the wing break induced. That would have killed him, and as happened in Reno a couple years ago, could have sent that plane into the crowd and killed others. Please let’s not debate whether airshows are or aren’t safe or smart, this could have theoretically happened anywhere, any time, on any plane, and even though that ‘chute got tangled up in the spin and brought the plane down nose first and almost upside down, it saved a pilot’s life and possibly the lives of others because of how the plane was brought down to terra firm compared to what would have been…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgfG2DfPB6I

  • Everyone focuses so much on cirrus (including media) that there is a definite bias toward peoples’ view on their safety or lack thereof.

    Someone else pointed out that in the news we see a lot of “plane crashed after pilot reported trouble,” be it engine or gyro or electrical. If you look at crashes, all of them in any type, and think “could a BRS have saved them?” then you may be surprised. The question of “could I have made it out without the chute?” is irrelevant because the pilots in those cases died so the answer is already a proven NO. I find that in a lot of these scenarios, the pilot is able to identify that he has trouble and then tries to get through it, often making a fatal mistake at which point the NTSB says “oh its pilot error” and the armchair crowd tears him apart. What a lot of the debates miss is that in an event of REAL danger, not just an engine-out practice, your heart is racing and you WILL make a mistake. That’s where the “pull early, pull often” comes from. If you identify you have a problem, even if it is just engine trouble (which a lot of these cases are), and you’ve practiced it a hundred times: if you pull the chute you will live and there will be no AOPA crash case study on youtube with your name on it.

    Also twin engine is not a life saver. I remember reading recently about a twin piper going down with 1 engine out. Also there are a myriad of problems where having 2 engines doesn’t make a difference, but the chute does. Even if you hate the parachute and would never pull it, at least recognize its utility if you are having major issues plus IFR or over water or terrain or out of glide distance to an airport. A lot of people say they only fly within glide distance or “have a spot picked out” but there is a still a major chance of something going wrong, a good example being when the engine-out piper crashed onto a beach goer. There are a ton of other examples but the basic lesson is: that there are sometimes factors that are simply out of your control and you may have less time than you anticipate to make a decision. Having a quick-to-activate life-saver is a big deal.

  • I get the “pull early” part of the mantra, but “pull often” makes no sense at all. So the Cirrus pilot who was “saved” by his parachute gets his plane repaired and then has another event requiring him to activate the CAPS? At that stage I suspect he probably shouldn’t be in charge of a shopping trolley let alone an aircraft. And that was only the second activation, hardly counts as “often”, presumably another activation or two will be necessary to fulfill that part of the mantra.

  • Allan, the “pull often” mantra refers to using the parachute system in more scenarios than often given. When analyzing all of the Cirrus fatal accident scenarios, about 60% involved scenarios very similar to survivable parachute pulls. Examples include VFR into IMC, VFR procedures, IFR procedures, loss of engine power, icing, and loss of control. One pilot pulled and all survived, the other pilot didn’t pull and all died. If we got more of those accident pilots to have pulled rather than persisted, many more people would have survived bad situations.

    Cheers
    Rick

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