Do I chute a landing or not?

Maybe it’s because I’m a lawyer, maybe it’s because I’m a cowardly flyer, or maybe it’s because, Cirrus has taken us where no pilot has gone before with the parachute system, but has anyone seen a comprehensive analysis deliniating when to pull the chute as opposed to try for the landing?

I have told my wife that if a goose flys through the windshied and decapitates me with it’s wing . . . pull the chute. . . or if I am in the mountains on a moonless night, loose an engine, then I pull the chute, but what if there is no catastophic failure, but only an engine failure. what then . . .?

If I just took off, and am at 1000 ft, loose the engine, and am looking down at a shopping center with a parking lot, or even a road? Roads and parking lots are full of cars, some moving.

How about over water. Is it better to ditch at stall speed, or just float down?

Then there is that corn field at the end of the runway. Do I risk flipping over when I hit a furrow or land vertically.

Has anyone done a risk analysis on different situations where engine failure is the reason for the emergency?

If I didn’t have a chute on the plane, the answers would be easy, but now I have options when loosing an engine.

The lawyer in me also wants an answer because if someone gets hurt, I am sure that the question will be asked, “did the pilot make the right choice”, and did the decision that the pilot made, result in greater injury or damage.

Lets face it. Landing vertically in a parking lot takes out 1 car and 1 airplane. Attempting a regular landing may take out many cars and perhaps a few people.

Not sure if you’ve attended a CPPP, but some discussion of when to pull the cute is done in the ground school there.

In reply to:

The lawyer in me also wants an answer because if someone gets hurt, I am sure that the question will be asked, “did the pilot make the right choice”, and did the decision that the pilot made, result in greater injury or damage.

And the “potential defendant” in me says that you’ll be unlikely to find anyone willing to give hard-and-fast rules about when to pull the chute vs. attempt a forced landing, because of the liability involved! (For example, if I lose an engine and see a wonderful landing strip right below me, I personally would just make a forced landing. But I wouldn’t necessarily encourage any random pilot to do the same – what if their power-off landing skills are horrible? Then they’d be better off pulling the chute! Just one example of many…)



This is covered very nicely - from a bunch of different angles - at CPPP; read this as strong encouragement to attend. Bottom line – have your own criteria (CAPS vs. attempt at forced landing) clear in your own mind well ahead of time. An actual emergency is not a good time to start thinking about it.

One notable exception to the coverage is the CAPS-over-water question, although it is discussed. This is mostly because we don’t have much data yet. We’re trying to get more info from Cirrus, and they in turn are trying to get clarification from engineers both internally and at BRS.



To me the answer is: If I think I can control the plane to the forced landing site then I would most likely go the forced landing route.

If I enter a spin, have poor landing options, or otherwise can not control the plane to the ground, then I would pull the chute.

I for one do not want to make the decision to complicated that I do not have time to react but at the same time I know I lose an element of control as soon as I go under canopy. A bit of luck still has to be with you.


Sir, As a member of several accident investigations in the military I have come to some conclusions about ejection seats and in the abstract our parachute system. As Mike and Marty have said just thinking the matter through in your head, both in the air and during those quiet reflection times at home, puts you in the 90th percentile for success. The last ten percent would stack up as follows: 1. Know the capabilities of your system cold. 2. Set personal parameters and if something happens stick to them no matter what, adjust between flights only with experience and or new data about #1. 3. Make your decision as early as possible and stick to it. As time and experience go on we will all learn more about the systems capabilities and COPA will be in the forefront of the information process. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV but these issues can never be black and white. If you made an informed decision but were wrong then you just caught the silver bullet, but I would say the chances of that are slim if you have a disciplined approach to this and other areas of aviation as well.

The plane is always cheaper than its occupants. Anytime you feel like you should pull it - go ahead. Although the monday morning hangar pilots in all of us may offer our two cents, it will be you in the plane with your friends and family and you’re the only one who knows your skills. No one can criticize you for doing so.

As Mike said, you really should think about all the emergency situations you might encounter ahead of time, so your decision is made on the ground before the flight. I totally support those thoughts even though you will never know the exact circumstances until you experience them. Just need to be as prepared as possible.


The CAPS-over-water question is interesting. I lived and flew for almost four years (early 70s) in Hawaii, and in that time I knew of enough ditchings under various conditions to draw a general conclusion that in deep water where currents are present, if you can ditch within a mile of shore or close to a boat and keep a wing from digging in and cartwheeling at a high speed, there’s a good chance of survival. In that time I never heard of a ditching more than a mile offshore that wasn’t fatal, and I knew of one (a Globe Swift) where the pilot was lost and the passenger was recovered alive but with a broken back. In all cases of a ditching within a mile of shore that I was aware of (I think three), the occupants all survived. Where you ditch (close to where you can be found and rescued quickly) seems to be much more important for survival than how you ditch.

If I’m right, CAPS-over-water may be very good from the point of view of preventing impact injuries (remembering that the landing gear won’t help absorb impact on water as it can on land), but a pilot might well decide to glide some distance before pulling the handle if this could get the plane close enough to shore for a speedy rescue. If too far offshore and aiming for a boat or ship, you would want to position yourself upwind of the vessel and delay deploying the chute until you’re near the minimum safe altitude, thus minimizing the drift. If survival ultimately depends on a bystander noticing your distress before you hit the water, a canopy might make all the difference. After your MAYDAY call on VHF, a 911 call from your cell phone on the way down could also save your life, if you’re close to a populated shore (provided they don’t think it’s a prank!).


John Renwick (Yankee Flying Club, N2014Y)

I note that you include entering a spin as an example of when you would pull the chute. You guys all know the parameters of the Cirrus chute better than I (not being a cirrus owner), but my recollection is it takes 900 feet to fully deploy. The most common stall spin scenarios occur well below that altitude. At the typical altitude where they occur, I would think that by the time you got your wits together and had a good grip on the chute handle, you’d probably already be in the ground, nose-first. On the other hand, it is possible to pop out of a half spin in several hundreds of feet or less (I did it once in a Katana at 1500 feet AGL…spin induced by idiot CFI). I think anyway you measure it, traditional spin recovery would be much quicker and take much less altitude than deploying the parachute…and of course has the benefit of saving the flight…not to mention the plane, itself. The only spin where it would seem logical to use the chute would be in a low ceiling, IMC, coupled with loss of instruments, such that traditional spin recover is not possible.

I would think that IMC/night/etc loss of engine, control surface failures, and mid-airs would be the situations calling for chute deployment. In any low altitude situation, I’d be inclined to ride the plane down as long as I had some chance of having a straight and level attitude at impact.

Just my two cents…


Thanks for your input Robert. As an ex-navy pilot, I understand your position and view. I also know and understand that the more information we have available to us the more we have the opportunity to make informed decisions based upon known facts. I believe crash testing is the means to that end. The Cirrus system has the unique opportunity to save people which were not possible in the past, but this new PIC decision must be tempered with knowledge and understanding.

In reply to:

my recollection is it takes 900 feet to fully deploy.

Actually, it is more like 300-400 feet. Given that even one turn in a spin will eat that up, plus you’re still in a dive, the 'chute is the technique of choice for low altitude recovery.

Gordon & Dave:
When Cirrus first tested the chute, they used the scenario of a spin and then deployment of the chute and the TOTAL altitude loss was 900 feet. That included the altitude loss from the spin. If you pull the chute in a straight and level scenario, you will only lose about 400 feet as Gordon has said.
But you are right Dave: In a typical low altitude “turn to final” stall /spin situation, the altitude will like be too low to save the day unless you pullede the chute immediately and you were more than 500-600 feet above the ground.
This is why the most probably situation where a spin is LIKELY to develop, the chute would not help. Unfortunately nothing does in that case.
The suggested scenario for a spin at higher altitude is try conventional recovery first. If no result, pull the chute. If you do not have enough altitude to stabilize under the chute: DEATH.

In reply to:

But you are right Dave: In a typical low altitude “turn to final” stall /spin situation, the altitude will like be too low to save the day unless you pullede the chute immediately and you were more than 500-600 feet above the ground.

Yes, of course, you are correct. When I spoke of the 400 foot loss, that referred to level flight, but that is quite applicable in an engine loss on climbout scenario. In a base-to-final spin scenario, no way it would work from 400 feet.

I think if I entered a spin in the base-to-final turn I’d die from kicking myself before I hit the ground.

But you would never do that Gordon. So you do not have to worry about that scenario.

In reply to:

But you would never do that Gordon.


Your comment, and Gordon’s, got me thinking. To my knowledge, I’ve never even come close to a base-to-final-stall-spin scenario. I’ve always associated that with either (a) very inexperienced pilots or (b) very distracted ones, but not based on any hard data.

Are there any statistics that show how likely or unlikely we, as reasonably experienced pilots, are to do this? Is there any correlation between the likelihood of dying from this, and ANYTHING?


In reply to:

But you would never do that Gordon. So you do not have to worry about that scenario.

Kick myself? Oh, I can assure you I do that all the time! I’m just less limber now, so at least it doesn’t hurt as much.

Mile, the probability of dying from a spin entered on the base to final turn is 100%. The probability of dying from something at some point is also 100%. Hope that helps. Have a nice day.

Mike, I fly with an angle of attack indicator. It’s a wonderful tool and very precise. When I first began using it I was shocked to see how close to a stall one can be in a base to final turn with just a little more bank than usual. Prior to that I thought it would take a lot more inappropriate control input to stall than is actually the case.Clark

I second Jerry’s assessment. The liklihood of getting into a base to final stall/spin is small with proper training but once you get in one, you are DEAD.

That is very good. I learned that in my first year medical school during epidemiology class: The risk of death is the same in the USA as it is in any third world country (developing country):



But… (as Jerry and all know)… what I was REALLY asking was… how likely is it, actually? Not the dying part - the getting into the base-to-final-stall-spin… by a reasonably current and experienced pilot? Any stats that anyone’s aware of?

  • Mike.

PS - Salil… along those lines… they’ve discovered the single cause of divorce, worldwide. Marriage.