Parachute failure?

I noticed an e-mail from Cirrus tonight urging immediate compliance with the 2nd CAPS service bulletin (20-95-02), this because of an SR20 accident yesterday in Lexington, KY.

I found this on the web –

Posted on Sun, Mar. 17, 2002

Two unhurt in small plane emergency landing

A small plane made an emergency landing in a field yesterday afternoon, skidding and crashing into a tree about 100 yards away from New Circle Road in Lexington, authorities said. Neither Paul Heflin nor Ben Ditty, both of Lexington, was injured. The men, identified as pilots, were aboard the small Cirrus SR20, a model known for its emergency parachute. When authorities arrived, the parachute had been deployed but it was unclear whether deployment occurred before the landing on a field between Lees-town Road and Old Frankfort Pike, said Battalion Chief Steven Sea of the Lexington fire department.

The plane was damaged. The Federal Aviation Admin-is-tration is investigating the incident. The men aboard the plane reported problems with their instruments and fog, Sea said.

Here’s the preliminary accident report for what its worth. Appears pilot intentionally deployed chute. With 600 foot ceilings, if something went seriously wrong (eg, AI), it would seem the chute would be the only option. This may be the first case of the chute actually saving someone. Interesting.


INJURY DATA Total Fatal: 0
# Crew: 1 Fat: 0 Ser: 0 Min: 0 Unk:
# Pass: 1 Fat: 0 Ser: 0 Min: 0 Unk:
# Grnd: Fat: 0 Ser: 0 Min: 0 Unk:

WEATHER: SA 161645Z 02010KT 5SM BR OVC006 07/06 A3015

stupid question, but, why not put in a simple vacuum warning lite on the panel? My new panel will include vacuum, alternator, and oil pressure warning lites. When I’m doing ifr, I find that my attention span is usually other places than on some of these basic engine instruments; or equally cumbersome some of the usual engine instruments are in “tough to see” place on thepanel with the ifr scan.

Hey…we all beating the training thing to death…isn’t anyone at all intrigued that this may just be a “first” in GA? The guy pulled the parachute and lowered a real plane (not an ultralight) to the ground…safely. Yes, yes…that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do…but no one ever actually did it before. Maybe we’ll find he truly was in an unavoidable emergency…or maybe it will come down to a training issue…or maybe he just panicked, but the fact remains (best I can tell) that he used the chute and it worked. I think that verifies the whole design philosophy behind the Cirrus. If I were the Clapmeyers (sp?) I’d feel pretty good about it.

Of course, I don’t own one yet, so I’m not thinking about insurance. Though I have to think if I were the insurance company, I’d much prefer a damaged plane and two living souls, than a damaged plane and two dead souls.

My two cents…

In reply to:

Â… if something went seriously wrong (eg, AI), it would seem the chute would be the only option.

Are you saying that losing your AI is adequate justification for pulling the 'chute?? That is, pardon me, ridiculous, and a very dangerous mindset. If you cannot fly the airplane partial-panel you have no business being in IMC, and if you think the ‘chute is your “out” in the case of partial instrument failure, you have no business flying a Cirrus.
This is not a commentary on the specific incident that just occurred, as nobody knows yet what the circumstances were. It is a commentary on your statement, which is one of the most outright dangerous things I have ever read on this Forum.

You make a good point. A properly trained instrument pilot should be able to fly partial panel.

Were did the preliminary come from. I couldn’t find it on the NTSB website.


Don’t hold back, it 's not healthy. Tell us how you really feel.

Your argument is right on the money. The chute is not a safety net for dangerous pilots.

Strong words. I too would have thought the loss of an AI would be a manageable problem for a well trained instrument pilot, but a Richard Collins article in the latest Flying magazine has some pretty sobering statistics regarding the actual partial panel performance of pilots, some with very high time.

I often practice partial panel work and can do a reasonably good job of it. But during practice you know it’s happened, either because an instructor covers your instrument or you do it yourself. Doing it that way (maintaining a steady-state condition) is pretty easy. In the real world, however, the entry into a partial panel situation is rarely that benign. It may take a little while to realize something’s wrong, figure out what it is, then take corrective action. If so, you’re not looking at simply flying partial panel, but at a partial panel unusual attitude recovery followed by reorientation, likely with a good case of vertigo thrown in. So I can see where at low altitudes an insidious AI failure could well justify a chute pop.

The only thing ridiculous in the foregoing is your apparent need to flame an utterly innocent remark. The only thing dangerous is the thought that a loose cannon like yourself might own a set of keys to a real airplane.

I haven’t a clue why or if that fellow deployed his chute, except what was stated in the accident report. The point of my remark was that it appears he did intentionally deploy it and rode it to the ground…apparently safely. This makes it the first situation I have heard of in which a Cirrus went all the way to the ground under its own chute. Personally, I find that interesting, since it proves the survivability of the CAPS system in a real life scenario…all the way to the ground.

You, of course, missed the significance of this, and only focused on a two-letter example of what might constitute a serious emergency in 600 foot overcast skies and ground fog. While I referenced only the AI as an example in my parenthetical, I was actually thinking of the numerous other Cirrus squawks I’ve seen discussed in this forum, some of which might indeed constitute a serious emergency in IMC (eg, engine out or broken bell-crank). But I’m sure you will run with this as well, and tell me that you routinely fly in 600 foot ceilings with ground fog, on a wet compass and turn coordinator alone, with a busted rudder and a blown engine…all perfectly safely, I’m sure.

I also note your directive that I have no business flying a Cirrus. Are you the self-appointed guardian of Cirrus keys these days?

but what if you are right and he shouldn’t have been flying but made an error and LIVED…unlike JFK who should not have been flying and died…

Never mind, I found it. They have it listed as an experimental!

I also agree 100% with Gordon.

I have the same auto pilot and Garmin set up in my Arrow as the 22 I will start flying in May. I had an AI malfuntion (later self corrected) and the TC based auto pilot gave me much comfort and safety as I figured out the problem.

By the way, the 1999 Arrow is for sale.


I do understand the possibility (more like probability) of an insidious failure. If it progresses to the point of loss of control of the airplane, vertigo, etc., then the 'chute would be pulled. If everyone rigorously used a well thought out scan, like Machado’s, it shouldn’t get to that point, of course. But who does? It is so easy to get lazy.
A careful analysis of three related instruments will reveal the errant one. But whether one can and will perform the required analysis amid the shock and initial confusion is an open question. If you have practiced recently with a good simulator you have a much better chance to handle the situation. And you have instrument covers handy, right?
What I reacted to so strongly about was the implication (actually, literal statement) that just losing the AI is justification for popping the ‘chute. If you say that the ‘chute should be pulled if loss of control results from your loss of the AI, that’s different. Personally, I think the AI is the easiest primary instrument to detect and manage a failure in, unless one has become overly dependent on it.

The fact that the autopilot in the Cirrus is rate-based and driven by the turn coordinator may be a saving grace in many cases, as the TC incidence of failure is significantly less than the AI.

Might I suggest that for failure of the AI one option with an S-TEC autopilot is to turn it on. It does not depend on the AI to maintain wings level. That gives you time to sort out the problem.
I also agree that the real problem with AI failure is recognizing it. I had one once in a Mooney in IMC and it took longer than I would have liked to sort out what was happening. I’ve also had lots of failures in Flight Safety simulators and even expecting the instructor is going to fail something it takes a little time to recognize exactly what’s been failed.
One pet peeve I’ve had for a long time regarding instruction in autopilot equipped airplanes is that little (if any) attention is given to where the autopilot gets it’s input from. One real advantage of S-TEC is precisely that it doesn’t need the AI.
That’s something all Cirrus Pilots need to know.

Dave - you are right - I teed off on you because I took that statement literally. Well, there it was, literally written! As far as being a “loose cannon,” well, the statement deserved to be shot!
It gets into the subject brought up a while back here about whether you would do things in the Cirrus that you wouldn’t do in another aircraft because the Cirrus has a 'chute. I think that is a very slippery slope. If one of those “things” is not keeping current on partial panel techniques, I have a problem with that.
I also very specifically stated that my comments were not in any way directed toward the recent incident. Until the details are in, judgments should of course be withheld.
I’m just really sensitive right now to what I see as a serious degradation of pilot skills over the past couple of decades. Maybe it is anecdotal, but I have had some recent flights as safety pilot or CFI (for BFRs) with folks that just shouldn’t be in the air without a considerable amount of additional training and/or attitude adjustment. However, maybe a good sign, everyone I’ve flown with in a Cirrus has demonstrated great skills.

I see the high incidence of pilot-error GA accidents as a failure of flight instructors. Unlike the ATC system, which for all its faults is at least consistent everywhere, I think there is a real problem in the variability and quality of flight instruction. It has been many, many years since I was a full-time CFI, but it is still the case that CFIs are the lowest pond scum form of professional pilot and generally are paid dog food wages for what is arguably one of the most demanding and important aviation occupations.

There are precious few professional (GA) flight instructors. They canÂ’t be competitive on price, thatÂ’s for sure. (But if you are going to learn something as important as flying, do you want the $15/hr CFI or the $50/hr CFI?) I think that until we have a system that promotes excellence (and a decent living) in the profession of flight instruction that GA pilot-error accidents will continue to kill people and cement the public perception that GA flying is akin to shark wrestling.

My $1.29.

I agree with you Gordon. Looking back on my instrument training (almost 9 years ago, fossil that I am) there was virtually no training OR EVEN DISCUSSION of the autopilot as a safety item/backup. Of course, the flying club rent-a-wrecks I used for my training mostly did not have autopilots!

While I feel confident in my partial panel flying skills and practice them several times a year (TC plus GPS digital track reference–plus my GPSMAP295 HSI page as a bonus–makes it so much easier than it used to be), I am still somewhat uncertain about my ability to immediately recognize a vacuum failure. Surely it would take 2 or 3 trips through the scan to get a clear picture. In the unlikely event this occurred at low altitude in IMC it could make for an interesting day. Therefore my instrument paranoia elevates several notches on approach.

Just one quick point - AIs rarely fail. Usually, the vacumn system driving them fails – and Cirri with vacumn gyros have autobackup and an annunciator that the primary vac failed. (you DO check the annunciator on pre-flight, right?) So, the insidiously slow failure of an AI should be a VERY rare event in a Cirrus…

But, I agree with Gordon. No one should rely on the AI in IMC (or on any one instrument, for that matter), and should (1) be proficient in flying without it and (2) always be crosschecking the instruments for bogus info that would indicate an incipient failure. Keep your scan up!

I noticed on several oiccasions lately…esp on cold mornings…the AI 'floats and rollsl all over the place until it ‘finally catches’ and settles in correctly…I fly ONLY VFR…but I bet I am about to give you an example in a month or so of another ‘AI failure’…this woiuld be in addition to 3 HSI’s, 4 vac pumps etc. Thank God for Garmin’s!

Very good point about the A/P and I think there is a revealing article in Flying this month. Either way, it is very good food for thought.