Why do the Cirrus SR-20 and SR-22 have the CAPS (parachute) system?

Cirrus touts the parachute as an added layer of safety. The parachute has obvious marketing value, but is the parachute's added safety a spin on the airframe's shortcomings? CAPS is not an option when buying a Cirrus, so what's the real reason for it?

Why do the Cirrus SR-20 and SR-22 have the CAPS parachute? Can a Cirrus SR-20 or SR-22 be certified to fly without it?

• "Why?" is a pretty vague question. The only appropriate question you asked is, "Can the airplane even get certified to fly without it?". – abelenky Oct 20 '15 at 18:38
• I agree, so I clarified it. I'm feeling good about the question. Even gave myself a pat on the back earlier. – ryan1618 Oct 20 '15 at 19:03
• I hate to break the news to you after the pat on the back and everything, but this is actually a dupe. – reirab Oct 21 '15 at 2:19
• Mark it. I just reversed the pat. Tough day after all. – ryan1618 Oct 21 '15 at 2:34
• @reirab I have reinstated my back pat this morning. That other question doesn't answer the part about whether or not the Cirrus can be certified without CAPS. – ryan1618 Oct 21 '15 at 13:05

Briefly, without the CAPS the aircraft could not be certified because it wouldn't meet the spin recovery requirements of 14 CFR 23.221.

You can read a lot of detail in Cirrus's own CAPS Guide but their design premise is that pilots are bad at recovering from spins, especially close to ground. Cirrus wanted to make a safer aircraft that could recover even if the pilot has no spin training at all, so they implemented two safety features: a "cuffed wing design" from NASA and the CAPS.

Normally, the Cirrus would have to comply with 14 CFR 23.221(a):

Normal category airplanes. A single-engine, normal category airplane must be able to recover from a one-turn spin or a three-second spin, whichever takes longer, in not more than one additional turn after initiation of the first control action for recovery, or demonstrate compliance with the optional spin resistant requirements of this section.

But, rather than comply directly by demonstrating the spin recovery, Cirrus asked the FAA to certify them based on the wing design and CAPS instead, as the CAPS Guide explains:

Given that Cirrus had demonstrated enhanced low speed handling characteristics that will help pilots to avoid inadvertent spin entry and the presence of CAPS, the FAA granted Cirrus an Equivalent Level of Safety (ELOS) for the spin recovery requirement of the certification regulations. This ELOS is accepted by all civil aviation authorities that have certified the Cirrus SR20 and SR22

The CAPS also has some other benefits, such as being easy to use for an untrained passenger (think pilot incapacitation). That might be an important "why" reason and selling point from a Marketing perspective but it isn't directly relevant for certification.

• because it wouldn't meet the spin recovery requirements - do we know that it would not meet the requirements if tested, or did Cirrus simply ask for the parachute in lieu of spin certification? – Steve V. Oct 20 '15 at 23:34
• @SteveV. According to a Cirrus test engineer: "The upside of the cuffs – that they give greater control in the slow flight regime – also have, like every aircraft feature, a compromise, and that is that they can cause an aircraft to take more than the required one-turn recovery rotation to be eligible to be spin-certified". You can read the full thing but basically CAPS is the only reliable spin recovery method in a Cirrus. – Pondlife Oct 21 '15 at 0:36
• "A single-engine, normal category airplane must be able to recover from a one-turn spin or a three-second spin, whichever takes longer" Holy cow. Can you imagine a one-turn spin taking less than three seconds? I do not want to be in an airplane that is spinning more than 120 degrees/second, even if it does have an airframe parachute. – reirab Oct 21 '15 at 2:23
• There is as always in the aviation industry a more original reason for CAPS in a Cirrus. Alan Klapmeier suffered a mid-air collision in 1985 which he survived with part of his wing gone, while the other participant in the collision died. That incident motivated him to make aviation as safe as possible, hence the chute. – klaaz Oct 10 '16 at 8:15
• That’s incorrect. The Cirrus WILL recover from a spin and can be certified per 23.221. I know this from a Cirrus Test pilot in Duluth who has spun these airplanes and they will recover. The CIRRUS SR POHs indicate the use of the CAPS system for spins both for ease of recovery and legal CYA. – Carlo Felicione Oct 25 '18 at 2:41

My father has a fairly detailed answer to this question, based on experience. His particular evaluation of the parachute:

Don’t fly a single engine plane that isn’t equipped with a parachute. Although the chances of actually encountering an emergency situation that is worthy of “pulling the chute” are probably small to infinitesimal over the course of any given pilot’s career, the penalty for not having a parachute is almost certain death. Each pilot has to establish and evaluate their own risk assessment criteria, but for me something that has a greater than 50% risk of death, even if only 1% of the time, is an unacceptable risk. That’s why I bought a Cirrus in the first place.

• Link only answers are discouraged because the link may go dead at a later date. Please include the relevant parts of the link in your answer, and I'll be happy to switch my down to an up. – Steve V. Oct 20 '15 at 23:35
• @SteveV. Fixed, my apologies. – Ryan Reich Oct 21 '15 at 2:27
• I don't want to criticize your father, but his comment that making an off-airport landing is "almost certain death" is certainly not the case. AOPA says the fatality rate is 10%, or 20% for ditching. That's a lot, and definitely not something to take lightly, but it's far from "almost certain death". On the other hand, your father experienced a seizure and in that specific scenario a chute might be much more useful than in a 'typical' engine failure case where the pilot is still fully alert and in control. – Pondlife Oct 21 '15 at 14:55
• @Pondlife No offense taken. It's possible that his assessment of "an emergency situation that is worth of 'pulling the chute'" is more severe than simply an off-airport landing, maybe more similar to his own situation, where recovery is impossible or nearly so. I can't speak for him, though. It does sound like he's saying that the chute provides absolute safety in circumstances where previously there was absolute risk -- a valid point, not unlike airbags in cars. – Ryan Reich Oct 21 '15 at 19:01
• But if he had a seizure, a second engine wouldn't save him, so why does he mention 'single engine'? Parachute on single engine airplanes, as opposed to all others, makes a difference only in case of an engine failure. – Zeus Oct 25 '18 at 23:29

There is no shortcoming to the Cirrus SR airframes requiring the installation of a ballistic parachute to make them safe for spins. As I commented, the Cirrus SR aircraft have been spun and recovered successfully during flight testing, though the spin certification process was bypassed with the wing cuff technology to provide more roll authority and stall prevention.

Cirrus originally added the parachutes an an integral part of every new airplane which they designed as a result of a mid air collision Cirrus founder Alan Klapmeier was involved in. He resolved to find a means to make light aircraft safer for their uses and found the best solution lay in the installation of ballistic parachutes.

The POH and CAPS training documents list activiation of the CAPS in the event of a spin both for ease of recovery and to make the OEM more immune to litigation.

The rumors that Cirruses cannot recover from spins fester on GA forums by ignorant pilots trash talking each other about their aircraft. Other aircraft such as the Lancair/Columbia LC-550FG series did not undergo spin certification as part of the certification process and were not equipped with ballistic parachutes (they also can successfully recover from spins as well).

• "There is no shortcoming of the Cirrus SR airframes..." Are you asserting an opinion that the inability of the airframe to meet the requirements of 14 CFR 23.221 does not constitute a "shortcoming?" Or are you stating that they actually can meet the requirements of 14 CFR 23.221? – ryan1618 Oct 26 '18 at 13:21
• They can but circumvent those requirements, and it has nothing to do with the CAPS system. – Carlo Felicione Oct 26 '18 at 15:48
• This Cirrus engineer says the airframe can't meet the spin requirements. kineticlearning.com/pilots_world/safety/06_05/… – ryan1618 Oct 27 '18 at 23:29
• FALSE: it just states that the entire spin certification process was not completed. This is not proof that the airplane cannot successful do so or recover from a spin. Rather it affirms my argument that Cirrus simply decided to circumvent the spin test requirements using the wing cuff design and a spin awareness and prevention philosophy. – Carlo Felicione Oct 27 '18 at 23:38
• "they can cause an aircraft to take more than the required one-turn recovery rotation to be eligible to be spin-certified" – ryan1618 Oct 28 '18 at 1:30