Suppose the plane is in a thunder storm, and the pilot loses control of the airplane. Would deploying the ballistic parachute be a safe option? Meaning, is it likely that everyone would come out alive? Assume that as soon as the plane hits the ground at a reasonable speed the occupants are safe(as in, there's no ocean to drown in). Has this ever been done before?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ It's worth a try considering the alternative. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jul 13 '17 at 2:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I thought you have done that with personal parachute out of a 727? The fact is trying to avoid such severe storm is cheaper, safer and more effective thab parachute the whole plane down. $\endgroup$ – vasin1987 Jul 13 '17 at 6:07
  • $\begingroup$ CAPS deployment is unsafe by definition. $\endgroup$ – GdD Jul 13 '17 at 12:52
  • $\begingroup$ @GdD I don't think it is. Don't they have a perfect safety record within certain specified parameters? By unsafe I mean >10% chance of death. $\endgroup$ – D. B. Cooper Jul 13 '17 at 13:06

Manufacturers are going to have different opinions of this scenario, but this answer follows the opinion of Cirrus Aircraft in their flight manuals and CCIP syllabi for the SR2X airplanes.

First off, your best bet is to obtain a proper weather briefing prior to departure and obtain in-flight weather updates enroute so you can stay out of a thunderstorm in the first place. The CAPS has very specific guidelines for operations as well as a maximum demonstrated safe deployment speed, depending of the model of aircraft. The flight manuals for the SR2X aircraft all state that:

"However because the CAPS is expected to result in structural damage to the airframe and, depending upon adverse external factors such as high deployment speeds, low altitude, rough terrain and high winds, the CAPS deployment may result in severe injury or death to the occupants and its use should not be taken lightly".

Barring that and you actually enter a thunderstorm which is so severe that it either causes departure from controlled flight or structural failure, there is a clause in the CAPS literature stating that if an accident is imminent, even if the acitivation of the CAPS is outside the demonstrated safe deployment range, it should be utilized and activated nonetheless. The reason has to do with minimizing the amount of energy on impact and even a partially deployed or damaged CAPS is going to slow the aircraft considerably, increasing your chances of survival.

Bottom line is that you did something stupid vis a vis a serious lack of judgment where a safe recovery is no longer possible. Whatever happens in the next few minutes is probably going to hurt really bad; the only thing we can do is make every effort to minimize how badly we are hurt and minimize the chances that we are going to be killed. Even an unsafe CAPS deployment in this situation is better than riding down to impact without.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ That's good research, but in the end (as the OP doesn't ask for "is it safer than", but "is it safe"), if Cirrus says the CAPS deployment may result in severe injury or death to the occupants, the answer to the question Can Ballistic Parachute Recovery Systems be safely deployed in a storm? must be: Deploying the CAPS, regardless of the conditions, is not safe. $\endgroup$ – mins Jul 13 '17 at 7:11
  • $\begingroup$ No, it's like any other piece of safety equipment. It has been demonstrated to reduce the risk of injury or death, <em>but there is no guarantee that injury or death won't happen if it is used</em>. In a similar vein, automobile airbags can save lives in accidents but there is no guarantee that serious injury or death in an accident won't happen even if the airbag deploys successfully. $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Jul 15 '17 at 4:03

In contrast, consider the success rate of another emergency egress aircraft system: The ACES II ejection seat USAF reports that in envelope success rate of ACES II is 94.4%, and combined in envelope and out of envelope success rate is 89.9%.

Out of envelope means the seat was employed in conditions it hasn't been certified for.

Success means the pilot lived, not necessarily uninjured.

So, first consider that these sorts of emergency parachute systems are not a 'safe' option, they're just considered better than guaranteed death.

As for the BPRS, it is not a 'safe' option under any circumstance. It is quite possible that the chute lines could get tangled up in the aircraft - remember that it will be deployed into a powerful wind, and in the event of structural failure, say a wing coming off, the aircraft might be spinning as it falls, tangling the chute lines.

Consider the fate of Vladimir Komarov, test pilot, aeronautical engineer, and cosmonaut. Faced with a failing Soyuz 1 spacecraft, he brought it into re-entry manually with almost no instrumentation and little ability to control it (an amazing feat), only to have the wildy gyrating capsule tangle it's parachute lines and impact the ground at high speed.

The BPRS would be considered a valid option, if the only other option was hitting the ground with no braking at all.

Deploying the BPRS in a storm would be essentially the same as making a parachute jump into a storm, subject to the same hazards, such as gusting winds collapsing the chute.

The only safe option for a light aircraft is to avoid storms completely.


Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.