General aviation companies currently offer ballistically deployed parachute recovery systems that can be deployed by the pilot when under duress. Manufacturers may one day offer customers an option based on software being developed by avionics companies to take control of an aircraft automatically and steer it away from terrain. The BRS consists of a solid rocket thermite charge, activated by two shotgun shell igniters within a sealed compartment located aft of the rear window. With ultra-light aircraft, the BRS is attached to the frame. In both, the BRS points the projectile blast up and back past the tail section. The BRS is activated by a quarter inch pull on a cable as the trigger mechanism.
According to Cirrus, the company currently at the vanguard of aircraft parachute recovery, over 600 lives had been saved by their devices as of 2016. Their goal is to adapt the system to multiple types of aircraft, but retrofitting could prove to be a struggle. Meanwhile, ASR is entering the market with its TriChute system, which can detach the wings from the aircraft’s fuselage. This would allow reassembly of the components upon safe recovery.
There are also new flight control capabilities such as Assisted Recovery from unusual attitudes and terrain proximity that automatically perform terrain avoidance flight control activation.
- Flight closer to the edge of the flight envelope due to overconfidence in protections offered by full-aircraft recovery systems.
- Flight into inappropriate meteorological or terrain conditions due to overconfidence in protections offered by full-aircraft recovery systems.
- Rocket-propelled recovery parachutes in some aircraft may be accidentally triggered by rescue crews or may explode in post-crash fires.
- If the BRS has been deployed the system itself is not hazardous, because the explosive and flammable components are inert. The exhaust and particulate matter from the explosive activation does represent a potential inhalation hazard, but those are readily dissipated by wind. If a BRS-equipped aircraft crashes without activation, the hazard of an ‘unexploded ballistic charge’ exists. First responders must contend with five pyro-hazardous components of a non-deployed BRS:
- One solid rocket charge (powder and magnesium)
- Two shotgun shell igniters
- Two reefing line cutters
- Pilots incorrectly over-riding auto-pull-up systems; not unlike resisting stick shaker/pusher functions.