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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.

Potential hazard

  1. Flight closer to the edge of the flight envelope due to overconfidence in protections offered by full-aircraft recovery systems.
  2. Flight into inappropriate meteorological or terrain conditions due to overconfidence in protections offered by full-aircraft recovery systems.
  3. Rocket-propelled recovery parachutes in some aircraft may be accidentally triggered by rescue crews or may explode in post-crash fires.
  4. 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:
  5. One solid rocket charge (powder and magnesium)
  6. Two shotgun shell igniters
  7. Two reefing line cutters
  8. Pilots incorrectly over-riding auto-pull-up systems; not unlike resisting stick shaker/pusher functions.

Corroborating sources and comments

14 NBAA Top Safety Focus Areas:

As a result of cost reductions and/or entrepreneurial spirit, the necessity to arm pilots with the tools to safely manage single-pilot operations has become more important than ever. The Single-Pilot Safety Working Group provides helpful tools and informative resources, including the annual Single-Pilot Safety Standdown.

Accident rates are consistently higher for single engine piston powered aircraft. Owner flown aircraft face unique challenges; often a lack of guidance, financial support, and clear procedures allow the pilot to use personal discretion without a set standard to measure against.

Using Scenario-Based Training to Teach Single Pilot Resource Management Related to the Use of the BRS Parachute, Shayna Strally, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, FL 2005

As small aircraft and helicopters have become more complex, technology has provided systems that have enhanced operational safety. In the event of an accident, many of these systems have presented additional hazards to first responders or any potential rescuer at an aircraft accident scene. The FAA, in cooperation with General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), various manufacturers and first responder professional organizations, has developed training for safety at an aircraft accident scene. While the material was initially developed for firefighters, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and police, it provides useful information for any persons that may come across an aircraft accident. (While Cirrus is trying to expand the reach of its parachutes to various types of aircraft, retrofitting may prove an obstacle. The competitive TriChute system is being tested on the Cessna Caravan, with its ability to detach wings and fuselage separately for later use.) (An inside look at Cirrus’s aircraft, including its parachute system) (Interesting side-note: the FAA waived Cirrus’s air testing requirement for their jets, citing the cost and dangers of the usual clearance procedures in this case.)

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