Aviation Safety Letter 2/2004

Ballistic Recovery System Parachutes:  The Lifesaver


In our two previous issues of Recreational Aviation, Inspector Martin Buisonneau carefully guided you through the process of safely purchasing an ultralight aircraft. In this issue, we hope to convey the idea that when looking to buy a small ultralight aircraft, it may be worthwhile to also look into the purchase of a lifesaving device called a ballistically deployed emergency parachute, often called a ballistic recovery system (BRS). After all, when we buy insurance, we don't do it in the hope of having to use it, but more in the eventuality that if ever we need it, it's there to help out. I believe that the adoption of such a device should be viewed on its merits like an insurance policy. This is not a sales pitch; this is safety.


In the U.S., the ballistically deployed emergency parachute came about following a flying accident that nearly cost the life of its designer. Mr. Popov of Saint Paul, Minnesota, held a pilot license, and flew conventional aircraft and hang gliders. One day, as he was towed over a lake by a powerboat with an overzealous tow driver to a height of 400 ft, the hang glider collapsed and he plummeted to earth. He thought for sure that he was going to die and became most annoyed at the fact that there was nothing that he could do to save himself. Thankfully, as a trained gymnast he conditioned himself for a crash landing in the water and he survived with a bruised kidney and some broken teeth. He knew that parachutes existed but had not yet been introduced to the hang gliding community, so he set out to design one that could be deployed in flight and at low altitude, to save someone from impending doom. His design team went on to develop a system that is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and is widely used around the world by the ultralight aircraft community, as well as on certificated aircraft such as the Cirrus aircraft and as a supplemental type certificate (STC) modification to the Cessna 150/152 series and the Cessna 172.


American and European manufacturers offer various sizes of emergency parachutes for different types of aircraft. There are recovery systems for certificated aircraft, trikes, hang gliders, ultralights and advanced ultralight aircraft and companies may help you adapt one on your amateur-built aircraft.

How it works

The very small and lightweight parachute is located in a special canister close to the aircraft or ultralight aircraft's center of gravity. It is propelled out of the canister by a solid fuel rocket motor and deploys at various speeds, depending on the height of the aircraft, to preclude any structural failure of the canopy. The pilot manually deploys the system by pulling a handle. Flying small aircraft is no ordinary undertaking and has to be taken seriously as it is most unforgiving of mistakes. In the eventuality of a structural failure or if a downdraft, wind shear or any atmospheric conditions prevent you from maintaining control of your aircraft at low or high altitude and a crash is imminent, isn't it great to know that you can count on such an emergency system to save you from severe injuries and allow you to continue to enjoy life again?

Life is very precious, especially when a death or an injury could have been yours or that of a member of your family. The liability of taking action and adopting such a lifesaving device to your aircraft is far lower than that which is left behind for your family to manage after a crash. Safety should be at the forefront of any of your planning action when you practice the wonderful sport of flying. For the record, in the U.S., several thousand emergency parachutes have been installed since the early 1980s and over 150 lives have been saved by this lifesaver. Take a look at Web sites of American and European manufacturers and see how they can help you achieve the highest level of safety for your flying experience. http://www.brsparachutes.com/, http://www.junkers-profly.de/, and www.air-contact.de/rettung.htm.

Look into a ballistically deployed emergency parachute for your ultralight aircraft; it's a question of safety. Any death or serious injury that can be avoided through any reasonable means justifies the means. - Ed.

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