BETTER PILOT / SAFETY WIRE
Successful BRS deployment requires specific procedures
ON AUGUST 15 THE right wing of a RANS S- 9 Chaos collapsed and separated in
flight during an Argentine air show performance. Within seconds, pilot Dino
Moline successfully deployed the aircraft’s ballistic recovery system (BRS) parachute and floated to the ground where he safely exited the aircraft. Moline
joined the growing list of people whose lives have been saved because a BRS system was installed and properly deployed.
BRS deployments on commercially manufactured aircraft and numerous
homebuilt/experimental aircraft have saved hundreds of lives. However, success-
ful BRS deployments depend on following specific guidelines and procedures.
On July 13, 1996, the outcome was tragic when the non-certificated pilot of a
Quicksilver Sprint deployed the aircraft’s BRS. Contrary to the BRS manufacturer’s operational procedures, the pilot deployed the BRS while the rear-facing
engine was still running. The parachute became entangled in the propeller, rendering it totally ineffective in preventing the fatal crash that followed.
Accident data from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), cover-
ing the recent 10-year period, revealed 10 fatal instances in which BRS
parachutes became entangled with the propeller of pusher-type aircraft.
In the NTSB accident report briefs in which BRS deployments failed or were
not deployed, the primary cause was pilot error, generally not following BRS
owner’s manual procedures. Examples included BRS safety pin not removed
during preflight, BRS deployed too low or too fast, BRS deployed before prop
(pusher-type aircraft) stopped, and other indications of unfamiliarity with aircraft’s BRS procedures.
According to a major BRS manufacturer, Ballistic Recovery Systems Inc.
(BRSI), the intended scenarios for deploying a BRS are:
• Mid-air collisions
• Pilot incapacitation
• Structural failure
• Unrecoverable stall/spin situations
• Loss of control (icing, component failure, etc.)
• Engine out over hostile terrain (mountains, trees, night)
As indicated in the tragic Quicksilver Sprint example, there are limitations
within which a BRS can function effectively. In addition to stopping the propeller of a rear-facing engine before BRS deployment, each BRS chute system and
aircraft type it is installed in have maximum speed and minimum altitude limitations. This information is contained in the BRS owner’s manual and, when
installed by the manufacturer, the aircraft owner’s manual.
Cirrus is perhaps the most familiar aircraft to feature factory-installed BRS para-
chutes (Cirrus Aircraft Parachute System-CAPS) as standard equipment. To date,
Cirrus reports 25 CAPS deployments resulting in 44 lives saved.
A BRS chute saved the life of Argentine air show pilot Dino Moline when the
left wing of his S- 9 separated in flight.
BRSI owns the supplemental type certificates for the
Cessna 150/152, 162, 172, and 182, all of which are aftermar-ket installations. They offer various BRS models for more
than 300 ultralight aircraft, numerous light-sport aircraft,
and many experimental models. According to BRSI, three
important maintenance cycles must be addressed: annual
inspection (along with the aircraft’s annual inspection;
10-year repacking (by the BRS manufacturer); and replacement of the system’s rocket every 10 years.
Another major ballistic recovery system manufacturer
is Galaxy Rescue Systems, which specializes in rescue
rocket parachute systems. Among Galaxy’s largest
European customers is Tecnam with its P- 92 Echo, P- 96
Golf, and Sierra.
Although the exact number of BRSs installed in FAA-certified aircraft changes daily, BRSI reported installing
4,700 to date, which are credited with saving 250 pilots
and passengers. Although Galaxy has distributed thousands of units, its exact number installed as well as the
number of lives saved were unavailable.
The NTSB data clearly indicates that after a successful BRS deployment, the aircraft will be destroyed or, at
the very least, substantially damaged. However, when
deployed within the manufacturer’s and aircraft’s (when
applicable) guidelines, crew and passengers seldom suffer more than minor injuries.
Bob O’Quinn, EAA 742434, is a part-time certificated flight instructor
whose primary focus is on tailwheel training. For a link to a You Tube
video of the Argentine accident, visit www.SportAviation.org