Cirrus Airframe Parachute System

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1998 NASA photo series showing the CAPS deployment during inflight testing

The Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) is a whole-plane ballistic parachute recovery system designed specifically for Cirrus Aircraft's line of general aviation light aircraft including the SR20, SR22 and SF50. The design became the first of its kind to become certified with the FAA, achieving certification in October 1998, and remains the only aircraft ballistic parachute used as standard equipment by an aviation company.[1]

Developed as a collaboration between Cirrus and Ballistic Recovery Systems (BRS), it was adapted from the GARD (General Aviation Recovery Device) initially released for the Cessna 150.[2] As in other BRS systems, a solid-fuel rocket housed in the aft fuselage is used to pull the parachute out from its housing and deploy the canopy full within seconds. The goal of employing this system is the survival of the crew and passengers and not necessarily the prevention of damage to the airframe.

Design and development[edit]

Since the landing gear and firewall are a part of the structure designed to be crushed for energy absorption during impact after parachute deployment, Cirrus originally thought that the airframe would be damaged beyond repair on ground-impact, but the first aircraft to deploy (N1223S)[3] landed in mesquite and was not badly damaged. Cirrus bought the airframe back, repaired it, and used it as a demo plane. It was eventually sold to another owner who destroyed it in a crash short of the runway.[4]

Dating back to the first conception of the SR20, the aircraft was intended to come equipped with CAPS.[5] Because of this, Cirrus designed a special kind of "spin resistant" wing (or leading edge cuff), which makes it more difficult for the plane to enter a spin, and thus, more difficult to recover from one.[5][6] The FAA accepted the parachute as a sufficient mode of spin recovery and complete spin testing was not required. However, in 2004, Cirrus completed a limited series of spin recovery tests to meet European Safety Agency requirements, and no unusual characteristics were found.[7][8]

Vision Jet[edit]

The first jet with a ballistic parachute, the Cirrus Vision SF50 single-engine jet was certified in October 2016 with CAPS (where it deploys from the nose of the aircraft instead of the aft cabin).[9] Despite the FAA not requiring Cirrus to test the device since it was not necessary for certification, Business Insider released video in May 2017 showing CAPS being tested inflight with a piloted SF50 prototype.[10]


The idea for CAPS came in 1985 from Cirrus’ founders, brothers Alan and Dale Klapmeier, after Alan survived a mid-air collision where his plane lost more than three feet of wing including half the aileron; the pilot in the other aircraft spiraled into the ground and was killed. From this experience, the Klapmeier brothers decided to implement a device on their Cirrus models that would give the pilot and passengers a way out in the worst-case scenario.[11][12][13]

The Cirrus Engineering & Design Team, led by Paul Johnston, started developing CAPS on the SR20 in Duluth, Minnesota during the mid-1990s. It was first tested in 1998 over the high desert of southern California by late Air National Guard F-16 pilot and Chief Cirrus test pilot, Scott D. Anderson.[14] Anderson completed all seven of the in-flight test deployments of CAPS for development and certification of the SR20.[15][16] The first emergency deployment occurred in 2002 over Lewisville, Texas, and resulted in the survival of one uninjured pilot operating an SR22.[17][18]


As of 15 August 2016, the CAPS has been activated 83 times, 69 of which saw successful parachute deployment. In those successful deployments, there were 142 survivors and 1 fatality. No fatalities, unsuccessful deployments, or anomalies (with the exception of one that is still under investigation) have occurred when the parachute was deployed within the certified speed and altitude parameters. Some additional deployments have been reported by accident, as caused by ground impact or post-impact fires, and 14 of the aircraft involved in CAPS deployments have been repaired and put back into service.[19]

Post 2011, the year of their highest fatality rate to date, Cirrus has experienced an increase in CAPS deployments coinciding with a steady decrease in fatal accidents, giving them one of the best safety records in the industry and less than half the industry average. This was attributed to a new approach to training, particularly in when to deploy the parachute system.[20][21]


  1. ^ "Getting Cirrus about Aircraft Parachutes". Retrieved 2014-10-26. 
  2. ^ BRS to offer parachute system for Cessna 150
  3. ^ National Transportation Safety Board (October 2002). "NTSB Accident Identification: FTW03LA005". Retrieved 2008-12-14. 
  4. ^ National Transportation Safety Board (September 2004). "NTSB Accident Identification: CHI04FA255". Retrieved 2008-02-06. 
  5. ^ a b "An Introduction From Dale Klapmeier, Cirrus Co-Founder". Retrieved 21 August 2016. 
  6. ^ "Interview with a Cirrus Design Engineer". Retrieved 21 August 2016. 
  7. ^ "CAPS and Stall/Spin". Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  8. ^ Cirrus Stall Spin Report (March 2004). "Cirrus Design SR 20" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  9. ^ "Cirrus Earns Vision Jet Certification". AOPA. Retrieved 2016-11-01. 
  10. ^ Justin Gmoser and Benjamin Zhang (26 May 2017). "At under $2 million this is the cheapest private jet in the world". Business Insider. Retrieved 2017-06-05. 
  11. ^ Karlgaard, Rich (October 2006). "What Caused Cory Lidle's Crash?". Forbes. Retrieved 2014-10-26. 
  12. ^ "General Aviation Heroes Part IV - Dale and Alan Klapmeier of Cirrus Design". Retrieved 26 October 2014. 
  13. ^ Fallows, James (January 2015). "The Parachute That Saved a Plane". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2015-01-26. 
  14. ^ Fallows, James (June 2001). "Freedom of the Skies". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2014-07-16. 
  15. ^ Fallows, James (November 21, 1999). "Turn Left at Cloud 109". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-10-26. 
  16. ^ Higdon, Dave (March 31, 1999). "Cirrus SR20 demonstrator kills test pilot in prison crash". Flighglobal. Retrieved 2014-10-26. 
  17. ^ Goyer, Robert (August 2010). "After Ten Years, Cirrus Chute Controversy Persists". Flying. Archived from the original on 2014-10-26. Retrieved 2014-10-26. 
  18. ^ Duluth Budgeteer staff (October 2002). "Cirrus parachute deploys, saves pilot". Duluth Budgeteer. Retrieved 2016-03-13. 
  19. ^ Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (10 May 2014). "Cirrus CAPS History". Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  20. ^ Zimmerman, John (11 February 2015). "Fatal Cirrus crashes are way down – thank the parachute". Air Facts. Retrieved 21 August 2016. 
  21. ^ Hirschman, Dave (24 July 2016). "How Cirrus Radically Reduced Fatal Accidents". AOPA. Retrieved 21 August 2016. 

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