Cirrus Airframe Parachute System
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.
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. As in other BRS systems, a small 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
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) 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.
Dating back to the first conception of the Cirrus SR20, the aircraft was intended to come equipped with CAPS. 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. 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.
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). 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.
In 2018, Cirrus won the Collier Trophy for the Vision Jet, due in part to the aircraft's inclusion of CAPS. The award is presented annually for "the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles".
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. These efforts contributed to their later induction into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
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 Cirrus chief test pilot, Scott D. Anderson. Anderson completed all seven of the in-flight test deployments of CAPS for development and certification of the SR20. The first emergency deployment occurred in 2002 over Lewisville, Texas, and resulted in the survival of one uninjured pilot operating an SR22.
As of 18 December 2018, CAPS has been activated 98 times, 83 of which saw successful parachute deployment. In those successful deployments, there were 170 survivors and 1 fatality. No fatalities have occurred when the parachute was deployed within the certified speed and altitude parameters, and only one anomalous unsuccessful deployment has ever occurred within those parameters. Some additional deployments have been reported by accident, as caused by ground impact or post-impact fires, and 19 of the aircraft involved in CAPS deployments have been repaired and put back into service.
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.
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