Aviation preaches safety long and loud. This dedication within the aviation community has made flying safer than driving despite what landlubbers believe is a risky way to travel.
Aviators know better, of course. We work hard at making flying safe. It’s not lucky or some accident of choice. We are all proud of our skill at taking an airplane aloft and returning it safely to terra firma.
Except when we cannot…
Any way you look at it, an airframe parachute adds cost, weight, and bulk.
These systems cost real money (thousands), add “non-functioning” weight (16 to 50 pounds depending on the airplane’s weight and speed), and fill up space you might use otherwise (a BRS system for the Cessna 172 uses a substantial share of the baggage space in that model). All these things — cost, weight, and bulk — are negatives, yet pilots buy these emergency systems regularly. Companies like BRS, Magnum, and Galaxy have sold tens of thousands of these systems.
Every single Cirrus (and Flight Design) comes standard with an airframe parachute, so that means almost 10,000 aircraft just in those two brands.
I’ve flown with airframe parachutes for years and I love having such a system on board.
I actually stopped flying at night in airplanes without a parachute system. One smooth night over North Carolina with my wife and two friends in a Cessna Hawk XP, Randee asked, “What would you do if the engine quit here?” It was pitch black outside and I knew from previous flights that under us were trees stretching out past the horizon.
It was a valid question. Touches a nerve, doesn’t it? Aren’t we trained for night flying? Don’t we practice engine-out procedures? Well, yes, Private Pilots can fly at night (they should be current) but the training concentrates on normal night operations. I’ve never known an instructor who guides students through engine-out-at-night procedures far from any airport.
Whatever you think about night (or other potentially hazardous) flying, an airframe parachute may ease your mind — and achieving that means you will fly more capably. It’s a personal decision, of course, but for me, I’ll take a parachute anytime.
What About Parachutes?
Magnum Parachutes are offered in three packaging concepts. Each serves its own purpose and offers different attributes. Parachutes are sold for aircraft of varying weights and speeds. Each installs unique to that aircraft.
Softpacks — These are the lightest and least expensive units, and are therefore popular on Part 103 aircraft where their reduced weight offers advantages. While subject to weather contamination, such as rain, they are easier to inspect. The parachute inside is identical to the other packing methods.
Canisters — Placing the parachute inside an aluminum canister protects it from elements and allows a pressure-packed parachute that can make the package significantly smaller. This is good when parachutes are large enough to deal with two and four seat aircraft. Most airframe parachutes have open diameters significantly wider than the span of the wings on the aircraft they are supporting. Stuffing all that densely into a canister system makes it much smaller with the canister itself adding only modestly to weight.
VLS (Vertical Launch Systems) — Canisters and soft packs generally aim to the side and can fire upwards or downwards as need to avoid aircraft structure during deployment. Many aircraft, though, work best when that system can eject upwards. However, no matter which way a parachute ejects (is drawn out by its rocket motor), it always opens downwind of the aircraft — usually behind it though not necessarily if the aircraft is in an upset attitude.
Buy by Weight — Two criteria dictate which parachute is used on which aircraft: weight and speed. Heavier weights require larger or multiple canopies (a Cirrus SR22 canopy is over 50 feet wide at the canopy mouth). Faster aircraft need mechanisms to slow the opening of the canopy if speeds are very high — Magnum can handle up to 199 mph! However, if that speedy aircraft is flying slowly when the canopy is deployed, opening should be faster. The self-speed-sensing “slider” (black ring on nearby image) automatically adjusts, slowing deployment — and reducing forces on sewn seams — at high speeds while not slowing the canopy opening if speed is slow. It’s a smart solution.
Fitting to Airplanes — Each airplane mounts somewhat differently. This increases the work effort for the parachute seller but assures each should perform optimally if needed. Mounting hardware to hold the soft pack, canister, or VLS varies by airplane as do the Kevlar connecting straps, the rocket motor activation housing, and the location of the firing handle. The latter is an important element because if you need to use a parachute, the situation will be tense and confusing and the handle should be in easy reach. Then, a mighty pull on that handle gets you nearly instantaneous action.
Service — Parachutes need to be removed, inspected and repacked every few years and rocket motors are generally replaced at longer intervals. Magnum Parachutes in DeLand Florida is equipped and experienced to help service these systems. One important note: Do not try to ship a live rocket without specific equipment and advice — and, don’t fire a rocket just to see if it works. These devices fire very quickly (by design, of course) and their velocity is impressive. You wouldn’t try to dodge a rifle bullet. Assume a rocket is similarly fast but more powerful.
To prevent down time during service Magnum has a great offer: “Loaner Canopy When Yours is Due for Repack. That’s right! A a loaner canopy, of the same size and style as the one you purchase from us, is available at no charge for installation in your aircraft while your system is being inspected and repacked (repack cycles are 6 years for most systems). This allows our customers to continue to fly with a complete ballistic recovery system in their aircraft while theirs is being repacked! No other parachute company offers their customers this peace of mind!”
Magnum Parachute repack costs are considerably less expensive than most other manufacturer’s, said Dennis Carley, proprietor of Magnum Parachutes USA. “For our Softpack systems the repack cycles is five years instead of only one or two years with other brands. Prices run $660 to $975 so about $100 to $150 per year.”
Parachute-Use Scenarios — Beside loss of an engine at night, other scenarios include loss of power over unlandable terrain (water for example — ditching with fixed gear aircraft usually means coming to a stop upside down), mid-air collision, loss of control, incapacitation of the pilot, and severe weather disorientation. Most owners of these systems agree with this statement: “You may never deploy your parachute, but you use it every time you fly. You can pay full attention to safe operation knowing that if you use up all the skill your training taught you, you still have one more option. It’s peace of mind.” That’s worth a lot.
Magnum Ballistic Parachute Systems have been available in the United States since 2006. Today, representation by Dennis Carley assures buyers of a consistent, reliable sales and service provider for the Magnum models.
Here is a short video (4min 12sec) that will be followed by a fuller explanation with detail of how the system mounts on an Aerolite 103.