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Home > Air Travel > Parachutes for Planes?
Parachutes for Planes?
Flying - Air Travel
Friday, 27 May 2016 16:32

Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) In Action
Hi Captain Lim,

As what we have seen and heard from the news, the survival rate when a plane crashes is mostly 0%. Is there no technology now that can be done to improve the situation?

Are personal parachute impractical to increase the survival rate at all?

If let's say the turbine will suck people into it, can it be turned off, and let the people get out of the plane at a safe height?

Or are there a lot of other factors that might affect the human lives. Or are there any ways at all to save any life at all?

I'm just a little curious about the technology behind safety and life saving measures nowadays.


Cirrus CAPS deployment during a spin
Hi Jenny,

I have written an article in the Travel 3Sixty magazine about 4 years ago answering part of your questions below…

I will publish the personal parachute issue in another posting later...

"Life isn’t like in the movies where if James Bond was in a distressed aircraft, he would strap on a parachute and jump out of the plane with great ease.

People like you and I would have trouble figuring out how to strap it on and use a parachute in the first place, let alone work out how to land safely! This, we discussed in a previous issue of Travel 3Sixtyº.

In this issue, another reader wanted to know whether mega parachutes can be used to save planes from falling from the sky during an emergency.

His email read:

“I am a frequent flyer on long and short haul flights. I admit I have never been totally relaxed throughout the flight, regardless of how smooth it was.

I have also been concerned about issues that may occur during flying.

I have a question which may sound silly:

Is there any research being made to develop mega parachutes that can be attached to a plane like huge balloons that will allow the aircraft to land in case of total engine failures?”

Cirrus Airframe Parachute System

Interestingly, the concept of fitting parachutes on planes has so far been fairly successful in small planes only. The device is known as the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS). What this system does is, when a plane’s engine quits mid-flight, all the pilot has to do is pull a red, T-shaped handle in the cockpit, which will deploy a parachute within seconds. This will then bring the aircraft to the ground safely.

The force of impact when using this parachute is like falling from a height of about 10 feet only.

This system was successfully used in 2002 when a pilot was gently dropped onto the ground in Texas, USA.

It was the first time in aviation history that such a parachute had saved a life in an air crash. Unfortunately, in the following months, a major setback cropped up when the manufacturer of CAPS was sued by two families over the failure of the parachute to deploy in another air crash.

Parachutes for Bigger Planes

Despite the shortcomings of the above mentioned case, research is already in place to develop similar solutions for bigger commercial airliners.

At first, it does seem a little impractical to implement this idea but after the Airbus A330 episode that saw it dropping to around 10,000 feet per minute and, crashing from 38,000 feet, it does appear that the time is ripe for the aviation industry to take a serious look at what initially seemed like a preposterous idea.

To implement this, the biggest challenge is to develop a parachute strong enough to be used on bigger and faster planes. NASA has been using such a parachute for space craft, but space capsules cater only for a few astronauts at a time while an aircraft will have hundreds of passengers.

The most technologically advanced parachute at present can only withstand up to around 4,000 pounds. The CAPS is currently being used in small planes weighing up to 2,000 pounds and at a cruise speed of 175 miles per hour only.

The latest Boeing 787 or Airbus A380 that weighs anything from half to over a million pounds would face many obstacles.

Aviation experts question whether parachutes can ever be attached to such planes as their speeds and weight would not be practical at all for such equipment.

Splitting Cabins

Nevertheless, some have suggested that rather than having one huge parachute, the plane be divided into smaller areas with mega parachutes for each section.

Such an aircraft would have a body with a few capsules located between the cockpit and the tail. The capsule will house passenger seating area and will come equipped with the ability to detach itself from the fuselage.

One or more mega parachutes will be connected to each compartment for use during an in-flight emergency.

Ultimate Solutions

The solutions are available but are not being implemented due to the huge cost of constructing the parachutes. This idea may seem fanciful, but it could indeed save the lives of passengers and crew if indeed the system is perfected.

Almost two years ago, Air France Flight 447 flying from Buenos Aires to Paris was trapped in a severe thunderstorm. This happened because the radar setting was improperly positioned, resulting in the inability to spot an intense weather activity ahead of the plane.

As a result, the aircraft’s pitot tubes were iced up and blocked. This led to unreliable readings of the plane’s airspeed. The plane stalled and this problem was further compounded by the mishandling of the stall recovery process by the two first officers, as the captain had just gone to the back of the plane to rest.

Had such a parachute system been in place, the Air France Flight 447 mishap with 228 people on board could have been avoided.
Moving on from this incident, all defective pitot tubes have been replaced on A330s and the airline industry has embarked on improving the pilot training programs for safer flying"


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