Can Robins be fitted with an airframe parachute?

Of the several systems available, Robin Aircraft have considered the BRS (ballistic recovery system), similar to that fitted by Cirrus, to offer as an option.

The characteristics of the system are:

  • Rocket extraction;
  • Controlled deployment by means of a ring that descends on the lines;
  • 17 m diameter canopy;
  • Descent at 25 feet per second.

Robin Aircraft do not intend to offer a parachute as standard because the Robin DR401 does not need a parachute to meet its certification requirements and there are many disadvantages to having such a system installed:

BRS shortcomings are:

  • The BRS unit weighs around 30 kg. It has to be placed in the tail section (thus moving the C of G aft) and requires parts of the airframe to be strengthened to withstand the forces associated with deployment, adding another 7 Kg. Combine weight and balance considerations and at least one passenger seat has been sacrificed for the same endurance.
  • There is no control once the system is activated because the engine stops before deployment; and the descent speed is 25 feet per second…
  • The system is airspeed limited:
    • the aircraft must not exceed a set speed before deployment;
    • if the aircraft is in free fall for a short time the parachute may not be able to withstand the load when it opens;
    • if the structure breaks then there is virtually no chance of survival;
  • If the system is deployed below 900 feet AGL it is unlikely that the aircraft will decelerate sufficiently for the subsequent impact to be survivable;
  • The airframe will be written off;
  • Costs increase:
    • Increased purchase cost;
    • Increased maintenance costs;
    • Increased insurance premiums.

The leading causes of fatalities involving certified aircraft in GA are loss of contol in flight (LoC-I; such as engine failure on take-off and low-level stalls), where, as with collisions in the circuit, height is too low for the parachute to be effective, and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT). A parachute is useless in these situations. The main circumstance where a parachute has been deployed successfully in certified aircraft in UK airspace has been loss of control in IMC (conditions that, allegedly, the pilot was not qualified or competent to fly in) after the autopilot became disconnected. Loss of control in IMC is relatively rare; lying in 8th place in the list of causes of fatalaties in general aviation.

Flying a heavy aircraft with relatively small wheels and a high stall speed into a field is quite likely to result in inversion and a poor outcome. In contrast, the DR401 with its relatively light weight, appropriate wheel size, low stall speed and excellent low speed handling is well suited to safely execute a forced landing.

As with many features in aircraft there is a balance to be struck in considering this one. The CDI engine is the most reliable piston engine in GA so even people who fly extensively at night, for example, may not consider the downsides of a BRS in a Robin worth accepting.

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