At first glance, a parachute sounds like a great idea. If something goes wrong, you just pull the handle and then float gently down under your parachute . . . But like all things in life, sometimes there are also negatives to consider. The big negative is inadvertent deployment. Almost as bad as having your chute not deploy when you need it to is having it deploy when you did not want it to. Consider the following 20 second video:
Obviously in a takeoff, landing, or any other close to the ground situation, the parachute deployment is ineffective or dangerous.
Let me take you through my though process of weighing the benefits versus risks of installing a ballistic parachute.
I can think of three situations where a parachute would be great to have:
1. Structural failure of the aircraft
2. Mid-air collision (that you survive enough to activate the chute)
3. Power failure over a forest or other un-landable terrain
But statistically, this is not what hurts people. The crash-causers are:
1. Agressive low altitude maneuvering (as in Hey y’all! Watch this!)
2. Flying in or near bad weather or strong winds
3. Flying into obstacles such as power lines.
The parachute doesn’t really help with any of those situations. No piece of equipment you can buy helps with those situations. A good cautious attitude is the best defense there.
A PARACHUTE IS A LIFE-SAVING DEVICE BUT A BALLISTIC CHUTE IS ALSO A LOADED WEAPON
Ballistic deployed chutes are a loaded rocket pointing out the side of your trike. Pulling the activation handle will fire the chute out with enough force to be deadly up to a range of about 50 feet, and cause serious injury out to about 100 feet. Yes, you can keep a safety pin in place in the activation handle to prevent deployment, but you must remember to remove that safety so the chute is available to you in flight.
How common is accidental deployment? Not common, but neither is structural failure. In fact, trike wings are built so strong now that structural failure is just not heard of unless someone is doing extreme aerobatics. Strength issues with hang glider style wings got worked out in the 70’s and 80’s.
YOUR SITUATION MAY VARY
If you keep your trike locked in your hangar at the airport, the odds of accidental deployment go way down. But the more your trike is out in public, the higher the risk. In my case I mainly fly a Cygnet, a trike with floats and retractable wheels. I store it outside at my house, on an open trailer. To go flying I tow it through the gas station to fuel up, and then to the beach or boat ramp to set up and launch. It attracts a lot of attention. I have students climbing in and out of it. Many are first time students taking intro flights. Being new, excited and nervous they enter and exit the aircraft in sometimes awkward and ungraceful ways, grabbing random parts of it and stepping random places. Like excited kids, they sometimes only hear or comprehend a fraction of instruction given. It is a sturdy forgiving aircraft that doesn’t mind being stepped on and pulled on. But if there were a ballistic chute deployment handle in the mix, there would be an entirely different level of risk.
When my flight student and I taxi up onto the beach at a waterfront restaurant for lunch, I secure the wing, take the key out of the ignition, and go have lunch, keeping an eye on the Cygnet from time to time. Of the different boats and waverunners pulled up on the beach, the aircraft certainly attracts the most attention. Kids through old folks stop, look, and sometimes touch. I keep a casual watch from the restaurant, and that is sufficient. If I had a ballistic chute on board, I would have to guard it much more closely.
My situation is unique, but for where I fly, and how I store, transport, and use my trike, I feel there is more risk of someone getting hurt by a ballistic chute than there is of being saved by it.
Posted 15th January by Michael Percy