A Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet went down while on arrival to Kissimmee, Florida, late last week. All three aboard survived the incident with minor injuries.
Details are still emerging, but preliminary reports indicate that the single-engine jet was inbound for Kissimmee when it encountered severe turbulence and heavy rain as it descended. The pilot at some point chose to deploy the whole-airplane parachute system (installed at the factory in every Cirrus aircraft).
It was hardly a cushy landing, however. The winds were gusting to nearly 30 knots at the airport, and the spot the Cirrus touched down, on the shore of a lake outside of the city limits was, by all outward indications, just as windy or worse.
It was the first deployment of the chute in actual conditions (that is, apart from test flying for certification), and based on the most important data point, survival, it was a glowing success.
Once the big red handle just behind but within reach of the pilot is pulled, the whole-airplane recovery parachute system does just what the name implies and lowers the entire plane, occupants and all, to the ground. It’s not a gentle landing so much as a survivable one. And while this is the first chute deployment of a Cirrus Jet, the company has been installing chutes in every one of its roughly 8,000 aircraft over the past 20 years, and there have been hundreds of successful deployments, saving even more lives than that.
In the Florida incident, in which the plane is said to be “substantially damaged” after settling down under the giant canopy, the plane was reported to have cartwheeled at least once as the big chute took it on a wild ride in the gusty winds. The plane came to rest away from the lake shore in a stand of tall trees, where the chute could pull the plane no more.
When Cirrus launched the Vision Jet program in the late 2000s, it announced that, like all Cirrus aircraft, the jet would have a chute, too. The announcement was greeted with some skepticism. At the much higher speeds the jet flies and with a great deal more weight to carry than the smaller single-engine propeller-driven Cirrus planes, the design of the chute would be a major engineering undertaking. But Cirrus pulled it off to the approval of the FAA, and Friday’s successful pull seems to validate the concept and the execution of the chute in the SF50 Vision Jet.
The FAA and NTSB are investigating.