Throughout this chapter, all abnormal and emergency decisions should be based on ADM. Some situations allow more time than others to evaluate the outcome. ADM should be applied to any unplanned or unexpected situation presented.
In addition to ADM, the key to any emergency situation, and/or preventing an abnormal situation from progressing to a true emergency is a thorough familiarity with, and adherence to, the procedures developed by the manufacturer and contained in the Aircraft Flight Manual and/or Pilot’s Operating Handbook (AFM/POH). The following guidelines are generic and not meant to replace the manufacturer’s recommended procedures. Rather, they are meant to enhance the pilot’s general knowledge in the area of abnormal and emergency operations. If any of the guidance in this chapter conflicts with the manufacturer’s recommended procedures for a particular make and model weight-shift control (WSC) aircraft, the manufacturer’s recommended procedures take precedence.
Ballistic Parachute System (BPS)
The ballistic parachute system (BPS) provides an additional safety margin to flying WSC aircraft. However, if utilized when other alternatives would produce a better outcome or if not deployed with the proper procedures, BPS system use could create a worse situation than not using a BPS. The BPS should be used only as a last alternative and only after other options have been evaluated through ADM. [Figure 13-1]
The choice of adding a BPS as an additional system for emergencies is up to the pilot. This decision should be made by evaluating the disadvantages of an additional system, its advantages, and the situations in which the system would be utilized.
Advantages of a BPS:
- BPS can be used if there is a total loss of control of the WSC. The term “loss of control” is key to when the BPS should be deployed. Always fly the aircraft first, but if the pilot cannot control or regain control of the aircraft (loss of control), this is when the BPS should be used. Loss of control might result from midair collisions or wake tip vortices with other aircraft. A loss of control could also result from structural failure due to inadequate preflight or lack of proper maintenance.
- BPS can be used if the engine quits and there are no suitable landing areas. Although pilots try to have a suitable landing area within gliding distance, there are times when a parachute could be used with an engine failure, such as over high trees.
- Pilot incapacitation is a situation where the BPS could be used. This could be a pilot-in-command (PIC) illness, such as a heart attack, or an external factor, such as a bird strike in the face temporally blinding the pilot. For example, if the pilot is incapacitated by a bird strike, the pilot could feel for the handle and pull it. Other designs allow the pilot and passenger to be able to reach and actuate the BPS, while other designs have two separate handles for the pilot and a passenger. Many passengers feel safer if they know they can actuate the BPS if the pilot is unable to fly the aircraft.
- Pilot disorientation with loss of control of the aircraft is a situation where the BPS could be used. In the unusual situation of severe vertigo or spatial disorientation preventing the pilot from differentiating up from down, such as severe turbulence, night flying, or flying into bad weather, a BPS could be used. Attempts should always be made to regain composure; if attempts fail, then the BPS is an option.
Disadvantages of having BPS:
- It provides a false sense of security. A pilot might believe that the BPS can save him or her from hazardous situations, which could cause the pilot to develop hazardous attitudes, exceed limitations, and make bad decisions.
- The pilot could deploy the parachute when it is not needed. A BPS should be utilized only as a last alternative to normal emergency procedures. It should not be used when ADM produces a better alternative for the situation at hand.
- BPS systems installed on a WSC aircraft have greater initial cost, maintenance, and weight.
- A BPS can be deployed accidentally. This can happen when the actuation handle is not properly placed, or when deployed by occupants not following appropriate procedures.
- BPS systems may not fire or could tangle during the deployment. Like any system, it can fail or not be operated properly, so there is no guarantee it will fire or deploy properly. However, if it is mounted, maintained, and operated properly, the chances of a successful deployment are good.
The BPS should not be used in abnormal or emergency situations, such as engine failure when suitable landing areas are within gliding distance. Other situations in which to avoid using a BPS are during strong winds/convection/turbulence, or if lost. Alternatives and greater detail is presented for these situations where a BPS is not used later in this chapter.
Procedures for Using a BPS
In an emergency situation where ADM is used and the best outcome for the given situation is the use of a BPS, the following general procedure for properly operating the BPS is:
- Select the proper location if still in control of the aircraft. Consider wind drift and a descent rate of 900 to 1,800 feet per minute (fpm). A minimum 500 feet above ground level (AGL) is recommended for complete deployment that is low enough to provide accurate targeting at intended area. (If below 500 feet AGL, consider this a low deployment and skip this step.)
- Shut off the engine (this is especially important for pusher WSC).
- Slow down and lift the wing on the side where the chute will deploy (if a side deployment and above 500 feet AGL).
- Pull the BPS deployment handle hard and as far as it will go. This can be more than 12 inches in some situations.
- Hold the control bar firmly with bent arms until parachute inflates.
- Steer the descending WSC aircraft toward best landing spot, if possible (some installations that hang from the top at the hang point center of gravity (CG) may allow some directional control).
- Before impact, put hands in front of face and keep arms and legs in and tight to body.
- After impact, exit aircraft immediately.