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Duluth-made Cirrus jets deploy parachutes in recent emergencies

The company's latest saves are nothing short of groundbreaking.

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Cirrus' Vision Jet, the SF50, is the first aircraft of its kind to sport a whole-plane emergecncy parachute system.
Contributed / Cirrus Aircraft
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DULUTH — Chalk up another first for Cirrus Aircraft.

The Duluth-based manufacturer was the first company in the world to build a personal jet standard equipped with a whole-plane parachute. And this year, that system has finally been put to a real-world unsimulated test, including a day-after-Thanksgiving save near Indianapolis, Indiana.

Although Cirrus’ single-turbofan engine Vision Jet, also known as the SF50, has been in production since late 2016, its unique parachute system had never been deployed in the field under emergency circumstances until just lately, nearly six years after the aircraft hit the market.

On Sept. 9 of this year, Cirrus recorded its first parachute save of an SF50, when a storm-pummeled plane came to rest in a remote swampy area, after the pilot encountered what was described as “severe turbulence” while making an approach to Kissimmee Gateway Airport near Orlando, Florida, according to a preliminary report by the Federal Aviation Administration. All the plane’s occupants, including the male pilot, a female passenger and a child, survived the emergency landing, although they sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

The latest SF50 save occurred at 8:05 a.m. Friday, on the heels of Thanksgiving, shortly after the aircraft left Indianapolis Regional Airport, en route to Greene County Regional Airport, 457 miles away in Greensboro, Georgia. When interviewed by the FAA, the pilot, Timothy Borrup, reported encountering engine issues shortly after takeoff. That’s when he made the decision to pull the handle that deployed what the airplane maker calls its emergency CAPS option — shorthand for the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System.

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Borrup, who flies for Verijet Inc., a Florida-based charter air transport service with a fleet of more than a dozen SF50s, was the sole occupant of the aircraft, which was in transit between jobs at the time of the emergency landing. The jet floated to rest, partially submerged at the edge of a stormwater retention pond northeast of Indianapolis.

In Facebook posts, Verijet reported the 54-year-old pilot was uninjured and “in good spirits” following the incident. Company officials went on to say: “We are grateful for the safety of Capt. Timothy Borrup. Onwards and upwards!”

All Cirrus aircraft come standard equipped with an emergency parachute.

Alan Klapmeier, who co-founded Cirrus with his brother, Dale, vowed to include a parachute in the design of future airplanes after undergoing a near-death experience of his own in 1985. While flying a Cessna 182 in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, Klapmeier collided with a Piper Vagabond Cub, and barely managed to land, after losing more than 3 feet of his right wing. The other pilot was not as fortunate and died in the crash.

“People are going to make mistakes. So, we decided there has to be another safety option,” Dale Klapmeier said.

Cirrus collaborated with St. Paul-based Ballistic Recovery Systems to incorporate a rocket-fired parachute system into each of its aircraft, a decision that initially turned heads in the industry but quickly paid dividends.

As of Nov. 25, Cirrus has recorded 129 emergency landings using its parachute system, likely sparing 241 lives that might otherwise have been lost, according to the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association.

While Cirrus’ parachute system has a long and established track record of bringing slower-flying piston-engine planes safely to the ground in emergency situations, the aircraft maker faced a greater challenge adapting the system to meet the rigors of jet flight, with a significantly larger parachute. The two recent SF50 saves should help dispel any lingering skepticism about the efficacy of installing its whole-frame parachute aboard a jet.

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In 2018, Cirrus received the Robert J. Collier Award for its development of the SF50. The honor recognizes recipients “for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year.”

The parachute is not a cure-all. The company has engaged in an extensive training campaign to instruct pilots when and where to use it, before too late in an emergency situation. Cirrus advises pilots that the emergency parachute should be deployed at a minimum altitude of 400 feet to be effective.

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The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.

Related Topics: DULUTHAVIATIONCIRRUS AIRCRAFT
Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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