Recommendation R20040097

Recommendation issued to: Civil Aviation Safety Authority

Recommendation details
Output No: R20040097
Date issued: 21 January 2005
Safety action status:


Some light aircraft are fitted with rocket-assisted recovery parachute systems. These parachute systems are designed to recover the aircraft and passengers to the ground should a serious in-flight emergency arise.

Composite structured aircraft such as the Cirrus Design SR20 and SR22, Pipistrel Virus and Sinus and the Sting TL-2000 are fitted with the system at manufacture. Others, such as the Cessna 150/152, 172 and 182 series aircraft can be retro-fitted with these rocket-assisted recovery parachute systems.

Numerous sport aviation and ultra-light aircraft in Australia are also fitted with rocket-assisted recovery parachute systems. Estimates from Recreational Aircraft Australia (RAA) indicate that there are currently at least six different types of ultra-light aircraft on the RAA register that are fitted with rocket-assisted recovery parachute systems. The exact number of sport aviation and ultra-light aircraft with these installations was not determined.
An armed and un-deployed rocket-assisted recovery parachute system presents a potentially serious safety risk to personnel attending the site of an accident. There is also inconsistent identification and marking of the hazards posed by the rocket and the associated equipment on the external surfaces of the aircraft. Any failure to correctly identify the hazard posed by the rocket at an accident site could result in serious injury or death.

Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS)

The Cirrus Design SR20 and SR22 aircraft are fitted with the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) ballistic recovery parachute system at manufacture. The CAPS system is manufactured by Ballistic Recovery Systems Inc. (BRS) in the United States (US). When deployed in an emergency situation, the system is intended to bring the aircraft and its occupants safely to the ground.

The system consists of a composite enclosure containing the parachute and a solid-propellant rocket for parachute deployment, a CAPS Activation T-handle that is positioned in the ceiling liner of the cockpit and a parachute harness.

The composite enclosure containing the parachute and rocket assembly is positioned in the aircraft immediately behind the cabin baggage compartment bulkhead. The parachute on the Cirrus is enclosed within a 'deployment bag' inside the box. The deployment bag stages the parachute's deployment and inflation. A thin composite cover that is faired into the aft upper fuselage structure protects the parachute assembly.

The parachute is attached to the aircraft by three harness straps. The single rear harness strap supports the rear of the aircraft and is attached to the structure of the rear baggage compartment bulkhead. The two forward harness straps are attached to the engine firewall area and support the front of the aircraft following parachute deployment. Both of the front straps are concealed in channels beneath a thin composite fuselage outer skin and pass from the rear baggage compartment below the cabin windows and door frame.

The CAPS Activation T-handle is positioned in a recess in the cabin ceiling lining above the front seats. The T-handle is concealed by a placarded cover that must be removed before the handle can be pulled for CAPS operation (See Figure 1).

Figure 1: Roof mounted CAPS activation handle cover
For Figure 1 photograph refer to Analyst Notes 2
The CAPS handle is made 'safe' by the insertion of a safety pin into the Activation T-handle mechanism. The safety pin is normally removed during the pre-flight inspection of the cabin area. The pin has a 'remove before flight' tag attached.

To operate the CAPS system in an emergency, the pilot removes the placarded cover and pulls down on the CAPS Activation T-handle. A pull force of about 35 lb is required to activate the system. During the deployment sequence, the rocket forces the parachute canister up through the concealed composite fuselage cover. As the parachute inflates, the two forward attachment harnesses are pulled through their composite covering beneath the fuselage skin.

A warning in the Cirrus's maintenance manual indicates 1:

The rocket exits the fuselage with a velocity of 150 mph in the first tenth of a second and reaches full extension in less than one second. People near the airplane may be injured and extensive damage to the airplane will occur.

Rocket ignition will occur at temperatures above 500o F (260o C).

Cessna Aircraft.

The Cessna 150/152 series of aircraft can be fitted with a specifically designed BRS manufactured General Aviation Recovery Device - GARD-150 parachute system. The system uses a rocket for deployment and is approved for fitment by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Supplemental Type Certificate (STC). The rocket deploys the parachute through a fabric covering in the rear upper fuselage area.

The Cessna 172 and182 aircraft can also be fitted with a BRS parachute by STC. The BRS installations in these aircraft position the rocket in the baggage compartment at the rear of the cabin area and the parachute is ejected through the right half of the rear window. The forward parachute attachment straps are routed from the exit point across the upper centreline area of the fuselage beneath a fibreglass fairing unit.

Sting T-2000, Pipistrel Virus and Sinus Aircraft and Ultralight Aircraft.

The Sting TL-2000 aircraft can be registered on the Australian civil aircraft register or as an ultra-light aircraft. The Sting uses the European-manufactured rocket powered Galaxy Recovery Systems (GRS) installation as do the Pipistrel Virus and Sinus aircraft. This system is installed in the rear cabin area of the aircraft and projects the parachute through the rear cabin window area. Once the parachute has been deployed, the rocket continues beyond the canopy until the propellant is spent and then falls away to the ground.

Other ultra-light aircraft use one of several styles of parachute depending on the type of aircraft. Some of these systems deploy in an upward direction, while others deploy downward or rearward. Systems from BRS, GRS and others were identified as installed in these aircraft. A check of the BRS web-site revealed a list of 100 different mounting installations, in both ultra-light and other types of aircraft such as hang gliders and gyrocopters.
Information from BRS indicated that some systems made before 1987 used a 'drogue-gun' device for parachute deployment. The 'drogue-gun' utilises a weight fired by a propellant charge to pull the parachute out of its canister.

Danger markings and accident site safety

There are a variety of warning markings on aircraft to indicate the presence of the parachute systems. On the Cirrus aircraft there is a small black text warning that is placed adjacent to the unmarked exit point for the parachute (see Figure 2). The largest size text on the warning is about 6 mm high. The Cirrus warning is not conspicuous and could easily be overlooked following an accident.

The Cirrus warning decal states the following (see Figure 3):


There are no warning markings printed on the rocket motor canister. There are also no markings on the aircraft's fuselage to delineate the exit path of the forward harness straps on the aircraft, or that clearly mark the outline of the concealed hatch above the parachute.

Figure 2: Side view of rear of Cirrus aircraft highlighting the CAPS warning decals on fuselage

For Figure 2 photograph refer to Analyst Notes 2

Figure 3: Warning decal on Cirrus aircraft

For Figure 3 photograph refer to Analyst Notes 2

The Cessna 172 BRS system STC includes a requirement for a warning decal to be placed on the rear window of the aircraft and another on the rocket canister. The rear window decal has an orange background and contains the following text:

This aircraft is equipped with a ballistic parachute recovery system
Rocket motor is installed under cover. Remain clear. Factory sealed unit
Do not open or disassemble. See Airplane Flight Manual Supplement or BRS
Operators Manual for inspection procedures.

A warning decal sheet supplied with the GRS systems included a small decal with a directional arrow head that indicated:

Keep away from the firing line

Another decal listed warning text detailing some of the dangers of the system.

The small black text warning on the Virus aircraft GRS system (see Figure 4) indicated the following:


Figure 4: The Pipistrel Virus aircraft and GRS parachute exit cover

For Figure 4 photograph refer to Analyst Notes 2

A document for Emergency Personnel, that was located on the BRS Inc. website, indicated that rocket-deployed parachutes have the potential to cause injuries or death to rescue workers at aircraft accident sites. The document indicated that the 38 mm by 250 mm rocket will accelerate to over 160 kph in the first 1/10th of a second on activation. Similar information is published by Cirrus Design in a DVD titled Cirrus Airframe Parachute System, Advisory DVD for First Responders.

The activation of the Cirrus CAPS installation relies on the pilot pulling on the handle connected to the cockpit roof mounted inner activation cable. The GRS and BRS units in other aircraft are similarly activated. During an accident, where the parachute has not been deployed, deformation of the fuselage can result in the activation cable being under abnormally high tension, with the activation device ready to be triggered by any further movement of the wreckage. This warning is highlighted in the BRS Emergency Personnel document and in the Cirrus Design DVD.

The BRS Emergency Personnel document and the Cirrus Design DVD both mention cutting of the activation cable as a method of temporarily making the system safe. The BRS information strongly recommends that the cable should only be cut using Felco C16 or Greenlee Company cable cutters.

Aircraft accident sites can often be contaminated with flammable materials and with flammable liquids such as petroleum products following the destruction of integral fuel tanks in wings and fuselages. Due to the possibility of causing a fire, rescue organisations, police and investigators need to be vigilant about the type of equipment used on site, including the use of mobile telephones. ATSB investigators also use sealed, flash-proof torches on site for that reason. Any inadvertent activation of a ballistic parachute rocket motor could present a direct ignition source for these materials and liquids resulting in danger for on-site personnel and accident survivors.

ATSB Occurrence BO/200300548

A collision that occurred during landing, which involved a Cessna C172 and an ultra-light registered Sting TL-2000 aircraft in West Australia in 2002, highlights the on-site dangers of rocket-assisted recovery parachutes. During that accident the nose and propeller of the C172 aircraft had become entangled with the rear fuselage structure of the Sting aircraft.

The Sting aircraft had a GRS rocket-assisted parachute system fitted, which had not been deployed. On-site assistance was received from an expert experienced in the Sting aircraft and its GRS parachute installation. That expert noted that the GRS's rocket actuation cable had become entangled with the C172's propeller. He also indicated that any further rotation of the C172's propeller may have pulled the cable and activated the rocket. Activation of the rocket at that point may have deployed the parachute into the wing of the C172, possibly rupturing the aircraft's fuel tank. With the assistance of that expert the rocket was removed from the wreckage and disposed of by police explosive experts.

During the initial post-accident phase, no-one present on site was fully aware of the imminent dangers they were facing with the GRS installation.

Sukhoi SU-31M aerobatic aircraft Zvesda extraction system

While not yet on the Australian civil aircraft register, the Sukhoi SU31-M aerobatic aircraft utilises a Zvesda light weight pilot extraction system. This extraction system is a type of ejection seat and is used to quickly extract the pilot from the aircraft in the event of a problem.

The pilot extraction system weighs about 15 kg and utilises a 'small' quantity of explosive to simultaneously release the pilot's safety harness and extend a 5 metre long, 10 cm wide, telescoping tube. The telescoping tube punches through the cockpit canopy and extracts the drogue parachute 5 metres from the aircraft. The drogue parachute then deploys and allows the main parachute to pull the pilot free of the aircraft. This aircraft has a red, black and white 'ejection system' decal fixed to the outside of the fuselage adjacent to the danger area on the aircraft (see Figure 5). That decal is an immediately recognisable International danger symbol.
Figure 5: Example of an ejection seat danger symbol

For Figure 5 photograph refer to Analyst Notes 2

Applicable US Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) requirements

The Cirrus SR20 and SR22 aircraft are certified for flight in accordance with the requirements of US Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) Part 23.

FAR 23.1541 (a) (2) indicates that an aircraft certified under FAR 23 must contain 'Any additional information, instrument markings, and placards required for the safe operation if it has unusual design, operating, or handling characteristics'.

FAR 23.1541 (b) (1) and (2) indicate that each placard must be displayed in a conspicuous place and may not be easily erased, disfigured or obscured.

Type Certificate Data Sheet (TCDS) number A00009CH, revision 3, applies to the Cirrus SR20 and SR22. That certificate, including any Special Conditions, prescribes the conditions and limitations under which the aircraft meets the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airworthiness requirements. The Special Conditions listed on the Cirrus TCDS applies to the ballistic parachute in the CAPS system and refer to Special Condition 23-ACE-88. Note 2 in the TCDS indicated that all placards in the Pilots Operating Handbook and FAA Approved Airplane Flight Manual for the Cirrus SR20 and SR22 must be displayed in the aircraft in the appropriate locations.

Special Condition 23-ACE-88 indicates that a warning placard is to be located on the fuselage near the rocket motor to warn rescue crews of the ballistic system.

Based on the requirements of 23-ACE-88 the manufacturer of the aircraft had placed the two black-print warning decals adjacent to the exit point for the ballistic parachute (see Figures 3 and 4).

NTSB and ICAO Concerns

The ATSB contacted the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on 9 September 2003 regarding our concerns with the on-site investigation of aircraft equipped with ballistic parachutes such as the Cirrus. On 10 September 2003 the NTSB advised the ATSB, in part, that:

We [NTSB] share your concerns about accident site safety and the CAPS parachute system fitted to the SR20. We have begun drafting a safety recommendation regarding [making] the markings visible to rescue workers at an accident site.

On 11 September 2003, in a response to an approach from the NTSB a representative of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) indicated, in part, that:

... a rocket assisted parachute in an aircraft should definitely be on a list of possible hazards at accident sites. Also, markings on an aircraft could perhaps be further discussed with the civil aviation authorities as it might be a subject within the competency of FAA/CAAs (rule making).

On 29 April 2004, the NTSB issued six recommendations to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Fire Protection Association and the International Association of Fire Chiefs. These recommendations were numbered A-04-36 through to A-04-41 and are reproduced below:

To the Federal Aviation Administration:

* A-04-36

Revise training guidelines for 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 139- certificated airports to ensure that airport rescue and firefighting crews receive training in the recognition and disabling of aircraft ballistic parachute systems during emergency operations.

* A-04-37

Distribute a safety bulletin to all 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 139- certificated airports to raise awareness among airport rescue and firefighting crews regarding the hazards associated with ballistic parachute devices during general aviation rescue and firefighting operations.

* A-04-38

Develop standards for the design and installation of ballistic parachute systems in future general aviation aircraft to enable emergency responders to quickly and safely disable the system using only common firefighting tools and examine the feasibility of retrofitting aircraft that currently have ballistic parachute systems installed with a system that complies with the new design and installation standards.

* A-04-39

Work with Ballistic Recovery Systems, Inc., Cirrus Design, the National Fire Protection Association, and the airport rescue firefighting working group to establish design requirements for warning labels and exterior markings for airplanes equipped with ballistic parachute systems that meet the American National Standards Institutes guidelines (ANSI Z535.4) for conspicuity, coloration, visibility, and content.

To the National Fire Protection Association and the International Association of Fire Chiefs:

* A-04-40

In cooperation with Ballistic Recovery Systems, Inc., and Cirrus Design, develop and distribute a safety bulletin to your membership to raise awareness among
non-airport fire/rescue organizations crews regarding the hazards associated with ballistic parachute devices during general aviation rescue and firefighting operations.

To the National Fire Protection Association:

* A-04-41

Update existing firefighter training standards for non- airport firefighting organizations to include information on the recognition and disabling of ballistic parachute systems.

Information received from the NTSB indicated that the FAA were working with BRS to develop appropriate training guidelines for 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 139-certificated airport rescue and firefighting crews. They also indicated an intention to distribute a safety bulletin (Cert-Alert) to those personnel.

The FAA is also working with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), Committee on Ballistically Deployed Parachutes for Light Sport Aircraft, to develop a standard for the disabling of the ballistic parachutes by emergency responders. The committee is also working on the development of warning labels and exterior markings that comply with ANSI standards for any aircraft (light sport) equipped with a ballistic recovery system. The NTSB hopes that this symbol would be adopted for larger aircraft as well.

Civil Aviation Safety Authority regulation requirements

In response to a letter from the ATSB, where advice was sought on the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) requirements for the marking of aircraft equipped with rocket-assisted recovery parachute systems, CASA indicated in part on 19 April 2004 that:

...parachute systems can only be installed as part of the certification basis for an aircraft, for example the Cirrus SR20 and SR22, or through the issue of a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC).

In Australia, the Authority [CASA] accepts a United States of America (USA) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) STC as an Australian approval in accordance with Civil Aviation Safety Regulation (CASR) 21.114.

The FAA placard requirements are accepted by CASA and the Authority has no plans to require any additional placards or markings.


Aircraft rocket-assisted recovery parachute systems are a safety feature. However, there are significant dangers associated with these systems for persons involved in the immediate aftermath of an aircraft accident or incident involving aircraft with these systems fitted. Handling of aircraft wreckage where one of these devices is fitted, but not deployed, could result in serious injury or death. Anyone attending an aircraft incident or accident site where a rocket-assisted recovery parachute is involved needs to be aware of the dangers.

There are no internationally recognised warning or danger symbols for aircraft equipped with rocket-assisted recovery parachute systems. The markings on aircraft should ensure that they sufficiently convey the extent of the hazards present. The markings currently placed on aircraft vary and are not sufficiently visible to immediately draw attention to the dangers. Markings such as the internationally recognised 'ejection seat' danger symbol are far more effective at drawing attention to the danger.

Rocket-assisted recovery parachute systems are made in several countries, including the US and in Europe. Following the issue of the NTSB recommendations, a warning decal is being developed for light sport aircraft that are made in the US. However, this will only apply to US developed 'light sport' aircraft.

There is a need for an immediately recognisable, internationally recognised, symbol to warn of the dangers associated with a rocket assisted recovery parachute system. It may be appropriate for ICAO to examine the development of a standard for such a warning.


Australian Transport Safety Bureau

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has now included information to reflect the dangers associated with the rocket-assisted recovery parachute systems in the following ATSB manuals:

* Occupational Health and Safety Manual, Chapter 15;

* ATSB Accident and Serious Incident Investigation Manual, Chapter 2, Accident Notification Procedure.

The telephone contact details for persons with the appropriate information about these systems and their disarming has now been included in the ATSB's internal aviation telephone directory.

The ATSB and the Directorate of Flying Safety - Australian Defence Force jointly produce a handbook titled, Civil and Military Aircraft Accident procedures for Police Officers and Emergency Services Personnel. That publication highlights to police officers and emergency services personnel, some of the dangers that could be faced at an aircraft accident site. At the next re-print, that handbook will be updated to include information on the dangers associated with the rocket-assisted recovery parachute systems on some civil aircraft.

The ATSB has undertaken training of its aviation investigation personnel highlighting the dangers associated with the investigation of accidents and incidents involving light aircraft with ballistic parachutes fitted.

The ATSB has purchased several pairs of the Felco C16 cable cutters and distributed them throughout the organisation for use in an on-site investigation.

The ATSB has highlighted its concerns about the rocket-assisted recovery parachute systems to Airservices Australia, Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting service. Currently Airservices and the ATSB are collaborating to determine the most effective method to disseminate that information to all concerned.

Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)

In response to a query from the ATSB regarding the highlighting of the hazards associated with ballistic parachute systems, CASA indicated on 19 April 2004:

In relation to the Bureau's concerns regarding the highlighting of the hazards associated with these devices, CASA has proposed an amendment to the CASA Aviation Occurrence Procedures Manual to include instructions regarding investigating aircraft that may be fitted with an un-operated BRS to incorporate action necessary to avoid danger from these devices.

The suggested amendment is outlined below.

Title: Warning for possible fitment of rocket-powered parachute recovery system.

Persons investigating a crashed aircraft should check for the presence of an unoperated ballistic parachute rocket. The only known aircraft on the Australian aircraft register at present are the Cirrus SR20 and SR22, and some small Cessna aircraft incorporating the system by an STC. Additionally, there may be aircraft registered with the Australian Ultralight Federation fitted with such a system.

Aircraft on the VH Register are required to have a warning placard installed on the fuselage at the exit point, as part of the certification basis or STC approval. If the aircraft has such a rocket and it has not been operated, approach with care, do not intrude into the area marked on the fuselage, do not move the parachute release if removing persons from the cockpit, and safe-secure the rocket as per instructions from the manufacturer as soon as possible.

1 The BRS Inc website quotes an exit speed of 100 mph. Regardless, the exit speed is significant and represents a serious danger.

Output text

Safety Recommendation

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau recommends that the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority publish guidance alerting all personnel who would normally attend an accident site to the dangers associated with aircraft equipped with rocket-assisted recovery parachute systems.

Initial response
Date issued: 19 May 2005
Response from: Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Action status: Monitor
Response text:

The following response was received from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority on 19 May 2005:

Thank you for providing the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) with a copy of Air Safety Recommendation R20040097 in relation to light aircraft rocket-assisted recovery parachute systems.
In response to recommendation R20040097, I am advised that in addition to its earlier advice, CASA is currently reviewing the ATSB's recommendation to publish guidance material on this issue.

However, I understand that a project involving a number of areas within CASA would need to be undertaken before a commitment to produce any guidance material can be provided. Additionally, I am advised that due to the number of activities currently being undertaken by CASA, work on this project may not commence until July 2005.

In the interim, it should be noted that CASA's aerodrome inspectors have communicated their concerns regarding these devices to aerodrome operators who are able to bring this issue to the attention of their Aerodrome Emergency Committee. Safety information from BRS Inc, one of the manufacturer's of the recovery parachute systems, was also provided to operators for their consideration.

I am advised that CASA also passed information on to the Aerodrome Rescue and Fire-Fighting Service (ARFFS), who I understand have now included material dedicated to these devices in their training manual.

Further correspondence
Date issued: 08 September 2006
Response from: Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Response status: Closed - Partially Accepted
Response text:

I refer to your e-mail dated 27 July 2006 requesting an update on the response by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau's (ATSB) Air Safety Recommendation R20040097 in relation to light aircraft rocket assisted parachute recovery systems. I apologise for the delay in responding.

CASA is considering the issues relating to appropriate warning markings on aircraft carrying this type of equipment, especially in the absence of an agreed international standard. A decision has yet to be made as to whether advising the aviation community of the potential hazards should be done through a Civil Aviation Advisory Publication of through drawing their attention to safety resources produced by the manufacturer. In considering these issues CASA must also take into account the fact that it has a limited regulatory role after accidents and has already taken a number of steps to alert Aerodrome Rescue and Fire Fighting Services of this problem, as advised in CASA's letter to the ATSB of 19 May 2005.

ATSB Comment:

The response was initially classified as Monitor. On 20 March 2008, the ATSB re-classified the response as Closed - Partially Accepted.

Last update 01 April 2011