>>> The News: JAY KAY!
By staff writer Amir Blumenfeld
December 22, 2004

The real news (for boring people)
The breakdown (for college people)

Parachute System Can Save Small Planes

By TED BRIDIS, AP Technology Writer

WASHINGTON – Albert Kolk's small plane banked uncontrollably in darkness over the Monashee mountains, then began spiraling. “Seat belts!” he barked to his teenage grandson and two young friends. Then he reached for a red lever in the cockpit. Suddenly, an orange-and-white parachute as big as a house opened above the plane and gently landed his stricken aircraft in a rocky clearing.


If the maker of the parachute that saved Kolk's life this past spring succeeds, one day commercial aircraft like regional commuter jets may have similar safety systems. First, though, there's the challenge of creating a parachute robust enough to rescue bigger, faster planes.

Yeah, it's probably not even worth looking into. Isn't that true, mound of 200 charred corpses? *Muffled crispy groans*

“Weight and speed are always the challenge,” acknowledged Robert Nelson, chairman of Ballistic Recovery Systems Inc., which sold about 500 of its $16,000 parachute systems this year for use by small private planes and pilots like Kolk.

Yes, finding a pilot fat and fast enough to buy these parachutes is downright impossible!

The company's most advanced parachute right now can accommodate nearly 4,000 pounds. While small planes can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and cruise about 175 miles per hour, regional jets weigh 80,000 pounds and fly at more than 600 miles per hour.

Here's a crazy idea: 3 parachutes! Here's a crazier idea: Communism!

That's why Ballistic Recovery Systems is working with NASA — which gave it $670,000 for research — to design a new generation of emergency parachutes that would work on small jets and could be steered by pilots as they drift to the ground.

They should also design parachutes that prevent rockets from exploding on re-entry. Perhaps they could come in pill form.

Kolk, a rancher who was piloting his private plane April 8 from Seattle to his ranch in British Columbia, remembered reaching for the parachute handle as his plane slipped into a dangerous flat spin over the mountains in British Columbia, “like how a dog chases its tail.”

That's what I call a Non-Jolly-Rancher!!! *Pointing to a Starburst*

A seasoned pilot, Kolk said he had never experienced such a disaster in over a decade of private flying.

Ummm…where was HE during September 11th, right!?

“I knew I was in trouble. I couldn't straighten out,” Kolk said. “When that chute opened, it was a peaceful, wonderful feeling.”

Yes, there's nothing more peaceful then drifting in a giant tin deathbed towards earth hoping to survive. That's why I like to hold picnics during skydiving lessons.

Kolk's experience is one of four cases where parachute-equipped planes landed safely beneath a canopy since U.S. regulators approved the system six years ago. Ballistic Recovery Systems, based in St. Paul, Minn., says eight lives were saved in those four incidents, plus dozens of other people in accidents involving smaller parachute-equipped ultra light planes that resemble motorized gliders.

Let's see, 8 lives…670,000 dollars for parachutes…hmmm…hardly worth it. Next idea please. Next idea.

The parachute, stored behind the rear seats in small planes, is fired with a rocket through the rear windshield; it's attached with high-strength lines to the plane's wings, nose and tail.

Failing that, a giant poster is emitted from the rear windshield that reads “YOU'RE FUCKED!” Quite the novelty gag!

They are increasingly popular among private pilots, and for good reason: The government said 626 people died in general aviation crashes in 2003, compared with 81 people aboard commercial airlines.

Does that include paper airplane accidents? Probably not. I mean they're just paper.

Aviation experts question whether parachutes will ever be attached to the largest passenger jets, such as the Boeing 747, which weighs more than 900,000 pounds. “The speed and weight of those planes would seem to preclude a system like that,” said James Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

“It's not even worth it to do preliminary calculations. I'd rather just assume it won't work. Now if you'll excuse me I have a crossword puzzle to complete. Have a 5-letter word for moron that starts with ‘I'?”

Brent Brown, a lawyer in Roanoke, Va., was having one added to his plane. Brown, who often flies twice a week over the mountains in western Virginia, said he couldn't imagine choosing to save money by not adding the new safety equipment. “I would feel awful silly on that terrible, terrible ride down,” Brown said.

Holy crap that's a morbid thought. “Gosh It looks like I shoulda sprung for that chute! Now we're gonna die! Isn't your dad awful silly kids!?!? YUK YUK!”

The emergency parachutes aren't flawless. Two families in Syracuse, N.Y., are suing Cirrus, Ballistic Recovery Systems and others for a combined $67.5 million over a fatal crash in April 2002. The case is pending in federal court.

Because the parachute comes with a lifetime guarantee, which expires as the parachute fails.

In another accident, one month before the Syracuse crash, pilot Paul Heflin of Lexington, Ky., repeatedly pulled hard on the parachute handle when his plane began a steep, uncontrolled dive from 3,000 feet. “He was pulling for his life,” recalled Heflin's passenger, Benjamin Ditty. Both suffered minor injuries but walked away from the wreckage.

“LITERALLY!!” she added coyly, brushing off the debris from her seemingly INDESTRUCTIBLE BODY!