Spinning CAPS - Pull early, pull often! - Safety and Training Programs - Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association

Spinning CAPS

On Saturday, the three people walked away from a Cirrus SR22 that had been in a spin close to the ground.  CAPS worked.

According to press reports and quotes from the pilot, the plane was descending on approach to a nearby airport when turbulence contributed to an upset, the plane went into a spin, pilot intervention didn't regain control, and the pilot activated the CAPS parachute, the plane descended and impacted wires from a powerline and telephone circuit.

Once again, the discussions bring to mind the controversy about spins in a Cirrus.  Here is my take.

If close to the ground and out of control, PULL CAPS!

This accident pilot remained aware of his low altitude and after initial recovery steps failed, he pulled the CAPS handle.  You should too.

We know CAPS works at 700 feet in a departure climb with instruments going crazy (Fort Lauderdale, FL).  Despite such a low altitude, the plane was photographed on the way down.

We learned from the recent NTSB investigation report into the Indianapolis, IN, fatal accident, that the passenger activated CAPS at 528 feet in a spin 4 seconds from impact.  Even though the parachute could not fully open, three 3 passengers survived while the pilot died from impact injuries.

We learned from another CAPS pull when the pilot heard a terrain alert during a dive after loss of control due to the pitot tube freezing up, that that warning was in sufficient time for CAPS to work.

If in a spin and recovery doesn't work, PULL CAPS!

Unfortunately, we know several Cirrus fatal accidents involved spins in which the pilots didn't recover and didn't pull CAPS.

In Meadview, AZ, the NTSB reconstructed the flight path and found the plane spent 45 seconds in a 15-turn spin until ground impact.  The CAPS parachute deployed post-impact.

At Parish, NY, the pilots were at 5,000 feet practicing aggressive maneuvers, entered a flat-spin and impacted the ground.  From that altitude, the pilots had at least 30 seconds to act.  Yet the CAPS handle was still stowed and the safety pin in place.

At Maybell, CO, the pilots reported icing at high altitude.  Yet the plane crashed after a long descent and the CAPS parachute deployed post-impact with the CAPS handle found in the stowed position.

And at Indianapolis, IN, the plane descended in a 5-turn spin before the CAPS handle was pulled at 528 feet AGL.

If recovery doesn't work, the PULL CAPS!

If in a spiral dive and recovery doesn't work, PULL CAPS!

Not all loss of control accidents are spins.  But if you can't recover from a spiral dive, then PULL CAPS!

At Peters, CA, a high-altitude upset put the plane inverted in a spiral dive.  When the plane was about to enter clouds with unreliable instruments and recovery didn't work, the experienced aerobatic instructor pulled the CAPS handle and descended for 5-8 minutes under canopy.

If in a spin and recovery works, then tell us about it

COPA members have posted a few experiences of recovering their planes from a spin.  Perhaps the most discussed example was Rock McMillan's post from 2006.

The myth of spins in a Cirrus

Unfortunately, because Cirrus Design and the FAA agreed to an Equivalent Level of Safety approach to certification, the SR20 and SR22 have never gone through a full battery of spin tests.  That leads some critics to promote myths about spins in a Cirrus.

Myth: The SR20/SR22 can't recover from a spin

Wrong.  It can.

What is more probable is that average pilots cannot recover from a spin, whether flying a Cirrus or any other plane.  And it is almost certain that low-altitude spins cannot be recovered before ground impact.  So, in a Cirrus, use CAPS.

Furthermore, the Europeans tested spins in the SR20 and found that it recovered, although it took more aggressive maneuvers to put into a spin and more aggressive maneuvers to recover.  After about 60 spin tests, they abandoned that approach and approved the FAA ELOS certification.

Myth: The parachute is required because the SR20/SR22 failed the spin test.

Wrong.  It was never tested for FAA certification.  So, it never failed.

What was tested was the ability of the CAPS parachute to recover the SR2X from a 1-1/2 turn spin.  It did.  The FAA accepted the ELOS certification with the CAPS parachute in lieu of spin certification.

Myth: If the SR20/SR22 spins, you must pull CAPS.

Wrong.  But good advice.

The POH states that the only approved and demonstrated method of recovery from a spin is to activate CAPS.  Given the FAA acceptance of the ELOS certification, this is prudent.  But it is not a capital-L limitation.

The real issue is whether you recover in time.  If you waste time and altitude attempting to recover from a spin or a spiral dive, you may no longer have the awareness or the ability to pull the CAPS handle.

Bottom line

If spins are important buying criteria, seriously consider a different airplane.

If safety features are important buying criteria, seriously consider a Cirrus.

If getting on the ground safely is important, then practice CAPS technique (bang, head, handle), practice emergencies in a simulator (don't just say it, do it), practice briefing your passengers (if I can't, you need to)

  • I should have added a comment about airspeed.  

    In a spin, the airspeed will stay below Vpd, since that maneuver is a relatively low airspeed maneuver.  In this case, losing too much altitude could be your problem.

    However, in a spiral dive, airspeed can build up quickly, so keep an eye on that.  Remember that Ilan Reich pulled the handle at about 190 knots and the parachute worked.  Remember that BRS tested the parachute to 187 knots.  But Cirrus Design demonstrated the whole system at only 133 knots.  In this case, I'm taking my chances on an engineering safety margin and pulling whenever I lose control, no matter my airspeed.



  • Hi Rick,

    Neat summary - if we can 'bake' this out with COPA discussion and references how about getting this info posted to broader GA audiences, Wikipedia...  etc? I'd be happy to help.


  • Is there an official report as to all of the deployments with the altitudes at which the CAPS was deployed?