Another exposition on the mantra Pull Early, Pull Often - Pull early, pull often! - Safety and Training Programs - Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association

Another exposition on the mantra Pull Early, Pull Often

In December of 2005, the first post with the phrase Pull Early and Often appeared. It was immediately controversial. And misunderstood. Too often, the claim was made that it meant pull the CAPS parachute handle without considering other recovery options. In retrospect, COPA Pilots have understood it to mean more -- to pull early in the bad situation before you get too fast or fly too low and to pull in more situations than commonly understood. Recently, another reference to the dislike of this phrase prompted another exposition on the importance to COPA Pilots that they think differently about when they will use CAPS.

The dislike of the mantra "Pull Early, Pull Often" has been oft repeated. However, the interpretation of the meaning and impact does not require an either/or thought process. It can be both planning outs and pulling early. Many other COPA members take away from this mantra the need to plan differently when you are flying a Cirrus with a parachute recovery system.

Most take "Pull Early" to mean pull before you get too fast or get too low -- when other planned outs or recoveries will not reduce the risk of a crash. It becomes a threshold decision criteria. In military terms, it is their hard-deck altitude below which you will not descend without ejecting, or in our case deploying CAPS.

When faced with a bad situation, there are several issues to consider. I propose these be considered in order because of the consequences of inaction. Note that they all require some awareness of your height above ground, which may be a challenge in the heat of an emergency.

Foremost, do you have control? If not, do you have sufficient altitude and skill to attempt recovery? If you do not have control and unable to recover, then PULL CAPS!

If you do not have control but do have altitude and skill, then attempt recovery, but maintain awareness of your hard-deck altitude above the ground. If not, then PULL CAPS!

If you have control but are below your hard-deck altitude, then execute a forced landing. Sorry, but CAPS needs about 8 seconds and 500-600 feet minimum to fully deploy.

If you have control and sufficient altitude, then what height above ground will be your hard-deck altitude to pull early?

Cirrus recommends 2,000 feet AGL. We know that CAPS has worked down to 386 feet AGL in level flight just above the stall speed. But we also know that way too many COPA Pilots have deployed CAPS below 200 feet and perished. They didn't pull early enough. They died.

Examples of too-low CAPS deployments with fatalities:


  • Indianapolis, IN just 4 seconds prior to ground impact during 3-1/2/turn spin;
  • Waxhaw, NC during stall/spin in base turn;
  • Deltona, FL just prior to ground impact from 10-turn spin;
  • Carrollton, TX just prior to ground impact after loss of control;
  • Melbourne, FL during stall/spin while maneuvering to avoid traffic.
  • Lanseria, South Africa during apparent low-altitude maneuvering and stall/spin
  • Poncins, France during apparent go-around stall/spin


If you have control and altitude above your hard-deck altitude, then attempt recovery or diversion or other process to avoid a crash. But when flying a Cirrus, keep in mind your need to remain vigilant about your height above ground to enable the use of CAPS.

The problem we faced was too many fatal accidents in which pilots attempted recovery and did not pull the CAPS handle. The mantra "Pull Early, Pull Often" got COPA Pilots thinking.

Since then, the situation has changed. Only 1 of the 7 fatal accidents in 2013 were potential candidates for successful use of CAPS, otherwise 6 of 7 were never high enough for CAPS to be effective. 

Furthermore, 12 CAPS saves in the past two years involved decisions that avoided fatalities and serious injuries. Of those, 11 credit the threshold decision to pull early as their reason to deploy CAPS. The only other CAPS save involved a midair collision that tore off the empennage.

We're not done yet. We need both good aeronautical decision making and the skills to execute safe flights.



  • Well expressed and incredibly important. I make sure that I note my "hard-deck" altitude before both takeoff and landing to avoid having to do mental math in a stressful emergency situation at low altitudes. I believe that the question of what is the hard-deck altitude should be included in every preflight checklist.  I typically fly high as I have always believed in the adage that "altitude was my friend" which was burned into me by my first instructor 44 years ago. This increased margin for error has paid dividends on several occasions.