Flights of fantasy - World - News - The Independent

Flights of fantasy

IT SOUNDS LIKE a fantasy from the pages of a Tintin cartoon. Aircraft carrying intrepid reporter is hit by missile over the volcanoes of a Pacific island. Plane begins to fall. But wait . . . injured pilot jerks emergency lever and - whoosh - a huge parachute goes up from a hatch in the fuselage. Like a feather, plane and passengers, Snowy included, float harmlessly to the ground, writes David Usborne in Cincinnati.

It's another lucky escape for Tintin - butnot such an improbable one as it seems. Such parachutes, designed to save not just the pilot or passengers but also the entire plane, have been in production for more than a decade.

Previously, US regulations had restricted their application to recreational aircraft, such as microlites and hang-gliders. But the pioneers of the technology, Ballistic Recovery Systems Inc (BRS), based in St Paul, Minnesota, recently received certification to attach their parachutes to one class of small propellor plane, the Cessna 150 and 152. The first sale to a Cessna owner was made last month.

'At first, there was disbelief when we came up with the product, but after 10 years we have made significant inroads,' said company spokesman Dan Johnson. The rather unromantically named General Aviation Recovery Device (Gard) is fitted to the outside of the plane. In the event of unexpected trouble - say, engine failure, a mid-air collision or sudden illness - the pilot pulls a lever in the cockpit, the parachute is fired a safe distance from the fuselage by a small missile (hence 'ballistic'), and opens up. From that moment, the plane and passengers should be secure for a gentle, if unscheduled, landing.

The company has already applied for further certification for a slightly bigger category of propellor aircraft. And even the notion that full-size passenger liners may be protected from crashing to earth is not beyond the bounds of possiblity, according to Mr Johnson.

'We think that that is still in the quite distant future, but it absolutely will happen, because it is just too good an idea not to,' he said.

Certain technical difficulties will have to be overcome. Jet planes travel far too fast for the current Gard designs to work. In essence, the strings holding the parachutes would snap on release.

There is also the simple factor of weight. BRS calculates that forevery pound of weight, a square foot of parachute material is required. A fully loaded Boeing 747-400, the biggest passenger plane currently in use, weighs about 1 million pounds; and 1 million square feet of cloth would equal the area of 24 football pitches.

Still, if such a contraption could save the lives of 500 passengers and crew, who is going to care about a brief eclipse of the sun?

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
News
i100
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Programme Test Manager

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

Modern Foreign Languages Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Full time German Supply Teacher...

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Data/ MI Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week