Will commercial planes have parachutes? (part 2): questions

Click on the words or phrases in the article that answer these questions. The answers are not in the same order as the questions.

  1. What event is extremely improbable?
  2. Where is the research institute?
  3. How could the number of parachutes be reduced?
  4. What size of plane is the company planning to use its parachutes on?
  5. When are people usually killed on plane journeys?
  6. How many parachutes are needed for a 747?
  7. What is the relationship of parachute area to plane weight?
  8. How would the wings be removed?

By Popov’s calculations, every pound of descending weight requires about a square foot of parachute material for such a system to work. A passenger-loaded Boeing 757 can weigh as much as 250,000 pounds and cruises at around 500 miles per hour. Safely lowering a plane of this size and weight would mean employing multiple BRS parachutes (as many as 21 for a jumbo-sized, 735,000-pound Boeing 747) . One approach to making this more feasible is to engineer an aircraft that can separate into smaller segments. That way, only the passenger cabin would be braced during a freefall. Under this scenario, the wings and other components would detach to shed weight quickly.

It’s an idea that a team of researchers at the Scientific Research Institute of Parachute Design and Production (NII Parachutostroyeniya) in Russia has been exploring for some time. One conceptual blueprint even involves an aircraft designed to automatically sear off its wings using automated blades while the passenger-carrying sections would break off into parachute-equipped survival pods. In a special BBC report, the institute’s chief designer Viktor Lyalin explains that this type of system would “drastically reduce speed and avoid human casualties during take-off and landing accidents”.

Implementing such an extreme safety measure, however, may not even be practical considering that aviation experts still question the effectiveness of using parachutes. For instance, a spokesman for the UK Civil Aviation Authority tells the BBC that even in the incredibly unlikely scenario that an aeroplane stalls in mid-air, there probably wouldn’t be enough time for a parachute to deploy as the plane is moving at high speeds. And since most fatal accidents occur during the takeoff or approach and landing phase of the flight, a scenario where a parachute might make a difference is rather remote.

Unfazed by sceptics, BRS is working, for now, to further develop the technology to a point where it can be used in private jets and other larger aircraft that seat up to 20 passengers.