Parachutes play a very important role in technology and safety in the air. There has been quite a debate related to commercial airplanes having parachutes in two forms:
1) Parachutes for every passenger of a commercial flight.
2) A giant parachute for the whole airplane.
So, the first option, which is providing a commercial airplane with a parachute for every single passenger is much less possible. It is believed that it would create a chaotic disaster.
Why? Imagine the airplane going down, with everyone panicking, trying to get their oxygen masks on and maybe their life jackets, and then… in the middle of all that, trying to figure out how in the world to strap on their individual parachute.
And, it wouldn’t stop there. After they’re finished putting on and adjusting their parachute straps, they would now have to proceed with exiting the airplane, one by one, and knowing how, where and when to pull the strap that releases the parachute for their safe landing. Oh, and they should also know some basic landing steps and techniques to ensure even more their own safety.
Skydiving is an activity that is carried out with prior individual training. And there are many factors involved in the option of making skydive possible. That aside, some of the most common commercial airplanes, like the Boeing 737 for example, have a 200-pasenger capacity, including the crew members.
These types of airplanes fly at 35,000 feet, this is nearly three times higher than an aircraft for a couple that decided to go skydiving for their anniversary. Therefore, that changes the situation, too. That involves more equipment needed, like an oxygen tank, a ballistic helmet and an altimeter for the passenger to be able to breathe the thin air at that particular altitude.
As you can see, option number one is the least feasible option, even when we didn’t talk about the added weight that parachute equipment for 100 – 200 passengers would mean for the aircraft itself… which would translate into around six thousand extra pounds.
And, that leads us to option number two: a parachute big enough to support and safely land an entire commercial airplane.
First, it is almost imperative that we understand or at least have a slight idea of the weight of an airplane. An empty commercial aircraft will have a weight of 14 tons minimum (CRJ200 operating empty weight) and can go up to 575 tons (A380 maximum take-off weight).
A suitable, feasible and secure parachute would need to be able to hold this weight capacity and slow down its landing speed. Sound simple to you?
Small non-commercial aircrafts, of around five passengers do have a whole-aircraft parachute, but there are way smaller and way lighter. That is actually the beginning of this progress in the making. And, yes, this option has already resulted helpful in emergency situations, and it has saved lives.
And, even though it is definitely not an easy task, there is a big amount of people working and experimenting to make the commercial airplane parachute a reality in the future. There are still groups of people that believe it is not possible and it should not be attempted, but there are many others, like we said, working on the necessary calculations to get there.
The NASA is one of those interested ones working in the development of these giant parachutes. Now, again, it is important to understand the dimension of what we are addressing here. First of all, we know that flying is the most secure way of transportation today. This means the number of accidents is statistically very low. And, when these accidents do happen, they tend to occur during landing or take-off, which discards the use of a parachute.
Another factor of accidents or aeronautic problems is weather. Aircrafts obviously struggle with bad weather, and if pilots find strong winds, lightning, thunder, etc., it would be absolutely counterproductive to release a huge parachute in the middle of a hectic thunderstorm and wish for their best.
This just takes us to realizing that individual parachutes are completely out of the way as a possible safety measure for commercial airplanes. And, a Godzilla-size parachute for the entire aircraft is a possibility for the future, but it is still under extreme testing and analysis. Will the incredibly smart engineers solve the world of equations this involves to make it a feasible and safe reality?
We’ll have to be patient and see.
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