Cirrus Ferry Flight from California to Hawaii Uses Airframe Parachute to Ditch in Pacific

On 2015-01-25 flight instructor and ferry pilot Lue Morton took off from Tracy, California bound for Maui in Hawaii on the first leg of a flight to deliver a new Cirrus SR22 Australis single engine aircraft to a customer in Sidney, Australia. Seats other than the pilot’s had been removed and replaced with “ferry tanks” to hold additional fuel to make the flight. A transfer system allows refilling the plane’s wing tanks from the ferry tanks en route.

Around 1450 km from Hawaii, past the mid-flight “point of no return”, Morton activated the fuel transfer from the rear ferry tank to the wing tanks. Nothing happened. After satellite phone conversations with his base attempting to diagnose and repair the problem, he concluded it could not be fixed and that with the fuel remaining he would run out around 300 km from Hawaii. He declared an emergency, and the U.S. Coast Guard dispatched an HC-130 search and rescue plane which rendezvoused with the Cirrus and followed it off its wing. After discussing alternatives, Morton, with guidance from the Coast Guard, diverted his plane toward a Holland America cruise ship around 450 km off Hawaii.

After locating the ship, in co-ordination with the Coast Guard and the cruise ship’s crew, Morton cut the Cirrus’ engine and activated the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (standard equipment), which extracts the parachute with a solid rocket motor and deploys it to suspend the plane horizontally as it descends. Morton opened the canopy before splashdown, guarding against the risk of it jamming from the impact. After hitting the water, he deployed the life raft and awaited rescue by a lifeboat from the cruise ship around one hour later. The plane sunk to the bottom of the Pacific.

This silent video of the parachute deployment, descent, splashdown, and rescue was taken from the HC-130.

Here is an interview with Lue Morton inter-cut with video of the rescue. He explains that ditching a fixed landing gear plane is problematic, and the parachute allowed a near-vertical soft landing even in the difficult sea state at the time.


Such things had been proposed and occasionally used for a long time but were economically impractical.

In the early days of aviation, poor aircraft reliability made people want recovery parachutes. Post-WW2, a big use was for UAV:


It reminds me of the Regulus early cruise missile. I think from the same epoch. Can’t offer a link due to IOS user-unfriendliness.


Here is an article about the SSM-N-8 Regulus cruise missile, deployed between 1955 and 1964 by the U.S. Navy. Test missiles were equipped with landing gear and a parachute so they could take off, be recovered, and reused.

On 1959-06-08, the U.S Navy submarine USS Barbero launched a Regulus missile carrying 3000 pieces of mail aimed at Naval Station Mayport in Florida. The missile arrived, descended by parachute, and the mail was unpacked and taken to the post office in Jacksonville, Florida for delivery.

According to the Wikipedia article on rocket mail, U.S. Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield said: “This peacetime employment of a guided missile for the important and practical purpose of carrying mail, is the first known official use of missiles by any Post Office Department of any nation.” He proclaimed the event to be “of historic significance to the peoples of the entire world” and predicted that “before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.”

Sixty-four years later, we’re still waiting for rocket mail.


An example