When William Congreve wrote that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, the woman he had in mind was probably Mother Nature.
Despite the fact that nearly a quarter of a million people are in the air at any given minute of the day, the rarified heights we pilots traverse are Her domain. And every now and then she reminds of that fact. With extreme prejudice. Take, for example, this PIREP (pilot report), courtesy of Sam:
MGM UUA /OV SCD 270004/TM 2200/FL090/TP SR22/IC SVR ICG 077-0900/RM ACFT WAS DESCENDING BY PARACHUTE DUE TO SEVRE ICG BUILDUP
If you don’t speak pilot, here’s the decoded version.
- UUA: “Urgent Pilot Report”
- /OV: Location (“4 miles west of Sylacauga, Alabama”)
- /TM: Time (“22:00 Zulu”)
- /FL: Flight Level, aka altitude (“9000 feet”)
- /TP: Aircraft type (“Cirrus SR22”)
- /IC: Icing (“Severe icing between 7700 and 9000 feet”)
- /RM: Remarks (“Aircraft was descending by parachute due to severe icing buildup”)
The airplane in question is a Cirrus SR22, a svelte, modern, composite design that’s taking the aviation world by storm. I fly these every day at work. They have tremendous performance for a general aviation aircraft, able to carry a significant load and climb at better than 1400 fpm while cruising at 180+ knots.
But even an SR22 is no match for Mother Nature when she tries to turn you into an ice cube.
One of the big attractions of the Cirrus is that they come with a safety device known as a Ballistic Recovery System. The BRS is essentially a parachute. The canopy is stored in the aft section of the fuselage, and when it’s activated, a rocket pulls the ‘chute out of the aircraft and frees straps built into the fuselage. The pilot shuts down the engine, and the entire aircraft descends to the ground at a slow enough speed to allow the occupants to walk away unharmed.
I assume the PIREP was submitted by a controller and not the pilot, as he was undoubtedly busy trying not to soil himself. Not to make light of the situation, but it would have been sort of funny if the pilot had deployed the ballistic recovery system and then casually asked ATC if he could change radio frequencies to submit a weather observation to Flight Watch.
“Cirrus calling Center, say again?”
“We’re declaring an emergency due to severe icing and have had to deploy the parachute… oh, and we’d like to get a frequency change to submit a PIREP.”
(20 seconds of confused silence)
“Um… hmmm. Okay, frequency change approved and, uh, good day?”