Drone Parachute Systems — Providing a Safe (and Compliant) Path to Flying Your Drone Over People

BY Isabella Lee
4 October 2019

The pros and cons of a drone parachute system are debated heavily in the drone community.

Drone pilots are particularly concerned with the possibility of a false deployment of a parachute system. However, with the recent publication of ASTM International standards for sUAS parachutes, they may become a more attractive option for drone operators who wish to fly over people.

botlink drone with parachute

Source: Botlink

New ASTM Standard for sUAS Parachutes

The ASTM standard defines the requirements for the design, manufacturing, and testing of sUAS parachute systems. Among other things, the standard requires an autonomous triggering system to detect failures and deploy the parachute without relying on the RPIC (remote-pilot-in-command) as well as a flight termination system to stop the motors from spinning. Stopping the motors will prevent entanglement with the parachute and reduce the risk of injury/damage.

To meet the standard, parachute systems will need to pass a series of aerial deployments (45 deployments for multi-rotors) to prove the effectiveness of the system in the sUAS’s full flight envelope and in various failure scenarios. Learn more about the standard, F3322, here.

The standard is designed to allow Civil Aviation Authorities (CAA) to determine with confidence whether a parachute system is safe enough to allow for flight over people. A leading group of experts from around the world spent many months defining and perfecting the standard. We encourage the FAA and CAAs in other countries to adopt this standard.

—Avi Lozowick, Director of Policy and Strategy, ParaZero

Use code UAVCOACH50 to get $50 off a ParaZero drone parachute system and to receive your FAA Part 107.39 Waiver. ParaZero helps with the application, and receiving the FAA Waiver gives you a 4-year blanket clearance to fly your drone over people in Class G airspace.

ASTM International cannot require or enforce compliance with its standards. However, the standards may become mandatory when referenced by an external contract, corporation, or government. Neither the U.S. Government or the FAA have created a policy to require adherence to the ASTM sUAS parachute standards at this time. Manufacturers who chose to voluntarily follow these standards, however, will ensure a higher quality of their product and be more competitive on the market.

sUAS Parachutes and Flights Over People

The FAA restricts all UAS flight over unprotected people under the Part 107 rule. This limitation is necessary for the safety of the public underneath, but it has inhibited the growth of the industry as it prevents drones from flying in urban or populated areas where drones could be of valuable use. The only way to gain permission for flights over people is to obtain a waiver from the FAA. This type of waiver is rarely approved, with less than 15 waivers approved by the FAA for flights over people since the waiver process was implemented in 2016.

To some, it seems that parachute systems might provide a solution to flights over people. In fact, the first ever FAA waiver for sustained operations over people with a parachute system was recently granted to North Dakota operator, Botlink, on September 29, 2018.

Botlink is utilizing the waiver to perform missions for local law enforcement as well as for generating media content as part of the UAS Integration Pilot Program (UASIPP) lead by the North Dakota Department of Transportation. The first flights using the waiver were conducted during the tailgating event prior to the North Dakota State University vs South Dakota State football game at the FargoDome in North Dakota. In addition, Botlink and CNN demonstrated the first simultaneous use of UAS airspace as they work together to broadcast and live-stream the NDSU/SDSU football pregame tailgating event. Here’s a look at some of the footage they captured:

Botlink Uses its Drone Software for First FAA Approved Sustained Operations Over People

To complete the flight, Botlink used ParaZero’s SafeAir System on a DJI Phantom 4 (use code UAVCOACH50 for a $50 discount). The ParaZero system includes a fully autonomous triggering system that deploys quickly and reliably without being dependent on the operator’s response time. Once the parachute deploys, the system stops the spinning rotors to avoid entanglement with the parachute cords and reduces the risk of laceration injuries to people on the ground.

ParaZero tested the parachute system over many months and shared the data collected from their tests with the FAA. With the test data, ParaZero was able to prove that in the case of a drone failure, the descent rate would be slow enough and the parachute system will work properly in all types of failure scenarios. This data was a critical component of Botlink’s waiver application.

Until today, the handful of existing waivers for flight over people have either been for closed-set operations or for very lightweight and sometimes frangible UAS. This waiver opens the gates for safe flight over people with larger, more advanced UAS that can carry more sophisticated payloads and cameras.

—Eden Attias, CEO of ParaZero

The Best sUAS Parachute Systems

If you’re interested in acquiring a parachute system for your drone, consider these top three sUAS parachute system sellers:

DJI Phantom Mars Drone Parachute System

Source: MARS Parachutes

1. ParaZero

ParaZero worked with ATSM to create the latest ASTM sUAS parachute standards. Their unique system is equipped with a SafeAir safety box, which independently monitors the flight operation. In the case of drone failure, SafeAir triggers a patented ballistic parachute to provide a controlled descent rate.

2. MARS Parachutes

MARS Parachutes has developed a full line of parachute systems that fit several popular multirotor aircraft, such as the full line of DJI aircraft. These systems can be adapted to nearly any multirotor aircraft flying today, and come in a variety of sizes that range from a 36″ canopy to a massive 120″ canopy for large-scale aircraft. They also worked with ATSM to create the latest ASTM sUAS parachute standards.

3. Fruity Chutes

Fruity Chutes provides recovery systems to many of the leading aerospace manufacturers including NASA, Space X, AAI Textron, Quest UAV, Aeromao, and many more. Recently, they’ve begun to integrate their parachute systems into UAS products. Their chutes are found in other drone recovery systems from manufacturers such as Rebel Space, Skycat and more.

Have you used any of the parachutes listed above, or do you prefer one that we haven’t listed here? Share your experience with sUAS parachute systems in this thread on our community forum.

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