parachute drones FAA

Parachute drones have their moment as FAA clears parachute-equipped Phantom 4 to fly over people

Parachute drones are having another moment.

The Federal Aviation Administration this month gave clearance to general contractor and construction management company Hensel Phelps to fly over people with an approved, parachute-equipped drone. This is the first time a Part 107 waiver has been granted using a parachute system.

Hensel Phelps now has clearance from the FAA to fly a DJI Phantom 4 equipped with a parachute system designed by drone safety company ParaZero. Hensel Phelps is using ParaZero’s SafeAir Phantom Parachute System.

ParaZero drone parachute chute Phantom 4 safety FAA
ParaZero’s drone safety system designed for DJI’s Phantom 4 model.

The SafeAir uses independent sensors to monitor the drone’s flight data and patterns. If it identifies a failure, the system is able to cut power to the drone’s motors to prevent the propellers from hurting other people (or getting tangled in the parachute’s cords). From there, a parachute is activated by a patented ballistic parachute launcher. Other safety features include a sound alarm notify people of potential danger.

Parachutes have long been explored as a means of making drones safer. An Austrian company called Drone Rescue Systems saw some success with a parachute system it debuted in 2018 that called the DRS-M600, designed especially for the DJI Matrice 600 drone. That parachute was stored in a carbon cage and used sensor data to detect crashes and automatically deploy a parachute. And a company called Indemnis this year revealed its Nexus parachute, which was designed for the DJI Inspire 2.

The Nexus parachute mounts right under the Inspire 2 drone’s arm.

Other companies are putting greater efforts into developing failsafe systems for drones — and they go beyond just parachute drones.

Verity Studios, the company that designed the Cirque du Soleil drones this year debuted its “Failsafe” program, which is an algorithm-based technology designed to be implemented on any drone with little to no cost to the consumer.

When a Failsafe-equipped drone has a propulsion system failure, instead of spinning out of control and crashing to the ground, the drone stays in the air using algorithms to stabilize itself and navigate it to a secure landing location.

ParaZero’s parachute system is unique from many of the other FAA-approved flights over people (which are few and far between, given the FAA’s strict standards). ParaZero’s SafeAir Phantom Parachute System is ASTM compliant, meaning it was approved by ASTM International, an international standards organization that develops and publishes technical standards for a wide range of materials, including drones. And that ASTM seal of compliance contributed to why the FAA approved the parachute-equipped drone flights over people.

While the FAA itself did not approve the parachute’s capabailities, it did state that the ParaZero SafeAir Phantom parachute system must be
operational and comply with the ASTM 3322-18 standard.

The ASTM-related approval could pave the way for more companies (particularly small companies without resources to work closely with the FAA to approve their drone operations) to fly over people, or conduct otherwise restricted flights.

“For the first time, waivers for flight over people with ASTM compliant parachute systems are replicable and scalable as well as long term,” according to a statement from ParaZero. “(ParaZero believes this approval sets a precedent and subsequent waiver applications should occur
more seamlessly.”

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