SENIOR EXECUTIVES MAY have golden parachutes to soften their landings, but any manager who pilots a private plane can soon get something even more comforting: an aircraft parachute. No need to jump to use it--this chute, which weighs just 80 pounds, lowers the entire airplane slowly to the ground. It will be the main safety feature on Cirrus Design Corp.'s SR20, the first plane certified by the Federal Aviation Administration to come equipped with its own safety net. And this is no ultralight experimental plane: The SR20 is a four-seat aircraft with a 200-horsepower Teledyne Continental Motors engine that provides a cruising speed of 160 knots (185 mph).
Expected to go for $130,000 when it's introduced in 1997, the single-engine SR20 aircraft has an all-composites airframe also designed for safety. The structure is engineered to protect people in the cabin area by deflecting the initial impact and absorbing shock, should a mishap occur at an altitude too low to deploy the chute.
Cirrus Design has been developing the SR20 since 1990. The prototype plane made its maiden flight on Mar. 31. Now, the Duluth (Minn.) company is raising $10 million to complete the required flight tests and start up production.