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Why You May Need A Parachute For Your Drone: Gene and Janice Engelgau, Fruity Chutes

What do we need to fly a drone safely over people?

If you ask today’s guest, he would say having a reliable parachute system. Gene Engelgau is the founder of Fruity Chutes, a world leader in the manufacturing of recovery systems for drones and rockets. The company provides parachute recovery systems to many of the top UAS manufacturers including AAI Textron, Quest UAV, Silent Falcon, Aeromao, Zipline, and Matternet and more.  Their top priority is to work with manufacturers and provide them with world class recovery systems.In this episode of the Drone Radio Show, Gene talks about Fruity Chutes, the FAA drone over people workgroup and what it’s like to produce recovery sysems for the drone industry. Joining Gene is his daughter, Janice Engelgau who handles operations and assists in social media and other areas of the company.

In This Episode

  • Introduction. Gene Engelgau is the founder of Fruity Chutes, a world leader in the manufacturing of recovery systems for drones and rockets. The company provides parachute recovery systems to many of the top UAS manufacturers. Janice Engelgau handles operations and assists in social media and other areas of the company
  • Background. Fruity Chutes was founded in 2007 as a manufacturer of parachute recovery manufacturer system for model and research focused rockets. In 2009, the company started providing recovery systems for drones. Today, the drone sector has become the biggest part of their market.
  • Rocket vs. Drone Recovery Systems. There’s a fair amount of overlap between drone and rocket recovery systems, because the fundamental technology is the same. However, have a much higher dynamic range of situations. The parachutes for rockets are generally stronger, larger and heavier.  Drones are very weight sensitive, and every extra gram translates to minutes off the battery life and payload that can’t be carried. So Fruity Chutes must carry parallel product lines to serve both industries.
  • Flying Drones Over People With Parachute Rule. Gene discusses a proposed rule that requires drones that fly over people to have parachute recovery systems that meet standards that are being developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). The workgroup is looking at how parachutes can be with drones flying over people to make them safe. The workgroup began meeting in July 2017 and is drafting a standard for parachute recovery systems. The objective is to develop performance criteria by which manufacturer systems can become certified. The standard will be pretty rigorous to demonstrate a very high bar for reliability and safety.
  • System Operation. The parachute recovery systems are designed with automatic deployment mechanisms that sense the failure of the drones, basically when it begins to tumble and fall. What a pilot can send a command to deploy the parachute, if needed, the system is designed to operate as a backup, similar to the way air bags work in an automobile – providing a reliable resource one can count on in the event of failure. In general, for smaller drones, parachute systems need at least 50 feet to deploy effectively. As the systems get larger and heavier, the required height increases.
  • Issues. The largest issue facing the adoption of parachute recovery systems is the notion by the large drone manufacturers that their drones don’t need a parachute at all. But the F.A.A. doesn’t feel the same way, and many are bracing for a requirement that drones that fly over people must have a certified parachute recovery system. And while drone manufactures may have high confidence in their drones, many failures aren’t necessarily with the technology itself, but it’s the users that make mistakes. Maybe they don’t charge batteries correctly and lose power, they’re flying too far or too high and can’t return, etc.  An automatic parachute system becomes critical in such situations.
  • Leveraging It’s Rocket Business. Fruity Chutes’ history serving the rocket industry has helped it enter new countries and markets. The company has a long, respected relationship with model rocketeers, universities and research facilities around the world. Janice estimates there are less than 10 different parachute recovery manufacturers for unmanned air systems. Fruity Chutes is different, because its core product line is very broad and they manufacture the parachutes themselves. This gives Fruity Chutes full control over the base technology and products, and the ability to produce the right size and configuration to serve a wide range of users and applications. Fruity Chutes also serves several military and defense clients. So as more countries adopt requirements for drone recovery systems, and as industry sectors advocate for safer unmanned aerial vehicles, Fruity Chutes is poised and ready to respond.
  • InterDrone 2018. Gene will be speaking at Interdrone 2018 on Friday, September 4. The topic of his session is, “Preview of Proposed Part 107 Flight Over People Parachute Recovery System (PRS) Requirements.” The session will cover:
    • The FAA’s ASSURE study that motivated the move to eventually mandate parachutes for flight over people.
    • Insight into what the certification process will include
    • The necessary components of a PRS for UAS.
    • What is needed to both trigger the PRS and terminate flight.
    • Insight into PRS will not be possible with certain types of consumer drones
    • Barriers that have kept manufactures from wanting to implement PRS
    • parachute recovery in the first place.
    • Ways in which having a PRS can benefit a business.
    • The session will also include demonstrations of the recovery systems
  • Perspectives. Gene and Janice share their perspectives on transitioning from the rocket recovery systems to drone recovery systems. For Gene, it’s very much like a sunrise that just keeps getting brighter and brighter. A few years ago, he wasn’t even thinking about drones, and today it represents a major part of the business. For Janice, it’s been an rewarding to see how the resistance to parachute systems has lessened and that operators are becoming genuinely interested in their products.
  • Closing. Gene reminds us of the importance for the manufacturers to get on board with the need for parachute recovery systems to improve safety.

Mentioned Links

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