Plane & Pilot
Thursday, May 1, 2008

2008 Cirrus SR20-G3: Don’t Call It A Comeback


The SR20 has been here for years, and now steps out from the shadow of the SR22


cirrusMost pilots equate progress in flying with stepping up to bigger, faster and more powerful airplanes. When I earned my private pilot license in a 310 hp Cirrus SR22, it was difficult to imagine enjoying anything with less performance. But as insurance (and my bank account) dictated, almost all of my post-checkride flying has been in a rented 200 hp Cirrus SR20-G2. First delivered in 1999, the SR20 wowed pilots with its composite construction, digital avionics suite and BRS parachute recovery system.
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cirrusMost pilots equate progress in flying with stepping up to bigger, faster and more powerful airplanes. When I earned my private pilot license in a 310 hp Cirrus SR22, it was difficult to imagine enjoying anything with less performance. But as insurance (and my bank account) dictated, almost all of my post-checkride flying has been in a rented 200 hp Cirrus SR20-G2. First delivered in 1999, the SR20 wowed pilots with its composite construction, digital avionics suite and BRS parachute recovery system. It’s easy to operate and fun to fly; over time, however, it became lost in the shadow of its big brother, the top-selling SR22. Well, no more! With almost 700 new changes, the redesigned Generation Three model of the SR20 speaks for itself.

On an unusually humid February morning, Cirrus Training Center Manager Reid Nelson and I meet at Santa Monica Airport in Santa Monica, Calif., to check out the G3. During preflight, I find myself stretching on tiptoes to see the oil cap, and it’s obvious that something is different. In fact, the aircraft sits two inches taller than the G2, providing greater prop and tail clearance. Wingspan has also increased by three feet. Strengthened with a carbon-fiber spar to increase useful load, the new wings improve climb performance.

We depart on a photo mission to the Grand Canyon with full fuel and several bags, and with the 70-degree temperature, it’s a pleasant surprise when we climb over the Malibu shoreline at 1,000 fpm. Cirrus lists cruise speed as 156 KTAS, and, sure enough, once at 7,500 feet, the Avidyne Entegra’s PFD (primary flight display) screen shows us truing out in the 150s, even up to 162 KTAS. Helping us along are design changes made to streamline the airplane, including one-piece fairings on the main wheels, restyled wing-root fairings and the relocation of the fresh-air intake from the wing to a NACA vent on the engine cowl.

cirrus
The G3 model of the SR20 incorporates almost 700 changes, including a redesigned wing that improves climb performance.
My first SR20-G3 landing is at Sedona, Ariz., and I cross the numbers on runway 3 with some excess speed, which Reid attributes to a wind shear. I ready myself for a different feeling or sight picture on landing, but the two-inch height increase is barely perceptible. After a meal at the on-field restaurant, we’re airborne again for sunset photos of the area’s Mars-like rock formations. We stop for fuel at Flagstaff, and even though airport elevation is 7,015 feet, the SR20’s auto-lean feature makes leaning on the ground or during climb unnecessary. (Once established in cruise, we use Avidyne’s lean assist feature to find our best power setting at 75 degrees rich of peak.)

Aside from a handful of headlights and taillights on Interstate 40, it’s pitch-black when we lift off on the final leg of the day. I toggle the MFD (multi-function display) to the terrain page to reference the nearby 12,633-foot Humphreys Peak, but Reid turns off both 10.4-inch glass-panel displays and tells me to look outside. Moonlight illuminates snow on the ground, and as my eyes adjust, the landscape appears. We fly this way for several minutes, enjoying our darkness-turned-to-light in silence. (If only the bright green “Autopilot On” light would dim as well.) As we level out over Grand Canyon National Park Airport, the new-to-the-G3 wingtip LEDs beam down the runway. Designed to improve recognition and safety in the air, they’re also useful on the ground when navigating narrow taxiways. “The view from the cockpit during final approach at night is really cool because the lights look like the big boys,” smiles Reid as our Cirrus SR-747 touches down.

The following morning, we’re back at our tiedown spot before dawn in preparation for an air-to-air photo shoot, and Reid wipes off the layer of frost that has accumulated on the Cirrus. Because it’s the off-season, the de Havilland Twin Otters of Grand Canyon Tours aren’t so busy and we have the Dragon Corridor of the Grand Canyon Special Flight Rules Area to ourselves. Navigation is simplified by entering user waypoints into the Garmin GNS 430 to mark the southern and northern limits of our path. The morning air is still, and the sun’s palette is ever-changing as it colors the wonderland below. I’m in an old airplane that acts as a photo platform, and looking through my Canon lens at the Cirrus in action is almost as fun as flying it.




Labels: Piston Singles

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