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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Powered by a 200 hp Continental IO-360-ES, the Cirrus SR20-G3 climbs at 828 fpm, cruises at 155 KIAS and has a range of 627 nm when at 75% power.
Hundreds of shutter clicks and several gigabytes of photo files later, we return to KGCN. I hop in the SR20, and we fly several touch-and-goes. After testing different power settings to see what works best under the current conditions, we use percent power (as indicated on the PFD) to achieve appropriate airspeeds: 100 knots on downwind, 90 on base and 75 to 80 on final. Then we climb to altitude for airwork. During steep turns, aileron inputs are exceptionally crisp, with good control authority. Power-off stalls result in what feels like a rocking horse, in a forward-aft buffet. Thanks to the cuff design of the wing, where the outer part of the wing has a slightly lower angle of attack, we still have aileron control and can execute turns. And though our wing drops during power-on stalls, release of back pressure brings a quick recovery.

Las Vegas is our lunch destination, and the approach controllers into McCarran International Airport are very busy and sometimes snappy. I’m thankful for the MFD’s moving map, which provides extra awareness of the surrounding airspace. By the time we land, the winds have picked up and the forecast is grim, so our all-you-can-eat buffet extravaganza on the Strip transforms into a chocolate-chip cookie courtesy of Signature Flight Support. Back on the ramp, 40 knots jostle us around, but without the rudder-aileron interconnect system (removed in conjunction with a one-degree increase in wing dihedral), it’s easier to taxi in a crosswind with the rudder fully deflected. As we wait on the taxiway for a long line of Southwest 737s to depart, oil temperature begins to creep up. Reid determines that this is likely caused by idling with strong tailwinds, reducing airflow through the cowling and oil cooler. When we eventually turn into the wind, temps lower and readings are normal for takeoff.

At an assigned altitude of 10,000 feet, our headwind is relentless, blowing up to 60 knots. Our true airspeed reads in the low 150s, but groundspeed seems stuck in the 90s. And so we settle in for a long, bumpy flight. But the Cirrus is a comfortable place to be on such an occasion, with a relatively high wing loading, leather seats and a 49-inch-wide cabin. As we inch our way over the Mojave Desert, music plays through an iPod plugged into the aircraft’s audio system, enhanced by the “Front Row Center” feature of Lightspeed’s Zulu headset.

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The aircraft’s interior features leather seats in an onyx/sand color scheme, with air-bag seat belts for added safety.
The S-TEC 55X autopilot in GPS roll-steering mode does a great job at reducing workload, but as we enter the fogged-in Los Angeles basin, I decide to hand-fly. Reid briefs me using the CMax electronic approach charts, and I fly the descent profile as depicted, keeping up a scan on the PFD. When the clouds thin, I’m reminded of how it feels to be in a darkroom watching a photograph materialize on paper, as runway 21 emerges from out of nowhere, lined up perfectly with our flight path. No matter how many times you’ve seen it happen, it still seems like magic.

Not only is the SR20 fun for cross-country trips, but it’s also becoming an ever-popular training platform with flight schools. “The single-movement power lever, fixed landing gear and the fact that it’s not high performance makes the SR20 perfect for student pilots,” says Reid. “The handling characteristics at high and low speeds make it a very easy and forgiving airplane to learn to fly.” In the States, there are 60 Cirrus Standardized Training Centers (CSTS), with plans for more. Flight schools, including Western Michigan University, Delta Connection Academy, the CAPT Program and Air Safety Flight Academy, use the SR20 as a primary trainer. “By putting a Cirrus on the line, a school benefits from attracting a whole new class of renters,” explains Reid. “Believe it or not, the current generation of new pilots finds the glass panel to be less intimidating than round gauges. In addition, the spacious interior and modern look of the airplane is very appealing to many customers who wouldn’t enjoy a typical lower-cost training aircraft.”

I rent my “best friend,” N544AT, from Seaside Aviation (www.seasideaviation.com), a CSTS at Santa Monica Airport. In addition to primary training, owner Jesse Peck also offers transition, recurrent and instrument training. “My students love the Cirrus because it’s a 21st-century airplane, designed from the ground up as a new aircraft,” says Jesse. “Pilots working on instrument ratings benefit greatly from the increased situational awareness provided by the MFD.” The SR20 has allowed me to continue growing as a pilot, and the improvements with the latest model have reignited interest in the aircraft around the country. Little sibling to the SR22, yes, but grown-up as the G3, definitely.

For more on the new Cirruses, read “Cirrus SR22-G3: Brazil Or Bust!” at www.planeandpilotmag.com/aircraft/pilot-reports.

SPECS: 2008 Cirrus SR20 G3



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