Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 26, 2011

2011 Cirrus SR22T: Commemorating 10 Years Of GA Innovation

Cirrus refines the SR22T with a 2011 Limited Edition

Any pilot stepping into the SR22T cockpit can't help but be impressed by the gorgeous panel and the avionics capability of this airplane, with features even modern airliners lack. First off, the Perspective by Garmin has the new, larger 12-inch displays. Anybody familiar with Garmin's G1000 will feel at home quickly, and pilots accustomed to "glass" displays pick up the Perspective without issue. Though an entire article could be written about the Perspective system, one very useful feature is the "Go-around." There's a small button under the left side of the throttle T-handle, and when activated, the autopilot automatically pitches the airplane up for the go-around and sequences the FMS for the missed-approach procedure. A vertical navigation feature on the autopilot lets the airplane figure out when to start your descent, marking the top of your descent on the MFD.

The SR22T features Garmin's Synthetic Vision to create a three-dimensional view of the world outside the airplane on the pilot's PFD. The SVT includes terrain warning, traffic indicators, flight-path markers, runways and airport signs, and Garmin's cool "highway in the sky" feature that makes flying the airplane almost like a video game. Just steer the airplane "through" the magenta boxes depicted on the PFD, and you're where you need to be. This version even has a guide for turns, so you control your pitch to match the yellow line depicted on the PFD, and you get a level, controlled turn every time.

The infrared Enhanced Vision System is really cool if you've never used it (and most of us haven't). With infrared technology pioneered by the military, sensors on the airplane allow the pilot to see the world at night or in low visibility. It gives pilots a real-time unobstructed view of terrain, airport surfaces and everything around the airplane. Think of it as X-ray vision for pilots. Perspective puts it on the MFD, so combined with all the information on the PFD, there aren't too many low-visibility or night situations that would prevent normal operations. Playing with the system gets your mind racing at the possibilities.

Once started and taxiing, the SR22T behaves like all the Cirrus products, with a castering nosewheel that makes ground-maneuvering a piece of cake. Inside noise levels are low, and with the addition of ANR headsets (ideally suited to this airplane), normal conversations can take place all the way up through cruise just as if you were in your car. Takeoff in the Cirrus is done with partial flaps, and rotation comes quickly.

Control pressures are firm, and I used lots of trim to keep the forces balanced. Though I wouldn't consider the SR22T to be nimble, it maneuvers very well, but the stick forces are moderate. I hand-flew the climb to get to know the airplane, and I felt comfortable at once. We switched to the autopilot while Goble showed me features of the Perspective, including the engine screen with its plethora of information.

With the turbocharged TCM TSIO-550K in the Special Edition SR22T, we were turning 315 hp, and it was smooth and quiet. Goble showed how to set up the performance so it becomes a single-lever operation once set. It makes leaning a snap and, like other Cirrus innovations, makes the workload lighter.

With the SR22T's amphitheater visibility, it makes the whole interior calm and airy. The contrast of dark and light gives the effect of a naturally lit gallery.
We took the opportunity to do some air work including stalls; they're as non-eventful as the literature suggests. Aileron control, thanks to the "cuffed" wing, is always present, and the airplane is completely docile. Goble took the time to show me a new feature in the SR22T—Electronic Stability And Protection (ESP). He had me crank in a steep turn to 60 degrees. Just as the airplane passed 45 degrees, the ESP system kicked in, gently nudging the aircraft back to level! It functions independent of the autopilot, and is designed to prevent overspeeds, inadvertent stalls and other hazardous deviations from stable flight. The system can be turned off or overridden. It's evident that it would be difficult for pilots to get in trouble in this airplane because of the safety innovations.

Since part of our flying day included a photo mission with both the new SR22T and SF50 Vision jet, I got to experience flying side by side with the V-tailed beauty. Our SR22 pilot for the mission was Jens Hoepfel, one of only three test pilots on the SF50. Though Hoepfel had told me that the jet's speeds were very similar to the SR22T, it was remarkable to look out the window and see the jet in formation with us at near-cruise speeds. It's a testament to the SR22 that we flew the jet's wing for quite a while without even pushing the airplane hard. One gets a sense of the lineage of both machines, and it's not hard to imagine the SR22 as merely a stepping stone to the Vision jet. Another odd sensation was that we could barely hear the jet, even just off our wing. Cirrus has seemingly perfected quiet operations.

Back in the pattern and after a beautiful flight along the shoreline, I came away with the impression that this is truly a cross-country airplane. It can fulfill many roles—including trainer—but it seems to really hit its stride when going from Point A to Point B. I can imagine nonflying passengers being completely at home in this airplane, with its automotive refinements, ample cockpit space and comfort features. Pilots will love its safety enhancements, and it's there that the true nature of the airplane is revealed.

The SR22T is wildly successful because it appeals to those who use aviation as a tool—for business or for pleasure. The SR22T—and especially this Limited Edition model with every bell and whistle that Cirrus offers—is an airplane that can help steer aviation from a highly specialized pastime for an elite few, to a universally appealing activity that can realistically replace the arduous world of airline travel for those who can afford it. Combining safety and innovation, the SR22T is a game changer in the industry. Here's to what's coming next for Cirrus.


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