For those of you who haven’t heard, Cessna was just recently dethroned as one of the top-selling general-aviation companies in the world. For the first two quarters of this year, the total number of Cessna Skyhawks and Skylanes was bested by Cirrus Design’s combination of SR20 as well as SR22 sales. In fact, the vast majority of Cirrus’ sales came from its showpiece, the new SR22-G2. That’s all the more amazing when you consider that: a) the SR22 sells for nearly twice the price of a typical Skyhawk; b) the Cirrus model has only been on the market for three years; and c) no other manufacturer has ever succeeded in humbling Cessna in this way.
No other airplane in the history of general aviation has enjoyed so much instant popularity as the Cirrus SR22. When I reviewed and evaluated the experimental prototype Cirrus SR20 in the December 1996 issue under the title “Skyhawk For The 21st Century,” I could hardly have imagined that the title would be so prophetic.
The obvious question when any relatively new model of light aircraft becomes such a runaway success is—why? Anyone who has followed the fortunes of brothers Dale and Alan Klapmeier is aware that Cirrus Design was little more than a blip on general aviation’s radar screen as recently as 10 years ago.
Technically, both the Klapmeiers were in the homebuilt-design business in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but they had a dream to create a new type of certified, production airplane, a model that would offer superior comfort, performance, simplicity as well as reliability on a modern, 21st-century platform, yet would address the most pressing safety concerns of pilots.
Both Dale and Alan Klapmeier designed homebuilt aircraft for starters, and some of those were indeed sophisticated machines. The VK-30, co-designed by the Klapmeiers and aerodynamicist Jeff Viken, was an unusual pusher single with the engine mounted at mid-cabin and a long drive-shaft turning a single propeller behind the tail. The later ST-50 was a corporate single, powered by a turboprop P&W PT6A in the spirit of the TBM-700. Both of these designs were technically homebuilts, but they certainly dispelled any images pilots might have had that homebuilt equated to amateur. Remember, professionals built the Titanic
. Amateurs built the Ark.
Although almost all of their homebuilt concepts have been anything else but traditional, the Klapmeiers recognized that a production airplane needed to at least look conventional, with the tail in the back of the plane and the propeller out front. Accordingly, the two brothers concentrated on creating an airplane that would incorporate its design innovations in a recognizable package at an entry-level price. The hope was to attract new pilots as well as existing aviators.
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