Wednesday, December 1, 2004
The Klapmeiers’ vision enters the second generation
|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.|
The Klapmeiers knew that there were practical considerations of starting off with a relatively low-powered engine. “We were looking for the largest possible market and the lowest certification cost,” says Dale. “And that inclined us toward the less expensive, more economical-to-operate 200-hp engine. As it turned out, certification probably would have cost roughly the same at any horsepower level, but we didn’t end up realizing that until later.”
The SR20 was the end result of the Klapmeiers’ initial effort. First flown in March 1995, it used a six-cylinder, 200-hp Continental IO-360 for power. It took three years and roughly $70 million for the airplane to be certified, but the SR20 was finally ceremonially granted its FAA type certificate during the 1998 AOPA Convention in Palm Springs, Calif.
The Cirrus SR20 was constructed around a cabin that’s specifically modeled after the BMW 5 series sedans, and the airplane represented new concepts in several key areas. There was no cost-effective way to put a BMW cabin in the air, but the SR20’s cockpit was nevertheless as spacious and comfortable as possible, copying the German luxury sport-sedan wherever possible.
Specifically, front-seat room measured 49 inches wide by 50 inches high, and rear space was 44 inches wide by 49 inches high, unprecedented at the time for a single-engine airplane. The Cirrus SR20 also employed side-stick controls for roll and pitch, freeing up the space in front of the pilot and copilot and, more than coincidentally, enhancing crashworthiness.
Perhaps equally important, the SR20 offered new solutions in other areas. As mentioned above, the Klapmeiers hoped to attract both new pilots and experienced aviators, and to that end, the SR20 addressed perhaps the two greatest concerns of the flying and non-flying public: “What do I do if the engine quits?” and “What if I get lost?”
The Klapmeiers’ answer to the first question was to hide a ballistic parachute inside the upper aft fuselage and employ CEAT (Cirrus Energy Absorbing Technology) by installing crush zones in the floor along with 26 G seats and build a tough roll cage around the cabin. With a descent rate of 26 fps (1,560 fpm), the 2,400-square-foot ‘chute was designed to protect the occupants, not the airframe. Actual deployments, however, have resulted in minimum airframe damage.
To help counter the possibility of becoming lost, Cirrus adopted a huge, 10.4-inch, GPS-based Avidyne multi-function display (since expanded to a two-screen primary flight display/multi-function display) that depicted the airplane’s position with reference to nearby airports and navaids. This made it virtually impossible for anyone to lose positional awareness and quelled many of the fears of wanna-be pilots, an important segment of Cirrus’ planned customer base.
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