Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cirrus SR22 GTS: The Perfect Plane?

Why Cirrus Aircraft’s successful single might be the ultimate cross-country machine

By now everyone has seen a Cirrus, and the company recently celebrated their 5,000th airplane. One of the most impressive features of the SR22 is the enormous cabin. When Cirrus conceived the airplane, they started with a sphere instead of a rectangle, so the interior vibe is completely different from, say, a Mooney, where the rear cabin can be claustrophobic. I'm not a big guy, of course, but the rear space is positively cavernous. One major enhancement to the 2012 SR22T is the three-seat rear space, allowing three people in back and two up front. In truth, three full-size adults would find it overly cozy, but a couple with a child or three average teenagers would be comfortable. The new LATCH child- restraint system also has been added in 2012.

The year 2012 brings a major redesign of the rear cabin. Enhancements include a transition to over-the-shoulder seat belts, 60/40-split reclining rear seats, re-engineered side bolsters to increase cabin area, an additional third seat and LATCH child-safety restraints. The redesign saves 10 pounds over existing models.
Speaking of seats, another new feature for this year is the reclining and 60/40-split seat option in the back. The FlexSeating allows for skis, fishing poles, golf clubs and the like, but it was the reclining rear seats that won me over. Besides giving the SR22T ample cargo space for hauling large items by folding both seats (or just one seat) flat, the gaping cabin combined with the reclining seats allow a lounger-like sleeping position.

With the weather providing nothing but blue skies and good visibility across the entire nation that day, we began our trek, and I settled in with the SR22. The Garmin Perspective display is so darned pretty to look at, and its capabilities are nothing short of mind-blowing—transforming the five-seat Cirrus into much more than a mini airliner. From start-up to shutdown, the richness of information provided by the Perspective system is deservedly an enormous part of the Cirrus' appeal and success.

Immediately on takeoff, as we winged over the Pacific Ocean and its Gold Coast beaches, I was struck by how intuitive everything in the Cirrus is. I also noticed how a large part of the mission of the SR22 is to make the job of piloting easier. For example, our takeoff flap setting was "50%," the first detent on the simple switch. How many degrees 50% translates to isn't apparent, and it's these kinds of contradictions that have some old-timers saying the airplane oversimplifies flying. But understanding the logic of the non-complicated system deflates such arguments. The settings could be in Russian, and all that counts is the proper procedure for this airplane. Sometimes, I think many of us are enamored with flying's complexity; it's a sort of a mysterious veil to outsiders. Cirrus is trying to invite outsiders into aviation by removing that veil, and then everybody wins.

I had decided to hand-fly for the first 30 minutes or so to get the feel of the airplane. It's no wispy featherweight. The Cirrus is maneuverable, but it feels somewhat like the bigger Cessnas—especially in the elevator. The controls are balanced, but the side stick takes some getting used to if you're new to it. It was strange for me not to have a stick or yoke in front, though I liked the additional space that the side stick provides.

Another example of Cirrus' commitment to make flying simpler is leaning the SR22T's engine. The avionics system, turbocharger and MFD display work together to eliminate the complexity of current methods. Just bring the throttle back and match a little blue line on the engine display with an indicator, and you're flying at lean-of-peak performance for a given condition. Not knowing the technical minutiae took nothing away from the aviating experience. Simple is beautiful on a long trip.

There, above the breadbasket valley of California, my epiphany about the Cirrus began to take form. We were riding at 8,500 feet along a lower part of the Sierra Nevada mountains that seemed to stretch for eons. At our true airspeed of 175 knots, the golden hue of the spring crops nestled against the jade hills reflected in the ample windscreen, we set the autopilot, and Bergwall began to show me more of the SR22T's hidden charms.

The Enhanced Vision System uses sensors to offer a hyper-realistic view in low-visibility conditions, increasing situational awareness.
In 2012, gee-whiz features that Cirrus aficionados already know well were added: 12-inch PFD and MFD screens, Cirrus' Synthetic Vision and Enhanced Vision System (EVS) for use at night or in limited visibility, Electronic Stability and Protection (ESP), Certification for Flight Into Known Icing (FIKI), Hypoxia check/Automated Descent Mode, Air Conditioning, yaw damper, and a five year spinner-to-tail warranty.

Our 2012 GTS model also had the Garmin GMA 350 audio panel with "3D audio," which turned out to be a surprise in coolness. The unit separates audio signals into two distinct sides of your headset. For example, you could be monitoring ATIS on one frequency and listening to Approach on another. One channel goes to each ear, and the unit processes the signal, so the effect is unlike anything you've experienced before. The resulting communication is unexpectedly distinct and easy to understand, even with both sides transmitting at the same time.

Suspended there, over terrain that looked like giant paper grocery bags crumpled everywhere, the talk turned to the Cirrus' famous Cirrus Aircraft Parachute System (CAPS).

"If you lost an engine here, would you pull the chute?" we asked Cirrus' Bergwall. After a few seconds he responded, "Definitely, yes." The ground below was teeming with tall pines and not a single stretch of open or otherwise flat land. The best you could do here would be to stall it into the trees. Maybe a broken back or leg would be the worst of it; maybe not. But the Cirrus opens a world of chances for you with the 'chute. Of course, it's not a substitute for proper flight planning nor an excuse for ignoring weather, but CAPS is unequivocally a lifesaver. "It has been deployed 33 times," noted Bergwall. "And when pulled within the design parameters, it saves lives."


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