Downscaling an existing model isn’t a new trick. Piper has done it a number of times with the Cherokee 140 and Warrior. Maule offered a less powerful, nosewheel trainer version of its M7 bush bird taildragger. SOCATA continues to produce an entry-level model in the Tampico, essentially the same airplane as the Trinidad sans retractable gear and constant-speed prop, and with 90 less hp.
So why not, reasoned the management team at Cirrus, offer a simpler, trainer model of the company’s popular, composite SR20 four-seat single? Excluding the only two-seat trainers still available, Diamond’s C1 and American Champion’s Aurora, the three most popular trainers on the market continue to be the 160-hp and 180-hp Cessna Skyhawks and the New Piper Warrior. All three latter models are conventional 2+2 designs readily adaptable to training mode and popular with schools such as UND, Embry-Riddle and other aviation academies.
Cirrus was convinced its entry-level airplane could fulfill the basic training mission and do it with considerably more performance than the other three models. Since introduction of the SR20 in late 1998, Cirrus has sold some 300 of the type, competing primarily with the Cessna Skylane and, to a lesser extent, the Commander 115 and Piper Arrow. In the same time period, Cessna sold some 900 normally aspirated and turbocharged 182s, so while Cirrus has definitely made a dent in Cessna sales, the world’s largest producer of aircraft continues to lead the industry.
Meanwhile, the follow-on, more powerful SR22 has become by far Cirrus’ most popular airplane, competing favorably with the Mooney Ovation, Raytheon Bonanzas and the Lancair Columbia 300. Last summer, Cirrus celebrated production of its 1,000th airplane, and nearly 700 of those were SR22s. Nevertheless, the first Cirus Design entry continues to make friends among new pilots and old aviators alike.
Even in standard trim, however, the basic SR20 was too much airplane for the training mission. The price disparity was at least $30,000 between the Cirrus and the Piper/Cessna basic four-seaters, and in the under-$200,000 class, that was a huge gap. Flight schools often succeed or fail on their rental rates, and no matter what its talents, the SR20’s higher sticker price guaranteed it had little chance to compete.
That’s not to suggest the elevated tab wasn’t without its justifications. After all, the SR20 was one of the most revolutionary airplanes to come along in the century since man taught wood, fabric and metal to fly. It was one of the first successful certified, all-composite machines, constructed of Scotchply SP381, a material specifically developed for Cirrus by 3M. SP381 produces a remarkably smooth surface, perfectly suited for airfoils, without the parasite drag associated with rivet heads or section lines. Scotchply isn’t as heat-sensitive or subject to embrittlement as previous materials, but it’s more than coincidence that most Cirrus airplanes are painted white with minimum striping.
Performance numbers for the standard SR20 also were in a different class, and the standard avionics package was notably more talented than that of the competition. At max cruise power, the SR20 ripped along at least 30 knots quicker than the fastest of the other three. Climb was 25 percent better than the pack, and service ceiling topped out a minimum of 3,500 feet higher than the Piper and Cessna entries.
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