You know you're not in for any surprises when flying a Cirrus. The manufacturer, after all, places a premium on creating a standard feel for its products and a consistent "experience" for its customers. It's understood the big changes are unveiled in its "Generation" advances, like the G5 series introduced in 2013 that, among other big developments, brought a 200-pound increase in useful load to the composite single. But while the annual upgrade surprises are smaller, in aggregate, they can make a big impact; Cirrus pays as close attention to introducing meaningful enhancements and options as any automaker in Detroit.
So it's no surprise we were eager to see what was new when Cirrus Aircraft invited us to experience a 2015 SR22 during its public debut at the Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In Expo at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport (KLAL) in April. We met Ivy McIver, Cirrus' SR (Single, Reciprocating) Product Line Manager, at Plant City Airport (KPCM), eight nm west of Lakeland, where the company based N974KS, an SR22T GTS Platinum edition, during the show.
A Cirrus Of A Different Color
We had already noticed one of the 2015 model year's enhancements back at LAL, where the new Cirrus aircraft on display at the company's exhibition area sported an unexpected range of colors. That's the result, McIver said, of technologies introduced by the company's new paint vendor, Sherwin-Williams, whose aerospace coatings now allow customers a much wider color palette. Concerns about the impact of heat on the underlying structures have typically limited composite aircraft to basic white livery, but with the new paint, even black is a Cirrus color option in 2015.
"GTS" is the company's premium equipment package. The customized outfitting incorporates offerings from the company's Premium Select options (tinted rear windows, polished spinner, leather interior, for example); Perspective Plus (including Yaw damper, Perspective Enhanced Vision System (EVS), second Air Data Computer); and Perspective Alerts Awareness & Assistance (Active Traffic Information, eTAWS and Jeppesen's ChartView); along with standard GTS upgrades including FIKI capability. For 2015, Cirrus has added features to the GTS package, including UV-protected windows and a four-in-one digital standby instrument.
The 2015 Cirrus offers an expanded palate of exterior paint colors, significant enhancements to the software driving the Perspective By Garmin panel and digital standby instruments.
"Platinum" is the aesthetic scheme (new for 2015), which features a single accent color coming off the tail, narrowing on the side of the fuselage. The Platinum scheme on the demo aircraft featured swaths of gray with sparkling, metallic-looking accents that were relatively cool to the touch despite the strong afternoon sun.
The "T" in SR22T stands for turbocharged, of course, for its twin turbocharged 315 hp Continental TSIO-550-K engine that delivers full power up to the T's 25,000-foot service ceiling.
Hidden Treasures And Familiar Pleasures
During the preflight, McIver acknowledged that aside from the new colors, not much from the outside identifies new aircraft as 2015 models. "Most of the enhancements are inside the airplane," she said. A few are visible before engine start. The glove box in the center console now has four USB charging ports—two for front and two for rear-seat occupants. The panel features a digital four-in-one standby instrument, making this what Cirrus calls "a truly all-digital cockpit." The display has two screens, one with an attitude indicator, the other displaying airspeed, altitude, and slip and skid information, all presented with the same graphics used on the Cirrus Perspective by Garmin. "That's great from a safety standpoint," McIver pointed out. "You go from looking at information on the PFD, and it's the same format on the standby."
Interior comfort, style and appearance have always been important to Cirrus and its customers, and for 2015, the company has also enhanced the choices available in its Xi program, through which customers can work directly with the Cirrus Design Team at the company's Duluth headquarters to custom-tailor their aircraft, from creating the paint scheme and exterior graphics to specifying items including the grain and stitching of the leather, panel trim inserts, finish on metal hardware and inclusion of family crest or other insignia on the interior. Only about five percent of customers take advantage of the program, but McIver noted it has "pushed the limits of what we do on our standard line," yielding the luxurious yet functional appointments found in all SR22s today. So while looking for what's new in the latest model, it's perfectly understandable if you take a moment to appreciate the comfort and pilot-friendly touches that have long helped distinguish the brand.
We settled into the leather seats. The semi-gull wing doors, closing gently on their piston arms, latched shut with automobile-like authority. A good-sized passenger along for the ride had plenty of legroom in the back. It felt like being in a luxury automobile. The pilot-centric panel has two 12-inch screens and not much else. Panel switches are set before the pilot on a shelf created by the inward cant of the display screens, the digital standby gauges below. The avionics and systems stack extends from the bottom of the panel to the top of the pedestal dividing the forward seats, fronted by the power quadrant with single-lever throttle. The stack includes a GMA 350 all-digital audio panel, keyboard controller and dual WAAS GPS Comm/Nav radio—nothing like the original SR22's, but the cockpit layout is the same.
Cirrus creates meaningful annual upgrade packages that keep the classic SR22 platform ever advancing.
But we had come to see what was different. Most of the enhancements are software upgrades that boost the aircraft's capabilities and safety, which can only be appreciated in flight. None of the new features affect basic engine start or boot-up of the Cirrus Perspective by Garmin panel, so in short order, we were taxiing to runway 10 for a northbound departure. Plant City is a popular staging area for demonstration flights and a destination airport for many Sun 'n Fun attendees, and the ramp can be crowded. Getting to the taxiway served to remind how nimble the Cirrus is on the ground, the castering nosewheel pretty much capable of turning the airplane 360 degrees on a point.
Not much has changed about the handling of the SR22 since its introduction in 2000. During this same SnF, I flew a 2003 model—essentially a G1, though they weren't called that—and the two felt remarkably similar, albeit the equipment and comfort were substantially different.
For takeoff, flaps are set to half, and power is advanced to full throttle on a five count, right rudder eased in and liftoff is at 75 knots. If you haven't flown a side stick for a while, or ever, it may be about now that you're realizing how intuitive it feels.
Inhabiting Protected Airspace
We headed north for some open airspace away from SnF's airshow TFR and surrounding traffic. Active Traffic Information displayed the occasional target, and aural alerts reported the position of conflicts. Given the range of improvements and the type of flying we were doing, many enhancements would go undemonstrated, and McIver reviewed some of them en route.
The EVS can be displayed in user-selected screen formats, and had this been night, we could have seen virtually all the ground details observed in daylight, along with heat signatures invisible to the naked eye.
The updated Cirrus Perspective software allows creation of user-defined waypoints, and in a first for a single-engine aircraft, Baro VNAV approaches, encompassing some 1,900 airports worldwide. Most of the airports are in parts of the world without a Space-Based Augmentation System (SBAS), where a VNAV approach would otherwise be unavailable. Only 20 airports in the U.S. are covered, McIver said, obviated by the U.S.'s SBAS: WAAS. We wouldn't be calling anyone via SAT phone today or listening to our individual choices in XM radio channels, all accessible via the FMS, either.
Unseen enhancements aside, on this short flight at 3,500 feet, we'd also miss the world-class performance the turbocharged SR22T delivers. "I tell customers they can maintain a 1,000-foot-per-minute climb up to 25,000 feet," McIver said. The high-speed cruise setting of 30.5-inch manifold pressure and 2,500 rpm produces 185 knots. TAS at 10,000 feet, and 211 knots at 25,000 feet, with an 18.3 gph fuel burn.
Performance, comfort and style notwithstanding, safety has always been the top priority at Cirrus, as the pull handle for the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) jutting from the cabin roof attests. Many new features fall within this category. Among them: CAPS deployment itself now automatically triggers the aircraft's Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT).
Of more widespread benefit are new capabilities added to Garmin's Electronic Stability & Protection (ESP) system. Hypoxia check and automated descent mode has been added to the system. A blue "level" button now resides in the center of the GFC 700 autopilot, provid-ing instant recovery from any unusual attitude. Simply press the button, and the autopilot levels the wings and holds the current altitude.
ESP also has a safety mode activated whenever the Garmin GFC 700 autopilot is disengaged—that is, when you're hand flying. It's designed to prevent and recover from unusual attitudes that can result in a stall, and utilizes the autopilot's sensors and servos. For 2015, ESP has added low-speed protection, joining the system's overspeed and overbanking protection. The latter caught me by surprise while performing a turn, leaving me to wonder momentarily how the control forces had become so heavy.
"The plane isn't happy if you're over 45 degrees. It's trying to keep you in a comfortable and safe envelope," McIver explained. Bank more than that to the right or left, and the side stick begins exerting opposite pressure that increases along with the angle of bank. It takes aggressive inputs to countermand the system's unhappiness. (The protection deactivates at 500 feet AGL so it doesn't interfere with landings.)
ESP's high- and low-speed response is even more emphatic. McIver pulled the nose up to demonstrate the new protection feature. As airspeed bled off toward a stall, the female aural alert voice announced, "Airspeed, airspeed," and pushed the nose down to a safe climb angle, resisting her efforts to keep the nose up. The message "Underspeed protection" appeared on the PFD. Pitching the nose down and approaching the yellow arc provoked an analogous overspeed corrective action.
However, ESP can be turned off via Garmin's Aux page, though it's the Perspective's default setting and will be poised to step in each time the system boots up. Fly with the system disengaged and the flight characteristics prove ESP is designed to protect you from yourself, rather than the airplane. Unbound from ESP's limits, 4KS changed from doting guardian to a stable playmate that didn't mind getting yanked around in 60-degree bank. And if you do get into a stall, the airplane isn't looking for an opportunity to bite. Instead, 4KS mushed its way straight ahead, stalled in both landing and clean configurations.
An Advanced Forecast
With its safety features being showcased on a sunny day over pancake-flat land, one could almost see the airplane behaving as an overprotective parent, but a machine with these capabilities and pilots who fly them are going to encounter challenging situations where any one of these or future enhancements could be a lifesaver. Less than a week before, McIver herself had spent a day at 15,000 feet in 4KS avoiding ice and thunderstorms on the way to Sun 'n Fun from Duluth, and related how the optional lighting detection capability had made the trip possible.
Turning back toward Plant City—dutifully keeping the bank to 30 degrees—it was impossible not to be impressed with the demonstration of continuous improvement the 2015 Cirrus SR22T represents or wonder out loud what's coming next. McIver flashed a Cheshire grin. "I can tell you we constantly have a hangar full of secret squirrel things going on," she said. "We are always exploring new technologies and looking for cool stuff to do."
No surprise there.