Cirrus Aircraft and Plane & Pilot launch on an air-to-air photo flight of the 2011 Limited Commemorative Edition SR22T and the Vision SF50 jet.Video by Ron Mohrhoff.
In recognition of the company’s 10th anniversary, Cirrus produced 10 Limited Commemorative Edition SR22Ts.
It’s hard to believe it has been 10 years since Cirrus launched the SR22. It’s doubtful that many people had any idea that, from its humble beginnings in 1984, the company that brothers Alan and Dale Klapmeier built would produce what would become the world’s best-selling single-engine piston aircraft. The SR22 has been so successful that, since its debut in 2001, it has maintained that position through the decade. Cirrus is celebrating those 10 years of innovation with the launch of their Limited Commemorative Edition SR22T, which we got to fly on a recent sunny afternoon in Orange County, Calif.
No mention of Cirrus aircraft can be made without speaking of technical innovation. Cirrus changed the game when they introduced the SR20—which was certified by the FAA in 1998—and then raised the bar even further when they unveiled the SR22 a scant two years later. The new Limited Edition SR22T takes the hallmark of the Cirrus brand—unique engineering—and refines it even more. We thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at the new SR22T in the context of the innovations Cirrus has brought to the market.
My partner in this quest is Ken Goble, Cirrus’ Regional Sales Director for Southern California and veteran demo pilot. With thousands of hours in the SR22T, he knows the nuances and character of this airplane better than anybody. The first thing I notice—and what nearly every pilot notices when first settling into the Cirrus—is the space. Cirrus pioneered this roomy cabin, starting their design with the idea of a sphere instead of a rectangle. Goble explains that passengers feel much more comfortable in the auto-like interior. “Sit in the back,” he implores. As I do and he moves his seat all the way back, I brace for the “knee crunch.” But as his seat comes to its full-back position, I have room to spare— lots and lots of room.
The Perspective avionics system features synthetic vision as well as an infrared Enhanced Vision System. Reminiscent of a high-end sports car, the red, white and black leather interior, with a leather side stick, is special for the limited-edition model.
The Limited Edition ratchets up the comfort factor with its use of a charcoal headliner and interior. The SR22T’s amphitheater visibility makes the whole interior calm and airy. The contrast of dark and light gives the effect of a naturally lit gallery. Add the all-leather seats, the leather stick grip on this edition and the composite material components throughout the cabin, and it feels like a luxury automobile. Passengers—especially neophyte fliers—instantly feel at home. “It eliminates the claustrophobia typical of lots of other airplanes,” adds Goble.
The Limited Edition SR22T also boasts air conditioning, which further civilizes the flying experience. Following Cirrus’ considerable commitment to safety, shoulder harnesses have built-in airbags, and the roomy cabin belies the fact that it’s built as a roll cage to further protect occupants in up to a 3 G rollover. Of course, the CAPS (Cirrus Aircraft Parachute System) stands ready to bring the aircraft safely back to earth with the pull of a handle.
Walking around the airplane, Goble shows me other refinements that include the Cirrus wing. The wing features a discontinuous leading edge that visibly divides the wing into inner and outer sections. NASA research originated the design that works by varying angle of attack: The outboard section of the Cirrus wing flies with a lower angle of attack than the inboard section. When the inboard section—which produces much of the lift—stalls, the outboard section keeps flying, allowing aileron control throughout the stall.
Goble also explains that the SR22T’s TKS-based ice protection allows the airplane to be certified for flight into known icing conditions (FIKI). This added milestone in Cirrus’ vast collection of innovations adds even more utility to an airplane that’s already known to be a great cross-country machine. The FIKI modifications on this new SR22T are more than just the “weeping-wing” anti-ice system. When activated, the FIKI system coats all the flight surfaces, including the vertical stabilizer and elevator tips. The system incorporates ice lights that illuminate wing surfaces in low light, windscreen nozzles to assure the pilot an ice-free view on approach, backup pumps and filters, and a range and endurance display on the MFD. The FIKI system provides 150 minutes of endurance at normal flow, 75 minutes at “high,” and a new “max” rate of 37.5 minutes at maximum secretion for very heavy buildup.
|What It’s Like To Fly The Cirrus Vision Jet
Chief test pilot Mike Stevens tells us why he has the best job in the world
| With all eyes on Cirrus’ SF50 Vision jet, the first question that comes to mind is, “What’s it like to fly?” Because Cirrus has established a reputation for innovation and engineering milestones, pilots are anxious to know what developments this personal jet will bring to the industry. At marketing events across the country this year, Cirrus let pilots get up close and personal with the SF50, and performed several drool-inducing fly-bys for all to see. We sat down with Mike Stevens, Chief Test Pilot for Cirrus, to get a firsthand feel for what it’s like to fly this impressive V-tailed beauty.
Q: How long have you been flying this prototype jet?
Q: How different is the Vision jet from other Cirrus products?
Q: What about comfort?
Q: Is the Vision jet complicated to start or to handle on the ground?
Q: Take me through a typical takeoff and climb.
Q: Once at cruise, is the airplane docile?
Q: Is it easy to land?
Q: Overall, it sounds like most pilots could handle it?
Any pilot stepping into the SR22T cockpit can’t help but be impressed by the gorgeous panel and the avionics capability of this airplane, with features even modern airliners lack. First off, the Perspective by Garmin has the new, larger 12-inch displays. Anybody familiar with Garmin’s G1000 will feel at home quickly, and pilots accustomed to “glass” displays pick up the Perspective without issue. Though an entire article could be written about the Perspective system, one very useful feature is the “Go-around.” There’s a small button under the left side of the throttle T-handle, and when activated, the autopilot automatically pitches the airplane up for the go-around and sequences the FMS for the missed-approach procedure. A vertical navigation feature on the autopilot lets the airplane figure out when to start your descent, marking the top of your descent on the MFD.
The SR22T features Garmin’s Synthetic Vision to create a three-dimensional view of the world outside the airplane on the pilot’s PFD. The SVT includes terrain warning, traffic indicators, flight-path markers, runways and airport signs, and Garmin’s cool “highway in the sky” feature that makes flying the airplane almost like a video game. Just steer the airplane “through” the magenta boxes depicted on the PFD, and you’re where you need to be. This version even has a guide for turns, so you control your pitch to match the yellow line depicted on the PFD, and you get a level, controlled turn every time.
The infrared Enhanced Vision System is really cool if you’ve never used it (and most of us haven’t). With infrared technology pioneered by the military, sensors on the airplane allow the pilot to see the world at night or in low visibility. It gives pilots a real-time unobstructed view of terrain, airport surfaces and everything around the airplane. Think of it as X-ray vision for pilots. Perspective puts it on the MFD, so combined with all the information on the PFD, there aren’t too many low-visibility or night situations that would prevent normal operations. Playing with the system gets your mind racing at the possibilities.
Once started and taxiing, the SR22T behaves like all the Cirrus products, with a castering nosewheel that makes ground-maneuvering a piece of cake. Inside noise levels are low, and with the addition of ANR headsets (ideally suited to this airplane), normal conversations can take place all the way up through cruise just as if you were in your car. Takeoff in the Cirrus is done with partial flaps, and rotation comes quickly.
Control pressures are firm, and I used lots of trim to keep the forces balanced. Though I wouldn’t consider the SR22T to be nimble, it maneuvers very well, but the stick forces are moderate. I hand-flew the climb to get to know the airplane, and I felt comfortable at once. We switched to the autopilot while Goble showed me features of the Perspective, including the engine screen with its plethora of information.
With the turbocharged TCM TSIO-550K in the Special Edition SR22T, we were turning 315 hp, and it was smooth and quiet. Goble showed how to set up the performance so it becomes a single-lever operation once set. It makes leaning a snap and, like other Cirrus innovations, makes the workload lighter.
We took the opportunity to do some air work including stalls; they’re as non-eventful as the literature suggests. Aileron control, thanks to the “cuffed” wing, is always present, and the airplane is completely docile. Goble took the time to show me a new feature in the SR22T—Electronic Stability And Protection (ESP). He had me crank in a steep turn to 60 degrees. Just as the airplane passed 45 degrees, the ESP system kicked in, gently nudging the aircraft back to level! It functions independent of the autopilot, and is designed to prevent overspeeds, inadvertent stalls and other hazardous deviations from stable flight. The system can be turned off or overridden. It’s evident that it would be difficult for pilots to get in trouble in this airplane because of the safety innovations.
Since part of our flying day included a photo mission with both the new SR22T and SF50 Vision jet, I got to experience flying side by side with the V-tailed beauty. Our SR22 pilot for the mission was Jens Hoepfel, one of only three test pilots on the SF50. Though Hoepfel had told me that the jet’s speeds were very similar to the SR22T, it was remarkable to look out the window and see the jet in formation with us at near-cruise speeds. It’s a testament to the SR22 that we flew the jet’s wing for quite a while without even pushing the airplane hard. One gets a sense of the lineage of both machines, and it’s not hard to imagine the SR22 as merely a stepping stone to the Vision jet. Another odd sensation was that we could barely hear the jet, even just off our wing. Cirrus has seemingly perfected quiet operations.
Back in the pattern and after a beautiful flight along the shoreline, I came away with the impression that this is truly a cross-country airplane. It can fulfill many roles—including trainer—but it seems to really hit its stride when going from Point A to Point B. I can imagine nonflying passengers being completely at home in this airplane, with its automotive refinements, ample cockpit space and comfort features. Pilots will love its safety enhancements, and it’s there that the true nature of the airplane is revealed.
The SR22T is wildly successful because it appeals to those who use aviation as a tool—for business or for pleasure. The SR22T—and especially this Limited Edition model with every bell and whistle that Cirrus offers—is an airplane that can help steer aviation from a highly specialized pastime for an elite few, to a universally appealing activity that can realistically replace the arduous world of airline travel for those who can afford it. Combining safety and innovation, the SR22T is a game changer in the industry. Here’s to what’s coming next for Cirrus.
Vision Jet: What’s Next?
|Now that potential buyers have seen the SF50 Vision jet in action, they want to know, “What happens next?” Since teasing the public with the announcement of the Vision jet in 2008, Cirrus’ development of the single-engine personal jet has been rocky. According to Cirrus CEO, Brent Wouters, Cirrus has spent about $60 million on the single-engine Vision jet so far, but will need at least another $140 million to get the jet certified. Until the last few months, when Cirrus has begun flying the SF50 at special Cirrus “events,” the question remained about the future of the gorgeous V-tailed jet.
But 2011 has already been a big year for the SF50. The latest progress on the airplane is mostly design based, with many improvements outlined by Paul Brey, Cirrus’ VP of Product Development. According to Brey, Cirrus’ Vision jet team has been conducting an average of 2½ test flights per week on the SF50. The biggest news is that full testing is now underway with the CAPS (Cirrus Airframe Parachute System). Whereas August of last year only saw scale-parachute testing, 2011 will see the start of full-scale testing.
Extensive wing redesigns have been done, and the result is a nine-knot increase in speed. Plans are in place to increase the length of the ailerons to improve cross-wind handling and roll performance, to redesign the wingtips, and to increase the chord in the trim tab.
SF50 Chief Engineer, Dave Rathbun, outlined progress in the anti-ice area of the jet. In addition to modifying the ice-protection fluid nozzle, ice protection for the engine inlet and windscreen are being looked at and implemented. A new flap configuration is ready, and Cirrus will be doing pressurization tests of the fuselage and clam-shell doors (the flight-test aircraft doesn’t have the clam-shell doors). Keen observers have seen a blue-and-red tube assembly sticking out near the SF50’s nose. This
The big news with Cirrus, of course, is the planned sale of the company to China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Company (CAIGA). That deal—which is currently being approved—was partially made to infuse the Vision jet program with badly needed capital. Since 2001, Cirrus has been majority-owned by a Bahraini investment firm, Arcapita, which raises most of its capital from countries in the Gulf region. According to Wouters, the planned buyout will help speed certification of the jet, with three to six months needed to close the Chinese deal, and another three years to get the SF50 certified.
For now, Cirrus says the jet would be built at the company’s main facilities in Duluth, Minn., where some 375 local workers are employed. Since the acquisition by the Chinese company, fears have grown that some of those jobs would move to China, though Cirrus Chairman Dale Klapmeier says, “That’s just not going to happen.”
The Chinese company is committed to the SF50, and they—as well as Klapmeier—foresee an entire line of Cirrus aircraft including a trainer, a six-seater and something to bridge the gap between the SR22 and the SF50. For now, the SF50 is moving along briskly, with some 430 deposits on the Vision jet, according to Wouters. Deposits on the Vision jet are $50,000, with a starting price for the SF50 of $1.72 million.