Working under the code name “Project Kiwi,” Duluth, Minn.–based Cirrus Design has been laboring over the last 20 months in relative secrecy to certify its first FAA-approved Flight Into Known Icing (FIKI) system on its flagship aircraft, the SR22. Cirrus has significantly differentiated its product from that of its competitors with this newfound operational capability, which is commonly accepted as one of the more difficult aircraft certifications a manufacturer can receive.
At this writing, Cirrus has submitted all the paperwork to the FAA and is expecting certification any day, as the comment period with the FAA has concluded. When asked if Cirrus thought that there was any technical risk with the FAA approving its certification, the company’s answer was “no.” That being said, let’s dive into this innovative new product improvement.
Flying The Perspective
During my introduction to the new FIKI-approved SR22, I got to test-fly the aircraft and feel my way around the Perspective cockpit, codeveloped with Garmin. The particular aircraft I test-flew was equipped with the turbonormalized engine, which provides for constant manifold pressure throughout the climb, making engine management incredibly easy: The mixture is set once after takeoff to the desired fuel flow, and that’s it. As Ron Popeil would say, “Set it and forget it.” Hot and high performance is significantly improved with the turbonormalizer, as the Cirrus maintains an almost constant rate of climb up to roughly 15,000 feet. With the additional air being pumped into the cylinders, cruising at a maximum speed of 219 knots, the turbonormalizer-equipped plane is quite a hot rod.
The cockpit layout in the Perspective-equipped Cirrus is well thought out, allowing for easy access to both pilot information and cockpit controls. The new flight management system (FMS) keypad on the center console significantly improves the pilot’s ability to input information into the FMS. Its physical location, however, is a little inconvenient—the pilot must raise his or her resting hand to input data, which can be uncomfortable over extended periods of time for a complicated flight plan.
I wasn’t able to go out and find any icing conditions to test the new Cirrus’ capability—also, certification is still pending. I was, however, able to evaluate some of the features that make the Perspective so appealing. One of the first things any pilot will notice when sitting behind the controls of the Perspective is Garmin’s Synthetic Vision Technology (SVT), which provides a synthetic picture of the outside world on the PFD.
The amount of new information provided to the pilot by the addition of SVT is substantial: terrain, traffic, airports, ILSs, Highway in the Sky (HITS), you name it—it’s all in plain view of the pilot. For pilots operating in mountainous areas, the ability to see the rising terrain during night or instrument conditions is a huge bonus.
The Perspective offers icing-system status and alerts.
Icing protection has been added to the leading edges of the elevator tabs
The risk of one of aviation’s most common accidents, controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), should be significantly mitigated by this leap in technology.
The core to managing the system is understanding the GFC 700 autopilot and the FMS.
With an optional yaw damper to help for smoother rides in turbulence, the three-axis GFC 700 is, without question, one of the smoothest and most capable autopilots available.
|Windscreen icing protection is achieved by two nozzles in front of the windscreen.|
Of particular usefulness is the vertical navigation (VNAV) mode, which allows the operator to set predetermined altitudes at specific locations along a flight plan.
For example, if a clearance is given to cross 10 miles west of XYZ VOR on a descent, a simple input into the FMS, with an arming of the VNAV on the autopilot, will cause the aircraft to descend at the exact rate of descent, at the exact time necessary to cross the fix at the cleared altitude.
This is particularly useful in high-density areas when descending from high altitudes, which may be a pretty common occurrence with the SR22 Turbo’s ability to fly at 25,000 feet.
The handling qualities of the Cirrus are as gentle and responsive as they come. With its unique spring-loaded flight control system, it’s as if you control the SR22 by just thinking about it, without having to make large flight control inputs.
The Perspective cockpit significantly increases cockpit integration and makes information easy to find and use.
What’s New With The New FIKI Airplane?
Cirrus’ dive into the world of ice protection began years ago when it first introduced its noncertified TKS (or glycol-based) anti-icing system on the SR22. By virtue of certification requirements, Cirrus had to make a number of substantial technical changes to its design to achieve the proverbial nod from the FAA.
Going from nose to tail, elements of the ice-protection system can be seen sprinkled along the airframe. It starts up front on the propeller where a glycol slinger provides a path for the protective fluid to coat the leading edges of the three-bladed Hartzell propeller.
The new system is powered by two independent glycol pumps to pump fluid throughout the system, as opposed to one pump on the old system. On the old ice-protection system, dubbed “inadvertent ice protection,” the pilot windscreen was protected by glycol spray from the propeller. On the new system, two dedicated nozzles are a few inches in front of the windscreen, providing copious amounts of fluid to protect the windscreen when activated.
Inside the cockpit, the pilot now has a four-position switch to control the system: off, normal, high and max. On normal, the system provides up to 150 minutes of protection; on high mode, 75 minutes of protection; and max mode provides for 35 minutes of protection. Pilots are instructed to use visual cues to determine which flow rate should be used to protect the airframe. Essentially, if you turn the system on to normal while in icing conditions, and you still see ice on the wings, go to high. If high doesn’t remove the ice, go to max. If max doesn’t work, turn around and land.
Because the FIKI approval is only valid on Cirrus aircraft equipped with the Garmin Perspective, Cirrus worked with Garmin to provide the pilot with more information relating to the system’s operation through the MFD, located on the right side of the cockpit. Fluid level in each of the two glycol tanks, time remaining in each of the aforementioned modes, ice-protection range, and a number of alerts and alarms related to the anti-icing system are available on the MFD.
In front of the pilot doors, Cirrus installed new ice lights, which are as innovative as one can get for ice lights. As the tail is clearly visible from the cockpit, Cirrus’ engineers cleverly worked on a specially designed “prismatic” lens that would focus light not only on the leading edge of the wing, but also on the leading edge of the horizontal stabilizer for those choice ice encounters at night.
As part of Cirrus’ G3 airframe upgrade, which came in early 2008, the glycol tank and filler were moved from behind the baggage area to the wings. The new, larger glycol tanks that come with the certified version can now hold up to eight gallons of glycol fluid, whereas the old system could fit significantly less.
To protect the wings and tail from ice accumulation, the system uses titanium leading-edge strips, with laser-drilled holes to allow for seepage of the glycol fluid out and onto the wing surface. During developmental ice testing, Cirrus realized that the amount of surface area that needed protection on the leading edge of the old system wasn’t quite large enough to provide adequate protection for the certified version. As a result, the titanium leading-edge strips have been extended approximately one inch aft on both the upper and lower surfaces of the wing.
The empennage of the aircraft also saw a number of noticeable design changes to support certification. The vertical stabilizer is now protected, whereas it previously wasn’t. Beyond this feature, Cirrus has now added ice protection to the leading edges of the elevators on the outboard sections that are exposed to free-stream airflow.
Surprisingly, despite the additional equipment added to the new FIKI-approved aircraft, Cirrus successfully maintained a useful load similar to that of the noncertified version. A fully equipped SR22 Turbo with Perspective and air-conditioning has an approximate useful load of 900 pounds.
Due to the significant differences between the FIKI-approved aircraft and the previously installed system, there’s currently no retrofit solution available to bring the older aircraft up to certified status.
Knowing when and how to use ice protection has been a topic of confusion for general aviation. For aircraft with or without certified ice protection, there’s little to no training required for pilots operating in or around icing conditions.
Cirrus has taken a unique and, frankly, really smart step to help mitigate the amount of confusion while trying its best to ensure that pilots are trained before utilizing their icing system in actual conditions. As part of the certification of the FIKI-approved Cirrus, the company added a section to its POH that requires a pilot to have received icing-specific training prior to operating in icing conditions and mandates that pilots attend annual training to operate in FIKI conditions. Training is to be provided through a combination of online resources and a sign-off by a Cirrus instructor.
A Big Step In The Right Direction
Cirrus’ work toward bringing to life a certified FIKI system is a tremendous step in the right direction for not only Cirrus, but also general aviation as a whole. FIKI approval significantly increases the viability and safety of personal aviation in single-engine, piston-powered aircraft. Cirrus’ move will likely force its competitors to look long and hard at providing a comparable certified system, which, in the end, is good for the industry.
|Meet Brent Wouters, Cirrus' New CEO|
As part of my introduction to the new FIKI-approved Cirrus SR22, I sat down with newly crowned Cirrus CEO Brent Wouters.
Wouters originally joined Cirrus back in 2002 as the chief financial officer; in 2008, he was named president and chief operating officer. On February 1, 2009, Wouters took over as CEO, replacing Cirrus cofounder Alan Klapmeier, who now serves as the chairman of the board of directors and as an industry ambassador.
Though he originally joined the company in a finance capacity, Wouters has had a broad and diverse exposure to aviation, from the ground up. As reported on Cirrus’ corporate website, Wouters holds an M.B.A. from Georgia State University, an M.S. in aerospace engineering from Iowa State University, and a B.A. in math and physics from Iowa’s Graceland University. As an FAA-rated pilot, Wouters can not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk.
He has also worked as an aircraft and flight-simulator engineer at Delta Air Lines and has worked with Lockheed Martin in overseeing proprietary software design as a technology consultant for Andersen Consulting.
“When I worked at Salomon Smith Barney as an equity analyst, I saw thousands of business models…learned a lot about business there. [I] learned what works and what doesn’t, from the capital structure and operations of their business.”
At this writing, Wouters had been at the controls of Cirrus for approximately two months, and when asked if any specific changes in strategy or tactics have been put in place, he responded, “We as an industry, and we as Cirrus, need to make changes in the way we approach the customer. We are a transportation company, not just a cool product company, and we need to make [the product] more available to the user…change the business model to expand the availability of personal aviation to a broader market.
“We need to take lessons learned from air taxi, fractional and whole aircraft sales that can make this a recurring business. Additionally, we absolutely need to change the cash-flow dynamics and increase the size of available market that can fly. The business model needs to change.”
Just prior to Cirrus naming Wouters as CEO, the company was going through some pretty difficult times. In September 2008, Cirrus had as many as 100 “white tails” (built aircraft that didn’t have a specific customer attached to them) sitting on the ramp in Duluth.
One of Wouters’ first changes at Cirrus was implementing a demand-based production model. “No more of this building 14 planes a week and hoping people will come,” said Wouters. Currently, there sit less than 10 aircraft. The reduction in Cirrus’ inventory is largely a result of Wouters’ efforts.
In what can be a touchy topic to discuss, Wouters’ replacement of Alan Klapmeier is the subject of current intrigue. When asked about the Klapmeiers’ pullback from daily operations at Cirrus, Wouters said, “Both Dale and Alan are still active in the company, and are helping set the path for future product improvement. In addition to his role as chairman, Alan is still and will likely always be Cirrus’ ambassador to the world.”
In response to questioning related to the company’s finances, Wouters responded, “We were very aggressive in taking cost out of the system. We had to do several painful tranches [furloughs, layoffs, efficiency improvements] and we were and are very aggressive in removing cost. All that being said, we’re very fortunate to have a strong capital partner based in Atlanta [Arcapita, Cirrus’ principal investor].”
Wouters personally has a strong relationship with the principals at Arcapita: They introduced Wouters and Cirrus to each other back in 2002.
“I’m very hard-headed, and the last thing I want to do is go ask for money,” says Wouters. He has worked hard to try implementing a strategy to protect pricing in this economic down cycle. “We have zeroed in on the supply side and are actively working on pricing integrity. We’re in a better position today than we were in September. Debt is lower, the balance sheet is stronger, costs are lower, and inventory is down.”
In all, it appears that Cirrus has a very capable captain at the controls. Wouters is realistic about the tough climate general aviation is living in, and is aggressive in doing whatever he can to keep the company moving forward.