Wow, now that’s a lot of trees. I’m 9,500 feet over the Amazon rain forest, and the only thing I see from horizon to horizon is a bumpy carpet that’s toned British-racing green. A couple days ago, I set off from the Cirrus plant in Duluth, Minn., for what was then a distant port, pointing the nose of this spanking-new Cirrus SR22-G3 south and saying to myself, as I climbed to my initial cruise altitude, “São Paulo or bust.”
Now, I feel like I’m in the home stretch, even though I’ve still got more than a day’s flying before I alight at Jundiaí airport, on the outskirts of São Paulo. In the meantime, I’m scooting along grooving to “The Girl from Ipanema” by Stan Getz, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Astrud Gilberto.
“She’s tall and tan and young and lovely…and when she passes, each one she passes goes ahh.” This SR22 I’m flying? She’s a Brazilian girl now, and she’s hot.
But it’s not just tan women in skimpy suits on the famous beach at Ipanema in Rio that turn heads—the SR22 has been doing that since its first customer delivery in 2001. Since then, she’s promenaded through two phases of evolutionary development, resulting in the recently introduced G3, which incorporates nearly 700 changes from the previous G2. At Cirrus Design, Darwin seems quite busy.
I first flew this newest evolution of the Cirrus SR22 in the spring of ’07, and I was immediately impressed with the G3’s improved handling characteristics. The plane was already fun to fly, but with the removal of the aileron/rudder interconnect, it’s even more a pilot’s (as opposed to an autopilot’s) airplane.
The comfort I’ve come to expect in the Cirrus was also there, but the fit, finish and cabin accoutrement are further refined from the G2 to a level more commensurate to what one would expect in an aircraft at this price point. It’s funny still, how interiors in aircraft of this class are usually compared to a Lexus or BMW. I sometimes wonder why all the exotic wood veneers, precious metals and bespoke finishing in the luxurious interiors of a Bentley or Maybach don’t trickle across to high-end piston aircraft. After all, they cost about the same.
Nevertheless, during this long flight to São Paulo (where, door to door, I’ll be clocking about 35 hours onto the Hobbs meter), I’m concerned less about the exotic woods not available for the Cirrus interior and more with keeping the 310 hp Continental IO-550N happy and well-fed, for it’s all that stands between me and the exotic woods in the dense rain forest below. In the 600-or-so hours that I’ve spent at the helm of various Cirri, I like to think I have a pretty good operating flow down, but for this flight, I’ve expanded that flow to include ensuring that my machete, folding knife and bottled water are within easy reach or eyeshot. Running my finger along the machete’s blade, I’m reminded of the memorable line Crocodile Dundee says while being mugged in New York, “That’s not a knife… Now that’s a knife.”
It’s hard to visualize how big the Amazon region of Brazil really is, and how far apart airports are, until one sees for oneself. The Amazon is the largest forest in the world, and from where I’m sitting, I believe it. It’s so big, and I’m so far from any real airport or suitable landing site, I really appreciate the G3’s extra 11 gallons of useful fuel, which brings our steed’s total to 92 useable. I already appreciated having more gas with all the overwater flying we had done just to get this far. Shortly after getting my license in the New York City area, I had thought of overwater flying as a roughly four-mile crossing of the Long Island Sound to Connecticut, or heading east from Hyannis, Mass., to either Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket. Bah! That’s nothing! At one point yesterday, we were 70 miles off the coast of Puerto Rico with not a sliver of sand in sight. Alternate airports? That’s funny.
|Attention! Parachute inside|
Now, as I’m looking down at the crowded rain-forest canopy, I’m trying to figure out if it would be better to ditch out in the Atlantic—of course, we had a four-person life raft on board—or to try to put it down in the middle of a forest populated with I don’t know what. I had already decided that if anything bad happened over the trees, I’d pop the chute, still standard on all Cirrus aircraft. At least then, rescuers and indigenous people could easily locate the spot where I became dinner to a jaguar or anaconda. All the more reason to keep our new, flat-6 Continental purring like a kitten, er, I mean, jaguar.
On this leg, from Manaus, the capital of the Amazon state, to (depending on weather and time) either Alta Floresta, Sinop, or Barra do Garças, having that additional fuel adds exponentially to your peace of mind, and to your options. Indeed, 262 miles south of Manaus, we changed our destination to SBBW, Barra do Garças, 1,027 miles south of Manaus. In the G1 and G2, where I’d run “best economy,” and cap flights at five hours plus reserve, this would have been impossible. Flight time on this leg will now total about six hours, upon which the computers say we’ll land with 16 gallons of fuel—definitely within my comfort zone, though I’ll desperately need to stretch my legs and hit the toalete (you figure it out).
The whys and hows of the extra fuel are thus. Many of the changes to the G3 models have been to the wing and related structure and components, resulting in an aircraft that, to some, looks a bit more substantial and aggressive. I feel it’s got a bit more ramp presence, and we all want that. Though the wing’s planform and span remain unchanged, the internal structure of the wing, which now sports a stiffer, carbon-fiber spar, has been significantly altered. The spar is also longer and lighter, so the wing itself is actually longer and the wing tips are shorter, which translates into more space for gas. In the new wing, dihedral has been cinched up from 4.5 to 5.5 degrees. This increase in dihedral enhanced the SR22’s lateral stability, allowing Cirrus to remove the aileron/rudder interconnect, providing pilots with a more harmonized control feel and improving takeoff manners. In earlier-model Cirrus aircraft, unless a pilot held aileron against the rudder during takeoff, a wing would usually dip briefly upon rotation. This is no more. And ground handling has improved, with rudder forces required during taxi being noticeably lighter.
With the uptick in dihedral, there’s also more wing in the pilot’s peripheral vision. But it’s not just the wingtips that are higher, as the G3 is two inches taller nose to tail. Most of this is because the main gear attach points were moved inboard and reengineered to give the aircraft more ground clearance. What this means to you and me is that the G3 will turn tighter, and there’s less chance of a prop or tail strike.
Yesterday, we began our day in St. Maarten, a little Dutch and French oasis in the Caribbean, and after a brief fuel stop in Grenada, we made landfall over Guyana, crossed the corner of a seemingly verdant Venezuela, and landed for a top-off and to clear customs in Boa Vista, Brazil, three degrees north of the equator, and boy, was it hot! It’s true what they say about the equator—I was schvitzing, as we say in Brooklyn.
The Cirrus G3 is available in two flavors: turbonormalized and normally aspirated. The plane I’m flying to Brazil isn’t a turbo, and the only turbo-related change to the G3 from the G2 is that air-conditioning is now also available on turbo G3s. (It wasn’t on turbo G2s.) The only problem for me right now is that the nonturbo model I’m flying also doesn’t have A/C. (What was the owner thinking?!) Although ventilation has been reworked on the new G3s, and air travels through the system more efficiently, it’s hot in here. And climbing to altitude barely provided any relief. I took these numbers right as we crossed from north to south latitude. At N 00°00.00’ (How often do we see that?), we were cruising at 7,500 feet (after an easy 1,000 fpm climb to keep engine temps in order), clipping along at 181 knots true and burning 18.4 gph best power, with the engine putting out 73% and 2,530 rpm. I later found a sweet spot on this plane at 2,600 rpm, which worked out to 184 knots true. Outside at this altitude, it was 16 degrees C. I wished I could open a window. With the G3, it seems cruise and climb performance are largely unchanged.
One thing we didn’t need on this flight was TKS ice protection, not when it’s almost 65 degrees F at altitude, and the plane we were flying didn’t even have it installed. Turns out most Cirri bound for tropical Brazil don’t. TKS is an alcohol-based anti-ice system that delivers Glycol anti-ice fluid through porous titanium panels on the wing’s leading edges and through a slinger at the prop. In some installations, this system is approved for flight into known icing conditions. In the Cirrus, it’s an effective tool to escape an inadvertent icing encounter. I’ve used it a few times in anger in light icing, and it performed as advertised.
Brazil-bound planes also lack XM Satellite Radio and Weather because there’s no coverage outside the States. At least we had my iPod and the auxiliary audio input in the center glove compartment. Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66 never sounded so good. Because I’m usually flying around the States, I’ve become so accustomed to having XM Weather that I’m completely spoiled and feel it’s not nice to have, it’s must-have. I really missed it on the first two legs from Duluth, Minn., to London, Ky., and from there to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. I don’t remember how many times I called Flight Watch on those segments, but with weather systems flanking our route south and the lack of onboard weather information, calling Chicago radio felt pretty old-school. And to top that, this morning in Manaus, it was pouring and the Internet was down at the airport so we had no idea how large the system was or how long we’d be sitting. We sat for quite a while.
Here in the United States, XM and TKS are popular options, and on the G3, TKS wing coverage is improved by about seven full feet with the titanium leading-edge panels now running from wing root to tip. The new wing also allowed Cirrus to relocate a larger TKS tank to the left wing. With 3.5 gallons of anti-ice fluid now available and a pulsing pump that regulates its flow more efficiently, pilots realize an increase in run time at the normal flow setting from 60 to 90 minutes.
I wasn’t too keen to fly over remote areas of Brazil by night, so our only night flying was our after-dark arrival into Ft. Lauderdale Executive. I’ve always liked flying at night, when it’s cool, smooth and you can see airport beacons two counties down the road. I’ve spent many hours plying the dark skies in Cirrus fiberglass and was frustrated more than a few times by the not-so-great lighting of the electrical switches on the instrument bolster. I always felt they could be lit better, and in the G3, they are. It was a nice surprise as I flew by Cape Canaveral and points south into the dark, that I could actually now see illuminated, backlit and recessed switches, as opposed to just feeling for the one I need or cracking on the flashlight (since they were almost impossible to see against the backlight of the PFD).
At the risk of sounding like a snake-oil salesman, “But wait, there’s more.” Along with the wing redesign came the addition of three blue, nine-watt LED recognition lights that operate with the taxi lights. All the better to see and be seen.
So with the new G3 wing, this is what we get: more gas, more TKS fluid, more TKS coverage, more prop and tail clearance, a higher stance, and a better fit and finish at the wing/fuselage junction, all at a cumulative weight savings of 53 pounds. Indeed, if you equipped a G2 and G3 model SR22 identically, the G3 would be 53 pounds lighter, though max gross remains at 3,400 pounds. Bolt on the lightweight Hartzell composite prop with wide chord blades (standard on the turbo and an option for the nonturbo), and it will take anaconda-sized bites of the sky and save an additional 12 pounds over the aluminum prop it replaces.
Not long ago, I wrote an editor’s letter for Pilot Journal, our sister publication, commenting on, among other things, how easy navigation has become. Here I was, flying way down the hemisphere with nary a care as to working out how to home in on an ADF or whether a VOR on some small island in the south Caribbean is up and running. New G3s are shipping with WAAS-enabled Garmin GNS 430Ws and Avidyne’s Entegra integrated glass cockpit, running version 7.0 software. This Garmin/Avidyne combination allows G3 pilots to shoot WAAS precision approaches, where the glideslope is GPS-generated. These are called LPV approaches, and there are more of them popping up every day.
I’ve always liked the Entegra glass-panel system. It’s more naturally intuitive than other systems, is ideal for the weekend or occasional pilot, and is fully featured with all the bells and whistles a pilot could want. It sports a flight director, EMax engine monitoring, TAWS-B terrain awareness, CMax electronic approach plates and SkyWatch traffic information. And for those who question the reliability and time between failures of the Avidyne system, in all my time flying with Entegra, I’ve had one MFD reboot in flight (in 2003) and no PFD failures ever. I’ve experienced a periodic soft boot, where there’s a communication problem between the PFD and the autopilot, but a quick restart of the PFD always remedied that situation.
Flying in Brazil, I found, is nothing like flying in the States. Besides the chance of becoming an anaconda’s dinner after an emergency landing in the Amazon, whoever said English is universal hasn’t flown in Brazil, or to Brazil, lately. A working knowledge of any Romance language will go far on a flight like this, starting with French near Dominica in the Caribbean, Spanish over Venezuela, Portuguese, naturally, in Brazil, and though it’s not a language, per se, Jamaican, mon, when on the horn with Nassau Approach over Andros Island.
Oh, the places you’ll go.
It’s still amazing to me what can be done and where one can go in a high-performance piston single. I just landed a short while ago at Jundiaí airport, almost 6,000 miles down the road from where this epic flight began, after a series of what were, in reality, ordinary cross-country flights. But instead of riding in a taxi to downtown Dallas or Seattle, I’ve hopped an ethanol-powered cab to the center of São Paulo. For the last few hours of my flight, I flew over kilometer after kilometer of sugar cane, the main ingredient for Brazilian ethanol. I’m exhausted and need sleep, but I’m not achy. After four days of nonstop flying, the Cirrus SR22-G3 was comfortable, speedy and reliable. It really is a magic carpet.
SPECS: Cirrus SR22 G3