Has it really been a full decade since Alan and Dale Klapmeier introduced the first version of the airplane that would eventually conquer the general aviation world? Is it really possible that the “new age” of general aviation aircraft has been with us for nearly a dozen years, heralding such innovations as carbon-fiber construction, full airframe parachutes, multiscreen electronic instruments and a BMW 5 series interior? Did someone invent the airplane of the future and forget to tell us?
Cirrus has been a consistent leader in producing aircraft that embrace 21st century technology, not only in construction materials and techniques but in avionics, aerodynamics and creature comforts. The Columbia (now Cessna Corvalis) line of singles and the Diamond models have brought new ideas to the marketplace, enticing buyers with more options. While changes haven’t all been earthshaking, they’ve represented a steady improvement in the breed. Cirrus has chosen to introduce new features one at a time, as they’re ready.
Such is exactly the case with the new Cirrus SR22T. Cirrus Aircraft recently flew a new 22T out from the factory in Duluth, Minn., for us to fly. In my job evaluating airplanes, I meet a variety of check pilots, and Matt Bergwall was one of the most thoroughly prepared I’ve come across. He was way ahead of me on every question, and there was nothing he needed to refer to the factory. It’s nice to work with pros.
The motivation for the newest version of the SR22 was directly related to the industry’s concern over continuing availability of leaded avgas. Then too, there’s also some concern about continued availability of avgas of any kind. Mobil already has dropped avgas from its inventory, and Chevron recently made allusions to “realigning” its avgas suppliers. Any way you read the signs, it’s apparent that avgas supplies are contracting worldwide, and 100LL may be disappearing altogether in the not-too-distant future.
Accordingly, Teledyne Continental Motors began work a few years ago on a big-bore, TSIO-550 engine that would run on lead-free, 94 octane avgas. The new mill, technically known as a TSIO-550K, employs a 7.5:1 compression ratio rather than the standard 8.5:1 ratio employed on the 100 octane LL engines.
The new Continental is rated for 315 hp at 2,500 rpm and 36 inches mp continuous, and retains that rating all the way to cruise height. Once you’re off and headed uphill, you can pretty much set power and forget it. (In the full-blown version, currently utilized on the Lancair IVP, the engine is rated for 350 hp at 2,800 rpm and 38 inches mp).
In order to maintain cool heads under the cowling, the new 550K utilizes several minor mods to improve airflow. The updated TCM powerplant mounts additional NACA vents to streamline cooling flow and some other minor cowling mods. There’s also a minor mod to the nosewheel fairing.
New features on the SR22T include additional NACA vents, larger openings for the exhaust pipes, an LED light (used to view potential icing on the wings) and a redesigned nose wheel assembly.
The result is a weight savings of 10 pounds, and that’s reflected in a slightly improved payload. All other specifications and the purchase price remain roughly the same as the existing Tornado Alley Turbo mod version of the IO-550 on the standard Cirrus SR22-G3.
The airplane I flew for this report was about as heavily equipped as a Cirrus could be. It included every option on the list: air-conditioning, the flight into known icing (FIKI) system, synthetic vision, infrared camera and probably a few other items I forgot.
Of these, infrared may be the most futuristic. On the test airplane, the infrared display was above the moving map on the MFD, to the right of the synthetic vision display on the PFD. It was interesting to watch the two, one a theoretical picture derived from a huge computer database (syn vis) and the second a similar real-world image of the same ramp, but with people and cars moving.
Infrared’s thermal-imaging camera utilizes heat signature for its image, so even night would not obscure the presentation of another aircraft on the ground, in flight or of a person walking on the ramp. Infrared penetrates haze, fog, smoke and precipitation eight to 10 times better than the human eye, so the system can be especially valuable in situations of limited visibility.
My first take on synthetic vision two years ago, when I flew the prototype system in a Diamond DA-40 Star, was that it was a neat feature, but more flash than substance. WRONG! Synthetic vision has benefits you may not notice unless you’re in actual IFR conditions. The Perspective system obviously allows you to keep the localizer and glideslope needles centered during an approach, just as would a standard HSI and ADI, but synthetic vision provides strong visual cues as to where the runway is ahead. Fly a normal VFR approach to a long IFR runway in good weather, and you have a representation of the airport environment right down final to the runway markings simply by looking out over the cowling.
Synthetic vision offers that same picture in IFR conditions, but you can’t appreciate it until you actually fly an approach using the system. A typical ILS seems far simpler when you have a clear view of all the airport’s visual cues as well as the ILS approach aids, no matter what the weather.
Infrared and synthetic vision are perhaps only the latest examples of the technology inherent in GA. Today’s aircraft are miracles of electronic and aerodynamic sophistication, and the Cirrus SR22T is near the head of the pack. With the Garmin G1000 to monitor all aspects of navigation, communication and engine operation, and the custom-designed Cirrus Perspective directing all parameters of flight, the SR22T is as sophisticated as many turbine corporate twins.
The new SR22 also is approved for FIKI. Dale Klapmeier says the FIKI system provides peace of mind in situations when ice avoidance is unlikely or impossible. There are three settings on the FIKI system: normal, high flow and max. Normal is intended to handle a minor buildup or the threat of icing, and endurance is roughly 150 minutes. With eight gallons of TKS fluid available, that means a flow rate of 3.2 gph. High flow is 6.4 gph for limited protection icing that’s already accumulated, burning away the rime or clear ice, coating the airfoil surface and protecting against future accumulation. The emergency rate is 12.8 gph, enough to last nearly 40 minutes.
The cabin, which measures 49×50 inches and is akin to what you’d find in a high-end luxury car, features leather seats and air bag seatbelts.
The Klapmeier brothers were adamant that the Cirrus would be a comfortable airplane to fly, not just for the pilot but for all four occupants. The cabin measures 49 inches across and 50 inches tall, a comfortable enclosure for four folks. Visibility from any seat is excellent, the ride above the wing is solid and the cockpit is a relatively quiet place to travel, with or without an ANR headset. Though the very nature of travel by air—pushing the sky aside at 300 fps or more—generates noise levels that are incomprehensible for automotive travelers, Cirrus does a better job than many manufacturers of suppressing the decibels.
With the benefit of turbocharging, climb starts off at a healthy 1,200 fpm and loses little strength as the airplane ascends through 10,000 feet. Holding a best rate at 100 knots, the SR22T maintains an easy 1,000 fpm above 10,000 feet, 700 fpm through 20,000 feet. One of the obvious benefits of turbocharging is the ability to surmount most weather and outclimb the clouds. The Cirrus SR22T makes the most of its blower. Critical altitude, the maximum height at which the turbocharger can still deliver full, sea-level power, is 20,000 feet, so 75% power is still available at the airplane’s service ceiling.
The SR22T is a perfect example of the philosophy that retractable gear isn’t mandatory to achieve maximum performance. These days, Cirrus, Diamond, Corvalis and Cessna have all embraced fixed-gear designs. Only Mooney, Piper and Beech continue to offer production single-engine retractables. More specifically, the retractable advantage shrinks to relative insignificance as drag is reduced at altitudes above 18,000 feet. If you’re planning to fly at normally aspirated altitudes where the drag of fixed-gear is comparatively high, the weight disadvantages of retractable gear can be worth the trade. If you’ll be flying high, it’s a different story.
Cirrus models have always offered what seems a disproportionate level of speed for horsepower. In the case of the SR22T, the airplane boasts a 214-knot cruise in exchange for 18.3 gph. That’s roughly 11.5 nmpg, and remember, it’s at high cruise. At max economy settings the SR22T does even better, and it may approach 13.5 nmpg. That’s over 15.5 smpg, equivalent to the mileage of many luxury cars and SUVs and at three times the speed. Cruise numbers are based off of lean-of-peak leaning procedures.
On the subject of cruise performance, we climbed the test airplane to 9,500 feet and saw 193 knots TAS on the G1000. Most pilots of turbocharged airplanes fly below 13,000 feet most of the time to avoid having to wear a mask, and that means you can plan to see cruise numbers approaching 200 knots. Pretty impressive performance for a fixed-gear single. For those willing to strap on the O2 and loft on up to the flight levels, you can expect to see cruise numbers of 205 knots or better while clearing the highest terrain in North America and topping the vast majority of weather.
The basic Continental TSIO-550 engine is rated for 350 hp, whereas the 550K version is derated to only 315 hp. This means that max cruise can be established at 85% without violating the traditional 75% rule. Seventy five percent of 350 hp equals 262 hp, but expressed as a percentage of the 550K’s derated 315 hp, the number works out to about 85%. For pilots more interested in economy cruise to stretch nmpg to its limits, 55% at 25,000 feet reduces fuel burn to 12.7 gph while maintaining 175 knots cruise.
Perhaps the greatest attraction is simply that it’s an easy airplane to fly. Matt Bergwall played the Cirrus Perspective keyboard like a Steinway, and I’m sure it would take a long training period before I could even come close to matching his artistry (if ever). The basic functions of the airplane are as simple as it was possible to make them, however.
If you have a credit line of $620,000 (for a fully-equipped SR22T), there’s not much the newest Cirrus won’t do. Bring your brain up to speed on the G1000 and the Cirrus Perspective keyboard, and the airplane’s impressive performance and benign personality will take care of the rest.
Cirrus: Your VIP Host To The Red Bull Air Race
Reaching a young, global audience
By Jessica Ambats
It’s hot, hazy and muggy. The streets are bustling with outdoor cafes, live music and traffic jams. The Staten Island Ferry, loaded with commuters, languidly departs Battery Park, and a speedboat named The Beast creates a menacing wake as it jostles tourists up and down the Hudson River. All pretty standard for New York City in June. But just across the harbor, what’s about to transpire is anything but ordinary. Nearly 135,000 spectators—not thwarted by rising temperatures from the relentless sun—are gathered at Liberty State Park to watch this weekend’s biggest attraction: the Red Bull Air Race (RBAR).
Beneath the Big Apple skyline, 12 pilots from 10 countries will bank, pull and roll their way at 230 mph through a 3.5-mile racetrack of inflatable pylons just 10-30 feet above the water. Their only goal: to be the fastest. The more experienced pilots make it look like no big deal, but the flying—which at times spikes up to 12 G’s—is anything but that. During a recent training session at the Perth, Australia, race, rookie pilot Adilson Kindleman of Brazil stalled his MXS-R and crashed into the Swan River. (Rescue teams pulled him to safety in less than 60 seconds.) And last month in Windsor, Ontario, Australian Matt Hall managed to recover from a stall, but not before his MXS-R wingtip and wheel fairing hit the water.
This Sunday in New York, it’s down to the final race with just four pilots. Only three will make it to the award podium. U.S. pilot Kirby Chambliss comes into fast view as his Edge 540 rounds the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and he’s full throttle through the first set of air gates. In what seems to most of us to be a blurry flash, Kirby goes—count ‘em—wings level, knife edge-knife edge-knife edge, wings level, knife edge, knife edge, wings level, wings level, vertical, roll, wings level, knife edge, knife edge, wings level, knife edge-knife edge-knife edge and, ladies and gentlemen, wings level. But his clock is operating on a different scale. Kirby’s time, 1:12:09, is 1/300th of a second slower than the previous racer, Brit Nigel Lamb, and that makes all the difference. Whether Kirby will land a spot on the winner’s podium is now in the hands of the two remaining racers.
Spectators who want a high-end experience at the RBAR can opt between two hospitality areas: the Race Club and the High Flyers Lounge. Both feature the best seating on living-room furniture, show center views, five-star gourmet menus, all the amenities and, new this year, up-close access to Cirrus Aircraft. As part of a new partnership between Cirrus and RBAR, there’s a full-scale mock-up of the SR22 (in a special checkered race paint scheme) and the Vision jet at each race. RBAR—which is televised live and attracts more than 100 international journalists to each race—brings a global awareness to aviation, and Cirrus has been paying attention—smartly so.
“The Red Bull Air Race represents a passion for precision and performance,” commented Cirrus CEO Brent Wouters at a prior event held at Santa Monica Airport to launch the partnership. “The event and its breathtaking select global venues are a spectacular aviation experience. These locations showcase the unique lifestyle of convenience, comfort and access that Cirrus owners enjoy around the world. The synergy in this partnership is natural, and through Red Bull Air Race we are reaching a new audience that is experiencing Cirrus Aircraft for the first time.”
At Liberty Park, the crowd includes aviation and Hollywood celebrities alike: EAA Chairman Tom Poberezny and GAMA President Pete Bunce mingle with actor (and pilot) Zach Braff, baseball star and Cirrus pilot Ken Griffey Jr. and actor/actress couple Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts. Wouters, along with Cirrus cofounder Dale Klapmeier, are also on site. (In fact, this weekend overlaps with the annual COPA Migration. That Klapmeier and Wouters managed to be at both events is an indication of how important the Red Bull partnership is.)
During a “pit lane walk” the previous day at Linden Airport, the staging ground for the race planes, I ran into Poberezny. This walk is a chance for VIP, media and most importantly, fans to connect with race pilots. Long lines formed eagerly at each hangar. It was Poberezny’s first time attending a race, and eight of the pilots are EAA members whom he knows well. “Red Bull is an outstanding marketing organization,” he shared. “The races are creating a global image to a whole new audience, and people are exposed to aviation in a new and great way.”
At Kirby’s hangar, one teenager shook with excitement and jumped up and down when Kirby posed for a photo with her in front of his race plane. “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it!” she squealed, and then the tears of joy came. (The scene was starting to feel like something out of a Justin Bieber concert…not your average FBO.)
“Red Bull is bringing credibility to aviation while establishing visible heroes, especially to children,” smiled Poberezny. “They’re building a relationship with pilots that a young audience can attach to. They’re reaching the demographic we want to reach in the future: the young, and the bridge between 19 and 40. For Cirrus, this is an outstanding opportunity because they are reaching an age demographic that will be critical to their future successes, plus relate well to the design features they have introduced.”
Today, at this moment, all eyes are on British pilot Paul Bonhomme as he dives his Edge 540 through the first air gates. “Smoke on!” He’s rock solid and completes the course with the fastest time—so far—of 1:10:01. The final competitor of the weekend, Austrian Hannes Arch, must go all out. Arch pulls hard—too hard—on a turn to air gate 8, and his right wing hits and slices the pylon. This costs him a six-second penalty, which in turn secures third place for Kirby.
A few years earlier, I had asked Kirby—known for his ultracompetitive spirit—his thoughts on placing second. His instant response was, “Second place is the first loser.” I’m not so sure I want to know his reaction to placing third, but on the podium and at the press conference, he’s all smiles. “As an American, I’m very, very proud. Thank you New York; it’s been great. I tried to fly clean today, but I have to personally thank Hannes for hitting that gate. Thank you, Hannes!” Kirby’s five-year-old daughter, Karly, cheers him on, and it’s a sweet finish to Father’s Day.