You want to know what new airplane Cirrus Aircraft is working on right now? Yeah, we do too, but they are tight lipped about it, if there even is a new airplane in the works, but they are happy to discuss what they are doing right now, and it’s cutting-edge stuff.
I spoke with Cirrus’ President of Customer Experience Todd Simmons on the third day of Oshkosh 2022, and it was great to catch up and to hear his thoughts on where Cirrus stands with their growth and how their vision for all things SR and SF, many of those ideas formulated a decade ago, have helped drive the design of the SR22 and the SF50 Vision Jet.
It gets said a lot, that Cirrus is the leading maker of small personal transportation aircraft, but its model lineup is small, consisting of the SR22, a six-cylinder four/five seat all-composite single with industry-best safety systems and the single-engine turbofan SF50 Vision Jet!ditto on the safety systems there. The company is closing in on 9,000 aircraft sold, a figure it expects to hit sometime in 2023. The vast majority of those sales are of the approximately $1 million SR22, which has been the top-selling single in aviation for 20 years running.
But the SF50 Vision Jet, which goes for right around $3 million and on which the company bet its very existence on more than one occasion, has been a huge hit. In the five years since it handed over the first SF50 in early 2017, Cirrus has delivered just over 350 of the Williams FJ-33 powered composite jets, and Simmons told me the company has orders for more than 400 more.
The design of both aircraft are informed by a handful of core values that Cirrus holds, and these aren’t the make-believe mission statement values you see from so many firms but ones it puts into practice, with product features that are the most innovative in the history of light GA, arguably GA, period, arguably aviation, period.
That value is the investment in safety features that pilots want and that objectively improve safety. The parachute is the one safety feature that everyone associates with Cirrus, and for good reason. A rocket-powered whole-airplane parachute system has been on every production from Cirrus since Day One, including the jet. But about 10 years ago, the company realized that pilots were in many cases declining to use the chute in an emergency, a choice for which too many of them were paying the ultimate price.
So, Cirrus changed not its vision, but its training with a new approach to the chute that is part of a comprehensive program it literally calls Cirrus Approach. It began to focus on procedures that put the chute at the center of the pilot’s safety perspective, with specific callouts on takeoff for when the chute was available for use and techniques specifically taught during recurrent training for how to deploy the chute, including things like how to find the best spot to deploy it. And that change in training procedures has paid dividends, with the number of fatalities declining and the percentage of deployments versus forced landings/crashes going up, that is, more deployments, which, Simmons emphasized, means more people returning to their families. More than 200, in fact.
Another unprecedented safety investment the company has made is recurrent training for pilots who buy used Cirrus aircraft, called Embark, which Cirrus pays for. The investment is for safety’s sake, it goes without saying, and people who are slightly more cynical than I might be say it’s a way for the company to reduce its liability tail. My response, so what? Good on them anyway.
In addition to the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System, the company has invested in ever more advanced safety features, many of them associated with new products introduced by longtime partner Garmin International. The sexiest of those is inarguably Garmin Autoland, which Cirrus has on its jet and calls “Safe Return.” If the pilot were to be incapacitated, the push of a button will prompt the airplane to fly itself to the nearest suitable airport, brake to a stop and shut down the engine.
So, is there a new plane coming from Cirrus? I don’t know. Simmons did say that the company is always looking ahead, and anyone who knows anything about Cirrus knows that is literally true. So even if there’s not a new swept wing tri-jet on the horizon from Cirrus, you can rest assured that has been working all along to improve its products to the point where its current owners want to trade in their SR22 or SF50 and transition into the next best thing, which Cirrus hopes will be the updated bird it has just rolled out the hangar doors.