We Fly: Eight Grand
Cirrus meets a milestone with its piston singles.
TThe bitter cold of a February day in Minnesota in 1999 etched itself in my memory like frost on the windshield of an old Subaru hatchback. As an assistant editor in Jeppesen’s aviationcourseware department, I’d been thinking through the mechanics of flight training every day, working to translate abstract concepts into print and onto the screen. On that day, I was driving a Sube around Duluth in between massive snowbanks, engaged to think through a similar puzzle: how to train pilots to fly a brand-new concept in airplanes, the Cirrus SR20.
I’d been invited to Duluth to interview with Cirrus Design’s nascent training department—before their team determined that they would contract with the University of North Dakota for the airplane’s initial courseware. As part of those 72 hours that tested my potential hardiness in a North Country winter, I had the chance to fly N204CD, just after the SR20’s original FAA certification the previous October. Two flights, actually: one with instructor Gary Black to get accustomed to the airplane’s unique stall-resistant aerodynamic characteristics and one with test pilot Scott Anderson to solidify that first acquaintance.
Now, almost 22 years later, I’m like Marty McFly stepping out of the DeLorean into the future (in this case, greeting the 8,000th SR-series airplane to fly). That promise back in 1999 has been fulfilled—in the carbon fiber of the airframe in front of me, as well as in the Cirrus Vision Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, that has encased into brick and mortar the commitment to training driven by a core Cirrus philosophy.
Then and Now
I changed course after that first visit to Cirrus, pursuing a track in aviation journalism instead of a sole focus on flight training. Having flown several iterations of the SR20 and SR22, I’m struck by the evolution in the intervening years that has transpired into the latest models for 2021; it’s appropriate to the company’s foundations,
to explore the potential of single-engine aircraft.
The first game-changing SR20 was delivered in late 1999, and the SR22 gained certification in November 2000, with a jump from the Continental IO-360 to the more powerful IO-550 engine, along with more room and weight-lifting capacity. Cirrus Design evolved into Cirrus Aircraft—and the changes have never ceased.
Improvements in composite manufacturing have shaved off pounds from the empty weight of the SR20 and SR22 along the way. The glass-panel generation began in 2003, with the Avidyne Entegra suite in the SR22 G1— and transitioned pilots to the concept of a large-scale primary flight display. When Cirrus went to the G2 in 2004, both the SR20 and SR22 were equipped with the Entegra. In 2008, both models converted to the Cirrus Perspective by Garmin at the same time (an elegant riff off of the G1000) with GPS navigation, traffic data, weather and other components integrated into one place for the pilot—with Avidyne as an option for both.
Cirrus Aircraft pumped out the SR series at a rate that has fluctuated with the economy, starting with nine SR20s delivered in 1999, 95 SR20s the following year and 124 SR22s in 2001. The outflow hit a high point in 2006 and 2007, with 721 and 710 total Cirrus aircraft, respectively, out the door (including the shortlived SRV, of which only 37 models were made). When the turbo model, the SR22T, came on the scene in 2010, it boosted the SR22’s sales, which had dropped by 60 percent following the economic recession in 2008.
As of 2019 (the latest data from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association at press time), 7,645 SR models had been delivered. For various reasons, the company hasn’t given too much fanfare to previous milestones, but with the 8,000-SR mark looming on the horizon—and, frankly, a serious need to have some fun after the gloom of 2020—the team decided to celebrate in the way that a company with serious marketing chops would: Let’s make a special edition!
The limited-edition paint scheme makes for an aircraft that brightens up even the cloudiest days.
To this end, Cirrus has created a series of eight SR22Ts, starting around number 8,000, in a limited-edition run guaranteed to catch attention on the ramp once the company releases these flying works of art into the wild.
The SR22 G6 Perspective+ upon which the limitededition series is based debuted in early 2017, and there has been speculation as to when a new model will land on the scene. Product-line director Ivy McIver demurred when I asked her, and she noted that the company is at work on the overall alignment of the product lines, as well as a focus on special packages highlighting the incremental updates that have been made to the highly capable G6.
Really, there’s not a whole lot that’s missing just yet, and the package that Cirrus has created for the eight airplanes in this series hits several high notes. According to McIver, “Each aircraft includes an exclusive ownership experience which will play out over the first six months of 2021 and culminate in a VIP event midyear once each of the owners has taken delivery of their plane—and only the eight owners will know the details of the experience.”
Included as special treats on the series: MaxViz enhanced vision system, TKS ice protection system, and a silky smooth four-blade lightweight composite Hartzell prop with trim paint producing a super-cool prop arc as the photos make evident. That’s all wrapped up with a five-year, 1,500-hour maintenance plan and a five-year, 2,000-hour spinnerto-tail warranty program.
About that TKS
Prior to my flight in the very latest SR22T, I visited the Cirrus Vision Center and took advantage of a reacquaintance flight in a normally aspirated SR22, for comparison’s sake, with McIver. Though the reported weather in Knoxville can rarely out-freeze a winter metar in Duluth, the chill on the ramp definitely felt appropriate for early December as we stepped out of the hangar for a preflight.
We had a pilot report both from my own flight earlier that day and various confirmations of icing from the commercial aircraft making the approach from the south into
Bespoke rudder pedals carry on the neon theme, serving a purpose to illuminate a dark area on the flight deck where loose items, such as a pen, stylus or smartphone, often go missing.
The power lever combines throttle and propeller control, and it features a “TOGA” button to initiate on takeoff or for a go-around, popping up chevrons on the flight director to indicate pitch and heading to fly.
The primary flight display offers several options for the horizontal-situation-indicator
presentation, including the ability to underlay traffic or map data.
A full Qwerty keyboard plus numbers illuminated in blue make for easy entry, even in choppy air. The number keys are tied to a given mode indicated by a blue arrow (COM or XPNDR, for example) to reinforce the entry mode.
On the MFD side, engine management, VFR and IFR charts, and weather options join SiriusXM radio to provide layers of information as well as in-flight entertainment.
Knoxville. Fortunately for our mission, our mount had the TKS deicing/anti-icing system installed, providing for flight into known icing. Combined with a high ceiling and surface temps above freezing, having a FIKIapproved airplane meant we could go rather than wait.
Bringing the SR22 into FIKI was important to Cirrus since the early days on the model. The airplane’s utility as a four-season personal transportation vehicle depends upon it, at least to a company based in a part of the US where winter weather hangs around for months.
Do pilots think through the ramifications of launching into known ice, though, or does having the TKS impart a sense of invulnerability? That’s a topic worth further examination, but it matches another core Cirrus philosophy to give the pilot the latest tools and then train them in applying good decision-making to their application.
We knew from McIver’s Cirrus IQ-powered app on her smartphone—which remotely queries the airplane for fuel, TKS fluid levels and other parameters via a Wi-Fi connection—that we had a full measure of fluid on board (8 gallons) even before we checked it during preflight. We ended up using the fluid preemptively during the climb and for several minutes after breaking out on top, in order to ensure the leading edges were clean.
The flight plan gave us a chance to run the Cirrus Perspective+ through its paces in short order, like a greatest-hits playlist from more than 15 years of development. We initially had filed for a short hop over to Asheville Regional Airport (KAVL), in North Carolina, but amended the clearance so we could maneuver while VFR on top and pick up a segment back into KTYS, to minimize our time in the clouds. While SiriusXM weather gave us regular, if latent, updates on the level of moisture in the clouds below, the enhanced vision system provided a real-time view of the actual cloud tops in our path—extremely handy if we had been flying at night. The terrain view provided by the synthetic vision system onto the PFD similarly illuminated just how lumpy the Appalachians were below us.
A dual alternator/dual main bus system plus an essential bus provide the electrical horsepower behind the Perspective suite, along with dual air-data computers for cross-compare redundancy. A crew-alerting system on the PFD warns of any miscompare or failure, with the ability to manually shuttle between the two ADCs. I flashed back to times traversing the same area over the mountains, and it reinforced my thinking that even though pilots still can’t rely fully on “the magic” with all of its redundancy to keep them out of trouble, proper use of it sure adds a level of safety I gladly embrace.
With all of the options loaded on the SR22 I flew first, the “Eight Grand” series promised to take the experience up a notch. So, a couple of weeks following my trip to Knoxville, McIver brought the hard-to-miss N225HL up to Hagerstown (KHGR), Maryland, so my introduction to the latest SR could be complete.
Highly Charged Performance
The opportunity to fly both the normally aspirated G6 as well as the turbo model (which the 8,000-series airplanes are) for this report gave me the chance to directly compare performance metrics between the two. Knoxville’s field elevation (981 feet) is nearly identical to that at Hagerstown (703 feet), and the outside air temperature was—unfortunately for us— hovering around 2 degrees Celsius on both days, with light winds, making for a fair comparison.
Cirrus standard operating procedure calls for a special inclusion in the beforetakeoff checklist that is an extension of the emergency/ loss-of-power-after-takeoff briefing that should be part of everyone’s repertoire—the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System. Following the safety standard that the decision to use a parachute should be made prior to the moment of truth, Cirrus has outlined a protocol in which you consider the runway length and disposition, as well as any terrain in the departure area. This information helps determine the altitude at which you would pull the chute in the event of an engine failure. Since the CAPS recommended minimum deployment altitude is 600 feet, with a field elevation of roughly 700 feet msl,
we briefed the following:
• From takeoff roll to 1,300 feet msl, land straight ahead—hopefully on the runway remaining. (We had roughly 7,000 feet available on Runway 27.)
• From 1,300 feet msl to 2,700 feet msl, deploy the CAPS.
• From 2,700 feet msl and up, assess your options and likely return to the airport—or deploy CAPS if no better options exist.
At KTYS, we took up less than 2,000 feet of runway in the SR22, while a full-power takeoff in the turbo model at KHGR took up a little bit less. Rpm on both models is governed (2,500 on the SR22T and 2,700 on the SR22), so moving the power lever full forward takes you to 110 percent power for takeoff in the turbo and 100 percent in the SR22. While the power lever combines throttle and prop controls, the mixture remains separate. The engine-management system provides a green arc on the fuelflow display indicating the range in which the mixture should be set, with a cyan line for the recommended fuel flow in certain cases.
I contemplated the complexity that the underlying system required in order to create a simple power interface that reduces workload. And yet, Cirrus made the decision to give the pilot the task of actually adjusting the mixture. Why? I’ve concluded that it’s because pilots just need something to fiddle with, rather than for any big performance or efficiency reasons.
On this flight, we had a solid deck around 9,000 feet msl— and no desire to plague Potomac Approach with our maneuvering on an IFR flight plan—so I put the airplane through a standard profile of slow flight, steep turns and stalls at 7,500 feet msl. An angle of attack display on the PFD next to the airspeed tape verified just how close I was to a stall all along the way. Aileron response has been a hallmark of the SR series from the beginning—pushrods make for immediate gratification when you input a roll command. And I noticed that the ergonomics of the yoke have improved significantly since early days.
Climbing back to 7,500 feet and leveling off, I pushed up the power for a couple of speed runs. Going from 85 percent power (the standard power setting) to full throttle (110 percent power), we only saw an increase in true airspeed of about 5 knots—and, resetting the mixture into the green arc,
roughly 36 gph in fuel flow versus 19 gph. So, unless you are literally in an air race and willing to suck down twice as much gas, it’s not worth it to go beyond 85 percent. Power management is easy for maneuvering (50 percent power to capture VO), descent and approach (25 to 35 percent power), and pattern work (about 30 percent power).
As for that approach: The 50-percent-flap speed at 150 kias makes it easy to start slowing down, with 110 kias the target for full flaps. Airspeed control is always critical on approach and landing, and the SR22T has a faster approach speed than a lot of the piston singles from which many new Cirrus pilots transition. Couple this with a potentially distracting stack of avionics in the panel, traffic and/or ATC instructions, and it’s a recipe for pilot overload on the critical descent, approach and landing segments—whether you’re flying IFR or VFR.
However, hewing to a stabilized approach can be simplified by “flying the doughnut” on the vertical airspeed tape. The small green circle indicates the calculated reference speed for the aircraft and conditions. Introducing a pilot to the concept of flying VREF for a stabilized approach not only sets the stage for excellent speed discipline but also makes the transition to flying approaches in turbine aircraft (read: the Vision Jet) that much easier. As with other instances in which Cirrus makes the complex simple, the “doughnut” doesn’t absolve the pilot of understanding the kinesthetics of the airspeed control on final—and it won’t keep you from bouncing a landing when you touch down. You need to perfect that yourself.
Back at the FBO, Rider Jet Center, we took another walk around the eye-catching SR22T to fully soak in all of its ramp appeal. While it’s hard to miss the electric Volt green of the wings and along the fuselage, a closer look reveals rapt attention to aesthetic detail. The number “8” on the cowl echoes a runway designation; the paint-scheme designers took their cue from the airport environment. Those markings are also reflected in the striping on the wingtips, wheel fairings, cowl and empennage. The resulting look nearly vibrates with energy.
Plus, Easter eggs such as the words “limited edition one of 8” on the door sill further tip off the custom nature of the interior and exterior finish. Perforated leather not only underlays the pilot’s grip on the yokes but also on the power lever and other handles in the interior. Highlight stitching on the rich black leather seats takes a cue from airshow pilot Mike Goulian’s SR22T, with its sporty red-and-black styling.
The Spectra exterior lighting system was introduced with the G6 in 2017—Whelen Engineering partnered to develop the wingtip light assemblies and other elements—and it has proven its value. It incorporates the snazzy landing-zone LED strips on the tips, as well as the highly visible light cluster forward for landing/taxi lights and position lighting. There’s a landing light in the nose bowl as well, but according to McIver, it’s not required; the brightness of the wingtip lights is more than adequate for illumination. With the touch of a remote fob, downwash lights in the step area and under the wings add more visibility in low-light conditions.
By the time you read this, the secret will be out, and No. 8,000 will be off to its new owner, along with seven companion SR22Ts that exemplify the pinnacle of what Cirrus has achieved since its inception. Those neon wings are hard to miss, and we can only anticipate what Cirrus has in store next.