The Cirrus Lifestyle Now Flies at Jet Speed
Cirrus has certified the lowest cost and easiest-to-fly turbofan aircraft on the market. With a base price under $2 million and a cockpit that resembles that of its SR22 brethren, Cirrus hit the mark in creating the perfect step-up for its large piston aircraft install base. For those SR22 owners who yearn to fly higher, faster and with more cabin space, the Vision Jet will more than satisfy. The cockpit commonality, industry-leading safety systems (including a parachute) and uncomplicated, single turbofan operation eliminates any angst about attaining that first type rating.
For all its advanced systems and carefully considered pilot ergonomics, you get what you pay for when it comes to performance. Cirrus makes no bones about what the little jet can and can’t do. Its sweet spot is “800 pounds and 800 nm,” with a top altitude of FL280. But what it lacks in range/payload, it more than compensates with its spacious cabin, ease of operation, low operating costs and its striking ramp presence.
When Cirrus began to consider “what’s next” in the early 2000s, they focused in on a logical turbine step-up from the SR22. The design philosophy was straightforward: keep it simple, keep it safe, keep it economical, and make it familiar through its Cirrus-like cockpit ergonomics and flight deck technology.
“In the $2 to 3 million range, you have a big open space between our piston airplanes and turbine airplanes. That’s where we are aiming for the Vision Jet to fit,” said Matt Bergwall Cirrus director, Vision Jet Product Line. “Our customers are people who are early adopters who are leaning forward. The Vision Jet was designed with them in mind.”
Why a single turbofan rather than a turboprop? -Bergwall cited the design goal of simplicity. “It was the most natural solution. Our customers want to get away from a prop and are ready to get into an actual jet. One highly reliable, fuel-efficient turbofan equipped with FADEC is not only simple to operate, but helps us get to the price point and direct operating costs we were -aiming for.”
What started as a secret project in a Duluth, Minnesota garage eventually resulted in its first public unveiling in 2007. Then the economic downturn hit, leaving Cirrus short on cash to devote to the aircraft’s development, as well as manufacturing assets such as tooling. According to Bergwall, Cirrus never shelved the project, but chose to slow it down. Engineers still assigned to the project focused on taking risk out the aircraft and their sole- -flying prototype continued to fly. In 2011, Cirrus was purchased by China Aviation Industry General Aviation, which provided sorely needed capital and allowed the Vision Jet team to resume development in earnest.
At last, the aircraft was certified in October 2016, with first three deliveries at the end of 2016. The company delivered 30 aircraft in 2017 and expects to double that in 2018. With a backlog of 600 orders, Cirrus hopes to continue to increase its production rate, ultimately -delivering around 100 Vision Jets per year.
Assembly of the all-composite aircraft is being -completed at Cirrus’ Duluth manufacturing plant, with composite parts manufactured at its Grand Forks, North Dakota, facility. Owners get to meet their new jet at Cirrus’ Vision Center in Knoxville, Tennessee. In -addition to a customer delivery facility, the Center will also be where customers will undergo initial and -recurrent training, as well as serve as a factory service center. Cirrus envisions the Knoxville campus to be an all-encompassing owner experience, where owners want to drop in to visit even if they don’t have business there.
Flying the Vision Jet
When Cirrus contacted me about flying the Vision Jet, they wanted me to evaluate the aircraft not just by its handling characteristics and performance -metrics, although that is always part of the process. Owning a Vision Jet is a lifestyle. Thus, they wanted me to experience the jet as their owners would: on a real trip. Although schedule conflicts prevented us from flying the two-day “real-world” trip they proposed, I spent a full day learning about and flying the jet on a two-hour roundtrip flight from my Kansas City home base.
On the ramp, the Vision Jet sets itself apart with its trademark V-tail “ruddervator,” which allows the single Williams FJ33-5A to exhaust between the tails. Bergwall pointed out the aircraft’s yaw stability augmentation system that comprises of two small surfaces on the aft end of the strakes on the empennage. From the runway to 200 feet AGL, the surfaces automatically provide a “weak” yaw damp. After 200 feet, the yaw damp kicks in with more force.
With the engine mounted high and aft on the aircraft, one naturally wonders about awkward pitch behavior. Bergwall pointed out that the angle of the engine intake creates a bit of a visual illusion as the thrust line is aligned with the aircraft’s water line as seen if you look at the exhaust cone of the aircraft. The trailing link gear is a nice feature as it is useful crosswind landings and ensures a smooth landing just about every time.
There is very little to check on the walkaround except the oil, which is accessible by a small spring-loaded door. For this 5-foot 8-inch pilot, I would need a stool to see it as it’s located fairly high on the nacelle. The Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) is enclosed in the nose of the aircraft and can be deployed at altitudes greater than 1,000 AGL. To deploy it, the pilot pulls handle and if at airspeeds greater than 135 kts. KIAS, the autopilot will engage to level the wings and slow down. The system then uses a small rocket and inflators to get the parachute up and over the tail and engine.
After the visual inspec-tion, we were ready to launch. The clamshell door is at a slant that makes it more natural to get into the cockpit and then move the seat up for others to climb aboard. Once seated, the cockpit is dramatically uncluttered. Bergwall noted
every switch and knob had to earn its way onto the aircraft. For an SR pilot, it will feel instantly familiar: the autopilot, flap control, throttle and control stick are all in the same location. Just as remarkable is the large, unobstructed view out the windscreens, most likely the best of any turbine aircraft out there.
The Garmin Perspective integrated flight deck (based on G3000 system) features two large landscape-oriented displays (PFD and MFD) and three touch screen controllers: one main FMS controller, a second for PFD/MFD controls and a third for communications. The touch screen controllers are oriented in a landscape format, with the left one serving as a backup display, eliminating the need for separate displays.
The cabin, although somewhat spartan in its appearance, is marvelously spacious. It is 61 inches at its -widest and seats up to four passengers plus two child seats. The windows are large and offer excellent views. The jet also comes with an optional potty. Cup holders, a USB connector and headset jacks are located at each seat. You can easily imagine the cabin appealing to pilots with young families.
Starting the Vision Jet is simple: twist the start/stop button, then flip on the main generator and alternator; the FADEC takes care of the fuel for you. Speaking of fuel, the aircraft holds 296 gallons usable, or 2,000 lbs., in two wing tanks that are continuously and automatically balanced. At full fuel, you can achieve the 1,200-nm range, but you have less than 500 lbs. payload to work with. Cirrus predicts owners will most likely fly shorter legs, giving them more flexibility to carry more cabin payload.
With its castering nosewheel, taxiing the Vision Jet is a lot like the SRs: it takes some practice to master but easy to control once you start moving. The jet has low thrust at idle, so there is no requirement to ride the brakes. I loaded the flight plan to Sioux City, Iowa (KSUX) and the aircraft’s performance calculator automatically provided V speeds and runway required. Once on the runway that big windscreen provided a panoramic view of the airport environment and the pavement ahead.
Applying the FJ33’s 1,800 pounds of thrust yielded immediate acceleration. At 90 kts., I rotated, cleaned up the aircraft and aimed for a 155-kt climb. The side controller requires a determined pull to unstick the nose and fly off the runway. Once airborne, the aircraft is nimble and responsive but not twitchy. Once at our cruise altitude of FL280, power was reduced to 39 percent of thrust, yielding a 286 TAS and 66 gph fuel burn at -37 Celsius OAT.
En route, we turned on the Enhanced Vision System. Especially useful at night or in low-visibility, the infrared camera allows the pilot to spot wildlife on the runway, or to pick up the runway environment during a black-hole approach. We were able to clearly depict the Missouri River valley leading to Sioux City, as well as the town itself.
Although Sioux City natives may correct me, I have never landed at KSUX when it wasn’t windy. This day didn’t disappoint. We set up for the RNVA Rwy 17 approach and the FMS calculated my Vref to be 79 kts., about the same speed as an SR22. In spite of the bumpy, windy conditions, the plane was responsive and easy to slow down and keep on the centerline. Due its high-lift wing and composite structure, the Vision Jet handles turbulence firmly. SR pilots will also love the way the Vision Jet lands: the attitude is nearly the same, and the trailing link gear makes for a smooth arrival using less than 3,000 feet of runway.
On the return trip to Kansas City, we tried out some of the safety features that will be important to single-crew operations and owner-pilots. The Garmin Electronic Stability & Protection system (ESP) will keep the jet out of the edges of the envelope when the autopilot is disengaged. If it senses a high rate of speed, it will nudge the nose up to avoid exceeding Vmo. It will also push the nose down in high angle-of-attack attitudes, and level the wings if bank angle becomes extreme. And like the SRs, there is a blue LVL button that engages the autopilot and brings the aircraft back to level flight. The aircraft also has a stick shaker/pusher for stall protection and an emergency descent mode if the system detects a cabin altitude that is too high. All these automated features – in addition to the CAPS – points to Cirrus’ commitment to safety.
Back on the runway in KC, I reluctantly made the turn onto the first available taxiway. One word came to my mind over and over: fun. This jet is simply fun to fly.
Training & Service
New owners will be required to obtain an SF50 type rating. Cirrus has designed a transition program for its piston owners that begins six months before delivery with an evaluation flight to assess instrument skills. From there, they are given an individualized “prescription” to sharpen skills or augment experience. They are also introduced to computerized ground school courseware to begin learning systems.
The training facility, which will be fully operational in April 2018, will house one full-motion simulator and two flight training devices (with room for up to four FTDs.) Cirrus anticipates initial training will take 10 days, but offers an “accordion”-type training program that can compress or stretch depending on the customer’s needs and previous experience. Owners also have the option of training in their aircraft, but are encouraged to take advantage of the sim training.
“Because of the jet’s simplicity, docile characteristics and cockpit common-ality to the SR22, transitioning to the Vision Jet is not a huge leap for many of customers. Most won’t be required to fly with a mentor,” said Bergwall.
Cirrus offers three levels of warranty programs, the highest being an all-inclusive, prepaid main–ten–ance program that includes scheduled and unscheduled maintenance of airframe, engine and avionics. The top tier also includes annual flight training, and Cirrus indicated that several lenders are willing to finance the program. Currently, Cirrus has a company-owned service center in Knoxville and three additional ones operated by partnering companies. The company said it will continue to grow its service network as the population of Vision Jets grow.
Currently, inspection intervals are every 100 hours, with engines set at every 300 hours. The company said it will make in intervals longer as the aircraft matures and plans to eventually offer a phase inspection similar to other jet manufacturers.
Like with any new jet, there are a few issues to work out. One is the noise level in the all-composite aircraft. In the climb, the noise from the engine and air conditioning condenser is too loud for this level of aircraft. In cruise, it is more tolerable with noise canceling headsets, but still could be better. Cirrus said it is actively working on the issue and hopes to have a solution soon.
With the Vision Jet, Cirrus knew exactly what they were building and who they were building it for. Its established, loyal customer base loves their planes because they deliver speed, performance, comfort, safety and technology – and it does it with style. Cirrus style. The Vision Jet is an extension of that philosophy, and with 600 orders on the books (mostly current Cirrus owners), it appears they have created a winner. Thanks to the Vision Jet’s 38.7-foot wingspan – the SR22 is 38 feet – owners will be able to pull their SR out of the hangar and slide in their new Vision Jet into the same footprint.
But you don’t have to be a previous Cirrus disciple to covet a Vision Jet. Thanks to its simplicity, spacious cabin and fun flying characteristics, it is on its way to being a popular choice for owner-pilots, especially those moving to a turbofan for the first time.