It's an exciting time to be interested in General Aviation because there are many exciting new planes coming out after what had been a long dry spell. The Cessnas, Pipers, and Beechcraft most pilots are used to were designed in the 40's and 50's and continued largely unchanged to the present. Sure, there were avionics updates and a few other features, but the aerodynamics and overall construction of these aircraft are largely unchanged from the original versions. Now, there's a new breed of planes emerging that have more sophisticated aerodynamics (read they're sleeker and therefore faster), newer materials (principally composites), and amazing functionality on their panels. The Cirrus Design SR22 is one of the hottest examples of the new breed along with the Lancair Columbia 400. Currently, it is my leading candidate for first plane purchase, assuming I can stand the wait to get one!
Pretty slick bird, eh?
Cirrus has probably sold more of this new breed of airplane than anyone else, and boy do these aircraft have a lot of innovations. I remember the first time I became aware of Cirrus was because of the kitplane industry. It seems that Alan and Dale Klapmeier (the founders) had designed this wildly futuristic pusher plane called a VK-30. It was sort of a poor man's Beech Starship. I'm not sure how many were built, but I know one actually flew near me, and I coveted one of these beasts for many years.
The original Cirrus VK-30 kitplane. Isn't it awesome?
The trouble with the VK-30 (no longer available, BTW) is that you had to build it from a kit. The beauty of the new SR20/22 series planes is that you can buy them factory-assembled and ready to go. I don't know about you, but the idea of flying in something that I built gives me the willies! The SR22 fixes that not-so-small problem very nicely.
Cirrus rocketed to greater visibility in the General Aviation world with their introduction of the SR20. This is an entry-level aircraft very similar to the SR22, but just a tad less performant due to a smaller engine. It will do 160 knots instead of 180. It's surprising how much horsepower it takes to go an extra 20 knots!
People were shocked to see what an amazing airplane they could get as an alternative to the older designs that Cessna had started manufacturing again for essentially the same price. Additionally, Cirrus got a lot of press for the ballistic parachute systems that came with the planes. In the event of an emergency, the pilot can pull an overhead t-handle which fires the parachute and floats the plane gently to the ground. In record time Cirrus had booked hundreds of orders and certified the SR22, which has a much larger 310 HP engine.
Cirrus with parachute deployed.
There were a number of little things changed about the SR22 and a few big ones. I've mentioned the engine, but the wings are a bit larger too. The easy way to differentiate the two planes at the airport is to look for the logo, or look for the vortex generators at the wing roots of the SR22. These little blades improve the wing root stall characteristics among other things.
What you get in an SR22 is quite a package:
All this for the low-low price of just under $300K. I am really tempted to put down a deposit as soon as I solo. Cirrus currently has a backlog of over 600 airplanes, and they are building at a rate of 1 plane per day, so there's at least a 2-year wait. You can, of course, pay for someone else's slot and move up in line. This privelage will add $15-$25K to the price of the plane.
Plane and Pilot recently called the Mooney Bravo the "fastest production single engine prop," but this is a little deceiving. The Mooney doesn't reach it's maximum speed of 220 knots below 25,000 feet! If you compare the performance of these two planes at a more realistic 8,000 feet, they're both doing 180 knots. I have little doubt which plane would be the fastest at 25,000 feet if Cirrus introduces a turbocharged version of the SR-22--let me just say it wouldn't be the Mooney. Imagine what happens if they build a retractable gear version and up the speeds by another 15 knots on top of that. FWIW, it looks to me like Lancair also relies on extreme altitude for it's speed comparisons. Down around 8,000 feet, the Lancair Columbia 400 performs similarly to the Cirrus. How interesting. Lance needs to get the IV-P certified with a little turboprop action because Cirrus is really breathing down his throat. Or maybe Cessna or Piper should just buy Lancair so they can hope to compete with Cirrus. The companies go-fast image would fit well with Mooney too, although Mooney never seems to have tried to be very sophisticated.
Comparing the avionics, fit, and finish of the SR22 with the Mooney Bravo, there just isn't any comparison. The SR22 crushes the Bravo. It is awesomely better, not just a little bit. The Bravo reviewed by Plane & Pilot was extremely well decked out, and had a couple of gizmos not yet available for the SR22--radar altimeter and TKS deice system, for example. But that stuff is icing on the cake, and the SR-22 has a whole raft of features that are completely unavailable to the Mooney pilot. At the very least the panel in the SR22 is so much cleaner and easier to read at a glance that the Cirrus pilot has got to have better situational awareness.
Let's check it out:
Check the panel: Dual Garmin 430's, Avidyne Multifunction Display, Sandel HSI, Tasty!
The panel on these planes is amazing. First, it's very clean with the side sticks, and looks modern, even high tech. Check out your basic Cessna 182 panel for comparison. Let's review the avionics here. First, on the ccenter console are the dual Garmin 430 GPS units/comm units. These are awesome units that integrate nav (VOR), comm, and GPS functions in one unit. Having two provides full redundancy with a minimum of panel space, and also lets you dial them into different modes so you can see more information.
The big ARNAV display above the GPS's is a Multi-Function Display (MFD). It can be set to show moving map, checklists (cool!), weather information, and over time additional modules will be available such as Terrain and Traffic avoidance. An available option today mates a Stormscope 500 with the ARNAV to show lighting strike information that assists in avoiding thunderstorms.
The Sandel HSI is the centerpiece unit, 2nd from right, bottom row, right in front of the pilot. This bad boy in conjunction with the attitude indicator above it is most everything you need to know to make an instrument approach. A friend has one in his Piper Navajo and can't say enough good about it.
Another panel view, dig the seats!
The control stick. Pretty trick, eh?
If you like the Cirrus, there are a few sites you ought to know about:
Cirrus Design: The manufacturer
First Production SR22: The owner's site, nice with lots of personalized editorial
Quasi Racy Tidbit:
This is perhaps the only airplane in the world that demands a public display of affection before every flight. The stall warning is triggered by suction from the stagnation point passing a small opening in the right wing leading edge. We heard that Cirrus is designing a special tool to apply that suction during preflight, but in the meantime, you get down on your knees, apply your lips, and give it a big kiss. If successful, you will hear a cheerful beep from the airplane cockpit (even with power off…the T&B indicator backup batteries provide the electricity).
All material © 2001-2006, Robert W. Warfield.