Smarter guys than us have gone broke trying to figure out what would-be airplane owners will actually buy. As in the car biz, however, the idea that buyers want model selection across a range of prices goes unchallenged.
A subscriber in full to that theory is Cirrus Design, which recently introduced its premium priced SR22 four-place single as a follow-up product to the well-received-but nearly impossible to get-SR20.
We cant recall having heard the SR20 described as an entry level airplane but the newer, more powerful and faster SR22 inevitably relegates the darling of the aviation press to that status. In short, the SR22 does more than SR20 for not much more money but for lot less money than the closest traditional competition, which we guess to be the Mooney Ovation series. (Lancairs 300 is comparably priced but is equally impossible to get.) That said, we think both the SR20 and SR22 still fall short of Cirruss stated goal to build not just airplanes but the fundaments of a transportation alternative to airlines. The SR22 is almost there; but not yet.
The SR22 is but a re-engining of the SR20 airframe with a larger powerplant; Continentals IO-550-N in place of the IO-360-ES used in the SR20. Horsepower increases to 310 HP from 200 HP, a 55 percent thats noticeable where it matters: In climb rate, speed and payload.
In our view, the IO-550 is also a better engine. Its marginally smoother and doesnt have the altitude compensating fuel pump system that has proved the occasional nuisance in the SR20. With few glitches, Mooney has had remarkable success with the 550 in its Ovation and we think Cirrus made the right choice. In some ways, it may have been the only choice for the Cirrus series which, in our view, is still an airframe lacking the right engine. Even though an improvement, the IO-550 is hardly a dream powerplant. As in the SR20, Cirrus opted for a two-lever power control; throttle and mixture but RPM controlled by a mechanical cable/cam arrangement that sets RPM according to throttle position. There are two choices: 2700 RPM for takeoff and 2500 RPM for cruise. FADEC it aint but itll have to do until the real thing comes along.
To accommodate the higher horsepower, Cirrus made some changes in the airframe, although you have to look hard to see them. The wingtips are 18 inches longer than the SR20s and the landing gear was moved inboard to create more ground clearance for a larger prop-the SR22 has a 78-inch three-blader versus 74- or 76-inches for the SR20.
Although identical in section to the SR20, the SR22s wing spar is substantially beefed up and accommodates additional fuel, 84 gallons versus 60.5 gallons for the SR20. Further, the energy-absorbing seats have been modified somewhat to accommodate the aircrafts higher weight.
The two models share the same CAPS ballistic parachute but with its 3400-pound gross weight, the SR22 can be up to 500 pounds heavier. That means descent under canopy could be as high as 28 feet per second compared to the 24 feet per second typical for the SR20. Well do the math for you: Thats a vertical descent of 1440 FPM/16 MPH versus 1680 FPM/19 MPH. Cirrus has said it and well say it: A ride to touchdown under the CAPS canopy wont be something youll want to repeat.
CAPs, by the way, is the SR22s official spin recovery solution. With its docile stall and wing overhangs, the SR22 is highly spin resistant. Should it enter one, popping the chute is POH-recommended response.
In our view, the smartest thing Cirrus did in the SR22-beside building it in the first place-is to cut the cord entirely with instrument vacuum systems. While the SR20 has a pair of vacuum pumps, one a standby electric, the SR22 is all electric.
It has two alternators and two batteries, each electrically isolated from the other and either capable of powering essential electrics. The main alternator is 60 amps, the secondary is 20 amps while the main or starting battery is 10 amp hours. The secondary is composed of two smaller 12-volt batteries connected in series.
As do transport aircraft, the SR22 has more than a single electric bus; two in fact, a main and an essential that, in the event of a battery/alternator failure, will power sufficient avionics to continue the flight. Either alternator can power the essential bus.
On the downside, both alternators are gear driven, one on the front of the engine and one on the rear accessory case. Given the service history of Continental alternators, our druther is to have one belt driven. In any case, we think the all-electric airplane is a significant advance over anything to do with vacuum instruments, which owners have tolerated for years because there was no choice. Now theres a choice and its better. One minor nit: Why cant anyone develop a decent, fast erecting electric gyro? The Goodrich model in the SR22 took its sweet time reporting for duty and occasionally has to be caged to encourage it. Most of the electric gyros weve flown share this malady.
Column A, Column B
In keeping with the way modern airplanes are sold, you can have any avionics or system option you want, as long as its on list A or list B.
The A airplane sells for $276,600 and includes a Garmin GNS 430 mapcomm, a GNS 420 mapcomm, an S-TEC System 30 autopilot and a Century NSD-1000 all-electric HSI.
Option B sells for $294,700 and includes dual GNS 430s, an S-TEC System 55 autopilot with altitude pre-select and a Sandel 3308 color EHSI. Both options include the ARNAV ICDS-2000 color display, which dominates the center panel.
As an option-in fact, the only current option for the ICDS-2000-you can add a WX-500 remote Stormscope, for $9500. (Goodrichs Skywatch will soon be available.) Some analysis on the SR22s avionics: We like the choice of the Garmin 430/420 series and mounting it low on the angled center console is a terrific design touch that puts the buttons and knobs well at hand, with the screens easily viewable. The S-TEC autopilot is also appropriate for this class of airplane, although we found its control unit to be mounted too high under the glareshield, making for a squint to get at it.
We are less impressed with the ICDS-2000, however. Cirrus maintains that the large flat panel screen is critical to the airplanes appeal and were told no screen smaller than the ICDS-2000s 10 inches will do. Well agree with that but by the standards set by Avidyne, UPSAT/Apollo and Honeywell/Bendix/King, the 2000s display is rudimentary at best.
Although it projects IFR data well enough, it has no ability to show ground detail and we find the display quality leaves something to be desired. Further, it lacks the ranges of external sensor input already being offered by other companies, albeit on smaller screens. Worse, because it occupies so much space, theres little room to add additional instruments and what the SR22 desperately needs is electronic engine monitoring of some kind. Were told that ARNAV is working on this as a factory option and that you can buy it as an aftermarket add on, with field approval on your dime. Frankly, we wouldnt want our new SR22 with only the single-probe EGT steam gauge thats standard. This is a sophisticated airframe; it deserves engine instrumentation to match, say GEM or JPI type diagnostics, not just a CHT babysitter. Our guess is that if ARNAV doesnt address these issues forthwith, the likes of a Goodrich, Garmin or UPSAT/Apollo will.
During our factory visit in late May, Cirrus was putting the finishing touches on a 100-pound gross weight increase (total weight 3000 pounds) for the SR20, which will apply to all airframes already produced (about 140) and all future aircraft. That brings the typical useful load into the 1030-pound range, meaning you can fill the seats and the tanks, short maybe five gallons.
Gross weight for the SR22 is 3400 pounds and based on the 2248-pound empty weight of the demonstrator we flew, that leaves 1152 pounds useful or 648 pounds with full tanks. With full tanks, then, this airplane is still a three-person ride, with generous baggage allowance.
Working the problem the other way, fill the seats and stuff 100-pounds of baggage aboard and youll be at gross weight with 62 gallons of fuel. Call that 3.5 hours, with reserves, and the still-air range is about 600 miles. Respectable but not exceptional.
The SR20 tends slightly toward a forward CG when loaded and so does the SR22. Calculating several loading problems, we werent able to bust the aft CG without heroic effort in favoring the heavy stuff toward the back of the airplane. The baggage compartment limit is 130 pounds and with a generous door, we think thats plenty of volume and weight for the average owner.
During our flight test, we experimented with several power settings, ranging from 50 percent to 75 percent. Although not all owners use it, one advantage of an airplane with a surplus of both power and fuel is that its practical to extend the range by reducing power. And with $3 avgas a reality, range isnt the only reason for doing that.
At 75 percent power and 5500 feet, the SR22s POH claims 181 knots TAS on 18 GPH, leaned 75 degrees rich of peak. We noted about 176 knots, on about 17 gallons, give or take. Throttling back to 65 percent and leaned rich, we recorded 172 knots on 15 GPH. At that power setting, endurance on full tanks is 4.7 hours, with reserve, giving a still air range of 800 miles. Lean to 100 degrees lean of peak-which this engine will do without complaint-and the speed drops to 162 knots on 11 gallons for a still-air range of more than 1000 miles, with reserves. Without even a breath of tailwind, the SR20 will non-stop from Orlando to Westchester with gas to spare.
The SR20 has earned a reputation for being easy to fly and even easier to land. Since its essentially the same airframe, its logical to assume the SR22 has the same handling characteristics and we would say it does. Nonetheless, we still have some nits to pick.
The Cirrus design brief is automotive ease of use and comfort. Its not quite there yet. Both the IO-360 in the SR20 and IO-550 in the SR22 require the occasional prestidigitation and incantation to start. Run the prime, run the boost, crank…ooops, little more prime there. Hey, were used to tickle-the-pump-and-bang-the-throttle starting procedures. Thats how real pilots learned to fly.
But were not the target market for this airplane, its the guy whos used to the turnkey operation of his Lexus and who wants to fly down to Pinehurst for some golf. Sorry pal, youre gonna have to learn what a priming pump sounds like when it has squirted enough gas into the engine to make it start on the first try. And sometimes it still wont. Were not saying the SR22 is hard to start, just that a Lexus it isnt.
Ergonomically, the Cirrus airplanes do hold their own with the cars, and then some. Entry and exit is easy, even if dodging the doors while on the wing walk is a bit awkard. Having two forward opening doors is a huge plus, in our view.
The instrument panel is…a mile away by light aircraft standards, which is good in the event of a crash, since youre less likely to have the HSI tattooed on your forehead. Speaking of the HSI, its far enough away that adjusting the heading bug or display-something you do a lot of with the Sandel EHSI-is approaching an uncomfortable reach for the short-armed person.
Similarly, the parking brake, a pull-to-set knob, is halfway toward the floor on the pilots side of the console tunnel. Again, quite a stretch to get at it. Ditto the circuit breakers, which live low on the console wall. We would rate cockpit visibility an eight on a scale of 10. The windshield and side windows are expansive and theres even a small rear window for peering at Lancairs creeping up from behind. (Of course, you can actually buy an SR22…) Ground handling-brakes and castoring nosewheel, no steerable nosewheel-can be mastered by the time you get to the runway.
On takeoff roll, the SR22s additional horsepower is obvious. It doesnt bolt off the runway before youre ready but the acceleration is noticeably brisker than the SR20. Rotating at 65 knots, we were surprised to see an 1800 FPM initial climb at 400 pounds below gross weight. Nudging the pitch up, we could easily achieve more than 2000 FPM.
Describing the SR22s control forces as light or well harmonized has little meaning, unless you happen to have lots of data on sidestick control forces, which we dont. Best to say the airplane is what youd expect in both roll and pitch, given youre doing the flying with flicks of the wrist.
The airplane is trim hungry in both pitch and roll, meaning if you try to hold either attitude with nothing but control pressure, your wrist will soon tire. And in turbulence, it may tire anyway. As with the SR20, trim is entirely electric via a single coolie hat on the side controller, fore and aft for pitch, side-to-side for aileron. The SR22 also has electric rudder trim, which the SR20 lacks. Because the pitch trim motor is aggressive, mastering smooth pitch trim changes requires a deft touch to avoid bobbles; we were longing for a slower turning servo motor or even manual trim with an old-fashioned wheel. Application of aileron trim causes fewer bobbles and felt more natural.
The SR22s control circuitry-cables, tubes and bellcranks-has centering springs producing a unique handling trait: Release the controls and the roll or pitch moment you were inputting stops right now, making you feel-if not look-like an F-16 in an eight-point roll. The temptation to roll 360 degrees is strong.
With its longer wings, the SR22s roll rate is marginally slower than the SR20s and we did notice the difference. Overall, we thought the SR20 was more sprightly and lighter on its feet than the SR22, but the 22 makes up for that with its additional takeoff and climb performance. Both models are, dare we say, trivially easy to land and not hard to land well. Having been told ahead of time that transitioning pilots tend to coax the nose too high on touchdown, we memorized the rotation sight picture and merely duplicated it for landing. A bit of back pressure keeps the nosewheel from cratering the runway.
We tried a landing offspeed-90 knots instead of the recommended 70 knots-found minimal float and, once again, plunked the airplane firmly down. With winds gusting to 25 knots, we tried a couple of crosswind landings in challenging conditions. Using a sideslip, the SR22 requires little wing down to hold the runway centerline for an acceptable if not dainty touchdown. In bouncies, it tends to run out of roll range before reaching the rudder stops.
We draw several conclusions from our SR22 flight trials. First, we unequivocally pick the SR22 as the better value of the two Cirrus models. Its faster, carries more and can go farther but the price premium between the top-of-the-line SR20 and equivalent SR22 is about 25 percent or $60,750 in real dollars. In our view, the SR22s additional capability is easily worth that much. If it took drawing a partner into the deal to make it work, we would do that without hesitation.
Second, if Cirrus continues on its current course and survives its on-going capital crunch, a model like the SR22 priced at under $300,000 will surely be the airplane to beat for the likes of Mooney, Piper and even Lancair, which has yet to put significant volume into the market. You can order an SR22 and expect it a year later; not so with Lancair or even the Cirrus SR20, which has a two-year backlog.
Last, although the SR22 is a significant improvement, Cirrus still has some distance to cover if the airplane is to be the practical transportation machine the company says is its intent. It may need a more maintenance reliable powerplant, de-icing and avionics tweaks. But while were waiting for that, the SR22 strikes us as a heckuva good airplane and a first-rate value.
Contact Cirrus Design at 4515 Taylor Circle, Duluth, MN 55811, 218-727-2737 and www.cirrusdesign.com.
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-By Paul Bertorelli