Cirrus Perspective: Integration Gets Serious

Cirrus re-invented the Garmin G1000 in its own image as a $48K add on option. The EFIS ergonomics and symbology are much improved.

Ever fond of making the simple complex and the complex more complex, the FAA had to come up with an acronym to describe whats otherwise known as progress. TAA or technically advanced aircraft is the umbrella term applied to an airplane with glass displays, but really, it means anything with a moving map, a GPS navigator and an autopilot.

Excuse us, but if a 30-year-old Cherokee with a Garmin GNS430 and a creaky AutoControl is a technically advanced aircraft, a 1963 Dodge Dart is a concept car. To us, technically advanced means that the technology belongs in the airframe and is integrated into its operation. Cirrus pioneered this idea and with its latest product, called the Cirrus Perspective, it has given birth to what anyone in industry should recognize as a true TAA. The Perspective is both subtle and seismic. Bottom line, its just a new options package for the established and highly successful SR22,

Avionics Flight Trial

although the airframe itself has some upgrades. The seismic shift is that the Perspective has a new version of the Garmin G1000 EFIS rather than the Avidyne Entegra which has been standard in the Cirrus since 2002.

Cirrus chose the Entegra before the G1000 even existed and the company leveraged that product to become the first manufacturer to convert its entire fleet to glass cockpits. The switch to Garmin is significant, given Cirrus insistence that the airplane and its systems be operationally transparent to the pilot. (For all its popularity, “transparent” doesnt come to mind when describing the G1000 in previous iterations.)

Cirrus principal Alan Klapmeier told us thats why the company resisted offering the Garmin option as other major manufacturers adopted it as standard-including Cessna, Diamond, Mooney and Beechcraft. Variable by model, Piper offers both Garmin and Avidyne systems and Cirrus will continue to do the same, since the G1000 option is a $48,000 add on to the standard SR22. Fully decked out, the turbo version of the Perspective will invoice for about $625,000. Although the turbonormalized SR22 is by the hottest seller, Cirrus will continue to offer the normally aspirated variant and both versions of these airplanes can have the Perspective options package. If this sounds confusing, it is-refer to the Cirrus Web site for details.

Whats the Big Deal?

What sets the Perspective apart from everyone else with Garmin EFIS is how the G1000 itself has been reconfigured. We heard it described as “gen-and-a-half with new hardware” and we think thats accurate. The Perspective isn’t a clean sheet redo of G1000-the underlying capability and logic remains similar-but the G1000s knob-hungry operability appears to have been tamped down by dint of moving principle controls more readily to hand.

First, the hardware. The Perspectives version of the G1000 has larger screens-12 inches versus 10 inches in the previous iteration-yielding 35 percent more viewable area. In our estimation, this is of most benefit on PFD side, where the addition of new symbology and synthetic vision would otherwise make the view cluttery. It still is somewhat cluttery, but the tradeoff against more data is worth it. Second, the Perspective has an alphanumeric keyboard/joystick/knob set located in the center pedestal, where the Garmin GNS430s used to reside. The keyboard isn’t new to Cirrus, having been pioneered in the G1000 in the then Columbia now Cessna 350/400. But the location and configuration is quite different.

On the Cessna/Columbias, the alphanumeric is installed low on pedestal, under the throttle quadrant. The Perspectives keyboard is high and center, just beneath the MFD. Cirrus was purposeful about this, according to Ian Bentley, the companys VP of products and services, because it addresses what Cirrus always viewed as a downside of the G1000: As with all EFIS, the Garmin requires bouts of niggly key and knob work and because the pilot sits so far back from the panel in a Cirrus, the reach is long and frequent. The keyboard puts most of the primary tasks readily at hand, including de-integrating the audio panel/intercom from the G1000. Unlike other versions of the G1000, the Perspective has a discrete GMA347 audio panel, but the GTX327 transponder remains integrated-its an off-panel remote box controlled from the G1000 keyboard.

Similarly, the Perspectives GFC700 autopilot is also controlled from its own discrete panel on the pedestal, rather than an isolated keyset on the bezel of the G1000 itself, as in other installations. The autopilot control is installed directly under the keypad and, in some ways, contains throwback control features that we used to see in older autopilots. For example, there’s a pitch/rate thumbwheel, rather than a knob or rocker, and there are dedicated keys to engage pitch, rate or airspeed vertical changes, plus dedicated keys for the flight director and-a new feature-a yaw damper. (Considering the SR22s lack of excessive adverse yaw and minimal yaw-roll coupling tendencies at cruise speed, were not sure how necessary the damper is, but the AP has it and customers of high-end aircraft will probably want it, even if they don’t ask for it. Its a $7500 add on.)

The autopilots supremely Cirrus innovation is a small blue key labeled LVL. If you engage it at any point, the autopilot will stop what its doing-or what youre doing-and bring the roll and pitch to level flight, whether the AP is on or not. Klapmeier told us this isn’t being sold as a recovery-from-unusual-attitude button because the autopilot has control force limitations. On the other hand, it does make a nice push-this-first option before yanking the parachute handle on the ceiling. During our flight demo with Cirrus Rob Haig, we engaged the thing at about a 50-degree bank and a 20-degree pitch up a couple of times and it functioned as advertised. Although Garmin added this feature at Cirrus behest, Klapmeier told us Garmin has a green light to offer it to other manufacturers.

This creates a curious dilemma for the competition. Do you incorporate the “Cirrus button” in your autopilot and thus acknowledge the Deans of Duluth or do you risk the legal exposure of not having it? Of such stuff is modern competition made.

Displays

Although the displays are larger than previous versions of the G1000, we cant say this is dramatically noticeable until you revert from the Perspective back to the older G1000 or the Entegra, in which case type and symbols will seem slightly stingy. Anyone who demos both will surely want the larger screens, but theyll have to decide if theyre worth a $48,000 premium. Most of the interesting action is in the PFD side, which now includes Garmins version of synthetic vision, a flight director and highway-in-the-sky (HITS) boxes. Theyve also added some waypoint and compass symbology thats useful for situational awareness, once youve gotten past the MEGO (my eyes glaze over) effect of HITS boxes flying at you like electronic Ninja stars.

The SVT is purely a construct of the G1000s interpretation of the outside terrain. Using a 3-arc second resolution database, it builds a view of the outside world thats detailed enough to show major features such as terrain, water and obstacles, all presented in the correct perspective which scales up or down according to range and viewing angle. Traffic ahead is also displayed three dimensionally and it too changes size according to range.

A standard feature on the G1000 is terrain alerting via color change and

if the EFIS is equipped with optional TAWS-B, voice alerts for hazardous terrain are also available. The synthetic view is rather startling in its fidelity. Lakes look like lakes and match the view out the window almost perfectly. A looming runway-complete with centerline and number-lacks only smears of touchdown rubber to look like the actual slab of concrete.

When they originally introduced light aircraft EFIS, both Avidyne and Garmin demurred on the addition of HITS boxes, the much vaunted new idea in symbology that gained notice when NASA launched the AGATE (Advanced General Aviation Transport Experiments) more than a decade ago. HITS symbols are simply perspective (there’s that word again) boxes that originate in space on the horizon or a waypoint and appear to progress in sequence toward the pilots eyes.

In a single glance, they give sensory information on flight attitude, distance to fix, path-to-course relationship and vertical state, but without specific numerical values.

Ignoring the skill necessary to operate a modern EFIS, HITS boxes all but connect the hand to the eye, making it conceivable for an utterly untrained person to keep the airplane upright without reference to outside cues. The occasionally comical downside of HITS, in our experience, is the potential for a trained pilot to excite mild PIOs in trying to fly through the center of the boxes, a totally unnecessary requirement, since the boxes half-width represent something like 1/8th scale needle deflection on an approach. Centering through them is like making a salami sandwich with a microtome. You just don’t have to.

Garmin added some other features along with the SVT. A flight path indicator-a bulls-eye type symbol-appears ahead of the aircraft path and shows where the flight vector is going, irrespective of where the nose is pointed. The FPI is an adaption of military HUD technology and using it informs the pilots perception of how wind and vector change rate is affecting the flight path. If you plant the FPI on the end of the runway with pitch and roll inputs, thats where you’ll go-wind correction angle is built in without having to think about it.

Also on the PFD is a zero pitch line, which appears on the horizon to show the airplanes altitude in relation to terrain ahead. Cardinal and subcardinal compass points are depicted on this symbology, as though you were flying over a flat compass card.

Airplane Tweaks

Given the SR22s state of development, Cirrus isn’t exactly due for a new model. The recent step-up was the Tornado Alley Turbo two years ago. On the airframe itself, the Perspective option package merely cleans up some minor shortcomings.

The electrical system gets a second alternator (70 amps) thats bigger than the old one-a plus in an electric airplane. One thing we never liked about the Cirrus was the location of the circuit breaker panel on the pedestal wall next to the pilots right knee. The CBs hide in the dark and due to parallax, you couldnt tell which label applied to which breaker. The Perspective fixes that with improved labeling.

The environmental control system-also not previously a Cirrus strong suit-has been upgraded, a CO detector has been added along with instrumentation for brake temperature sensing, oxygen and TKS fluid status.

Less obvious is the background redundancy Cirrus had built into the airplane, consistent with the companys philosophy that no pilot should have to leap all at once from a full panel to nothing but backup steam gauges. The airplane has true dual independent busses and two batteries, so with the larger second alternator, either can run the entire aircraft.

Second, the EFIS is a dual AHRS design, which is unusual for single-engine aircraft in this class. And that helps with another thing Cirrus insisted on: a more fault tolerant autopilot system. With dual AHRS, the Perspective can tolerate attitude input and airdata failures, while still leaving the pilot with some autopilot capability. Besides the G1000 improvements, the Garmin version of the SR22 will have the option of either Jeppesens JeppView chart system or Garmins version, the FliteCharts system.

These play we’ll on the larger screens, reducing the need to squint sideways across the cockpit. For airport surface nav, the Perspective has Garmins Safe Taxi system-geo-referenced airport diagrams. What all this adds up to, in our view, is the first light aircraft that has avionics integrated from the ground up-not boxes from several manufacturers strung together in functional if not happy unison. (And don’t get us started about third-party warranty support.)

Well reserve definitive judgment after more flight experience with the airplane, but our initial impression is that Cirrus got the ergos and operational transparency righter and tighter than anyone else to date. It deserves credit for not just knowing what it wanted in an integrated cockpit, but actually jollying Garmin along to build it.

Paul Bertorelli is Aviation Consumer’s Editor at Large. In addition to his valued contributions to Aviation Consumer, his in-depth video productions on sister publication AVweb cover a wide variety of topics that greatly contribute to safety, operation and aircraft ownership. When Paul isn’t writing or filming, he’s out flying his J3 Cub.