Buyers who shop a new Mooney Acclaim will inevitably at least consider the Cirrus SR22 and Columbia, too. My perspective is as a CFII-my business is training pilots in technologically advanced aircraft (TAA) with a focus on Cirrus and Columbia. Here are some highlights from the right seat:
Garmin vs. Avidyne:Cirrus airplanes are available with only the Avidyne Entegra while Columbias can be ordered with either the keyboard-equipped Garmin G1000 or the Entegra. By far, more owners are specifying the G1000 for the Columbia, but
there are still more Avidyne Columbias flying. Which is better is a matter of personal taste. The Avidyne is simpler and easier to use, but the G1000 has more advanced capability, including interface with its own dedicated autopilot, the GFC700. Further, the Garmin has full screen reversion in the event of failures, the Avidyne doesnt.
Columbias G1000 has integrated a voice warning system for prescribed alerts. These warnings include door open, alternator off, fuel valve and fuel pump on. These are tied to the red light conditions on the annunciator panel. The Cirrus doesnt include aural warnings. One grumble were hearing from some early G1000 owners is that theres no inexpensive upgrade to WAAS, while the Entegra does offer this. This isnt an issue for new buyers.
Controls:From a flying perspective, both Columbia and Cirrus have similar flying characteristics. Cirrus controls are more representative of a standard yoke and the Columbia is more representative of a traditional stick. I prefer the feel of the Columbia stick, which provides a more intuitive and smoother command authority without the tendency to over control the aircraft while climbing or descending. Either way, adapting to side controls is childs play; no one has trouble with it.
Cabin Comfort:Im just a little under 6 feet in height, but have shorter legs. To be comfortable, Id like the seat to slide a bit more forward than most. For me, the issue in the Columbia is headroom to the side. I use David Clark headsets and often bang my head on the side of the cabin. Even in the Cirrus, I have to recline the seat to avoid having my headset hit the side of the cockpit.
Overall, the Cirrus is roomier than the Columbia as the cabin is about two inches wider. If youre large person, the Cirrus is probably the better choice, comfort wise. And even when the front seat is pushed all the way back, theres ample rear set leg room in the Cirrus. Columbia rear-seat passengers will be cramped in this situation.
Trim:Both aircraft use electric trim for pitch and aileron that are controlled with a hat switch on the stick. Cirrus overloads the function of the hat switch on the side yoke to double as trim and as an autopilot disconnect. When you push straight down on the hat switch to disconnect the autopilot, you often get some trim change. Columbia, on the other hand, uses a separate disconnect switch on the stick, so theres no chance of altering the autopilot trim.
In my view, the trim system on the Columbia is superior to the Cirrus in a couple of ways. Trim indications on the Cirrus are based on visual markings on the side yoke that are often difficult to judge, especially aileron trim. On the Avidyne-equipped models, Columbia uses a cross of little lights (LEDs) to indicate trim condition. When the center light is green, the aircraft is essentially trimmed with only minor adjustment needed. If you need a little trim up for takeoff, just hold the trim switch back a bit and you will see a second green light just above the center one. If you are out of trim, a blue light appears showing the mistrim direction. On the G1000 Columbias, a graphical indicator mimics the look and feel of a traditional manual trim indicator. Again, this is precise and easy to use.
Alternators:Both aircraft have dual alternators and dual batteries. The Cirrus has a 60-amp primary alternator and a 20-amp backup. Columbia uses two 60-amp alternators. If the main alternator fails in the Cirrus, you lose a few important systems such as flaps, pitch and aileron trim, MFD and deice. In the Columbia, you simply isolate the faulty alternator and flip a cross-tie switch.
The entire electrical system can be powered with no load shedding necessary. Throttle and Prop: Cirrus uses a single lever to control the throttle and prop through a mechanical cam arrangement. The Cirrus philosophy is to build an aircraft that is simple to fly, so combining the throttle and the propeller control makes good sense. But I drive a five-speed car so I like having complete control over the propeller pitch. Honestly, either system is fine.
Speed Brakes:Both the Columbia and Cirrus require planning to slow down, thanks to their slippery airframes. While power management is paramount, a quick slow down requires a significant power reduction in the Cirrus. Columbia offers Precise Flight speed brakes that can slow the airplane quickly with little or no power change. Theyre also helpful to decelerate rapidly if you encounter severe turbulence, since they can be deployed at any airspeed below VNE.
Doors and Seals:The Columbia has gullwing -style doors which means that if one opens in flight, its almost certain to depart the airplane. This happened at least once, in September, 2006. The aicraft landed safely. Given the secure latching system and door annunciator on the Columbia, the risk is minimal. The doors on the Cirrus are front hinged but have been problematic relative to fit from day one. Some of these doors have popped open in flight or were not secure before departing. Theres no risk of losing them inflight.
On the plus side, Cirrus service centers have been able to adjust the doors to get them to operate reliably. The Columbia doors are easier to close, in my opinion, and theyre equipped with inflatable door seals, adding significantly to noise reduction in the cockpit. On the other hand, long term maintenance on the inflatable seals is an unknown.
Scott Dennstaedt operates Chesapeake Aviation Training. He teaches weather decision-making and specializes in Cirrus and Columbia TAA training. Contact www. chesavtraining.com