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Wed, Jul 13, 2005

Cirrus Design Boss: Getting It Right Starts With 'Right Now' (Part 2)

Part Two Of A Series of Chats With Cirrus Design's Alan Klapmeier

The conversation speeds along nearly as quickly as an SR22...

Despite reports in other media, Alan tells ANN that there is no specific timeline for a FADEC introduction for the SR2X. While noting that "FADEC fits our philosophy," he adds that it isn't in the schedule yet. "We're optimistic as to its potential, but this is a technology that can not be rushed. We've been first to market in the past (with chutes, PFDs, etc), when the product was ready. Pushing FADEC into production before its ready just isn't smart. I'm excited about what it can mean for our customers... but I'm not going to really get excited until I know its ready for production."

Since Cirrus places such great emphasis on its core mission to "grow the industry," Klapmeier totally eschews industry criticism of Cirrus for selling aircraft to so-called "low-time pilots."

"Nobody learns to drive in a Model T anymore. If you train to the aircraft and to the mission, carefully and thoroughly, you wind up with prepared pilots who can safely fly their planes. It's not how about how fast you solo or how quick you get your license, it's about how safe you learn to fly the airplane."

Aggressive emphasis on initial and recurrent training never wains at Cirrus. As we visited last week, we noted a number of new programs, often using online technologies, to not only prepare new pilots for Cirrus operations, but to maintain a high level of knowledge and proficiency throughout the ownership experience. A new web site, "Cirrus Pilot's World," features a number of excellent tutorials and interactive programs to keep pilots thinking... and learning. Under the guidance of Bill Stone, Cirrus has set forth a mandate for scenario and mission based training that educates and acclimates Cirrus operators to the total operational environment they are likely to encounter in any number of VFR and IFR mission profiles. Klapmeier wryly notes, though, that most of the criticism he sees about selling SR22s to new flyers comes from folks who are trying to sell those same pilots something other than an SR22... and has learned to take such criticism with a grain of salt.

Alan is getting a little concerned, though, at the continual nastigrams floating in the rumor mill.. especially (once again) from competitive sales outlets (something we can verify as well... the negative selling against Cirrus, and others, is getting fairly vicious these days). Alan is particularly concerned with oft-repeated rumors asserting that Cirrus SR2X aircraft can not be safely stalled and that the reason they elected to install the chute was because the FAA wouldn't certify it otherwise. As a matter of fact, the over-riding concern that Klapmeier voices as the ultimate reason for Cirrus' selection of the chute is his own mid-air experience many years ago... and the fact that the chute is the only thing (besides luck) that might save a person under such circumstances.

"This (the chute rumor) isn't helping us grow the industry. Jim, its just not true and I know you know it, too."

Indeed, we do... Cirrus made SR20 production number three (shown above) available to us for a flight down memory airway, as well as a brand new SR22 GTS. The SR20 flight showed that the elder bird (used in their company flight training club) has held up well, while an AGGRESSIVE stall series in this earliest and supposedly least sophisticated of certified Cirri, showed NO tendency for slow flight/stalls in clean and approach configuration to develop into ANY untoward departures, autorotations or aggressive behavior... even in obnoxiously exacerbated stalls with aggressive yaw and roll inputs applied at and through the stall. I even spent time, in extended full aft stick stalls, power off in various flap configurations, walking the rudder from stop to stop and playing mild falling leaf games with the elder SR20... and then went back up and did it again with a brand new SR22. There is no doubt that an errant pilot can still hurt themselves if they are particular ignorant or abusive, but it's not that easy to do and the aircraft truly resists untoward stall/spin behavior.

As to the spin rumor... here's the part that will get me in trouble -- in times past (and I ain't saying any more than that...), I have stalled and spun the SR20, in particular, while flying with Cirrus test pilots. Please be advised that no matter how well the aircraft spins and recovers, the recommended and certified procedure, for ease and safety's sake, is none-the-less, to deploy the chute. Since accidental spins are usually low-altitude events in which a standard recovery is unlikely to allow a safe outcome, Cirrus deliberately selected the certified solution.

The Cirrus is a clean machine that stalls and eventually spins like a number of very clean high-performance airplanes. It takes a while to develop a steady state autorotation and there is a fairly speedy rotational rate to deal with when fully involved in a stable autorotation... but it also recovers rather well, once the rotational inertia is countered sufficiently to allow for direct recovery. Overall; the Cirrus behaves rather well in such modes... not as good as some, but certainly better than most... and to document it once and for all, Alan is letting me come back this fall to purposefully abuse another of his airplanes and counter all the old wive's tales that have shown up here and there when someone tries to negatively sell something against a Cirrus. I'm looking forward to it (its a tough job but someone has to do it).

It was a great conversation... a wide-ranging one. We chatted about the electrical design decisions made for the (now) all-electric SR2X series and why they feel they made the right decisions in terms of system redundancy (especially in terms of system isolation in the case of a primary failure...) leaving a secondary system fully vulnerable to the difficulties that brought it down in the first place seems to be excellent validation for some safety limitations in reversionary design.

We also talked about something that I have found to be tremendously exciting... a company known as SATS Air. For over two months, an East Coast enterprise has been doing the improbable; flying virtually all-weather Part 135 operations... in single-engine piston aircraft. Using SR22s, SATS Air is already exciting a new generation of clientele that likes the $.75 per seat mile costs, the ability to fly into small LOCAL GA airports, sports REALLY comfy interiors, great scenery and excellent utility... not to mention the continually-cited inclusion of the "Ultimate Safety Net," the CAPS airframe parachute system -- possibly the final attribute that allowed the FAA to certify this operation. SATS Air has staggering potential... in terms of GA fence-mending, support of smaller GA airfields, economical LOCAL air travel, and may turn out to be a pivotal PR and sales tool for the GA industry. Cirrus knows this and has chosen to become "heavily involved" in this program... especially since it fits in "perfectly" with the Cirrus mission of "growing the industry."

Think of it... if such programs continue to be used, prove to be cost effective and proliferate; every passenger will be forced to admit and understand the value and viability of GA in ways that we couldn't directly teach them, otherwise. There's much more on this subject... but that will have to wait for the next installment in this article series... Stay Tuned.  

FMI: www.cirrusdesign.com

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