“Cirrus SR-22 Turbo Test Flight”

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OK so right after I got a Lancair Columbia-400, Cirrus came out with the SR-22 Turbo… a plane to match the Lancair in performance, while maybe beating it in some elements of user-friendliness.

Does it?

I let Cirrus sales rep Carol Le Boeuf take me for a flight in a new G-3 (third-generation) Cirrus SR-22 Turbo the other day to find out.

First a word on the turbo.. BOTH the Lancair and Cirrus started life with normally-aspirated Continental IO 550’s and then got turbos added for more speed… and Lancair got the engine with the turbo from Continental, and Cirrus got the turbo from an after-market. IT LOOKS LIKE CIRRUS MADE THE SLIGHTLY BETTER BET. The Lancair burns 38 gallons per hour in climb when the Cirrus burns 35, and the Lancair needs a 5-minute cool-down time after flight… the Cirrus does not. So it looks like the turbo on the Cirrus may be a slightly better build than the one on the Lancair.

Anyway, before flight, a look through the Operating Handbook. BOTH the Cirrus AND the Lancair are ILLEGAL to fly with full fuel and 2 heavy passengers up front: You are FORWARD OF THE ALLOWABLE CG LIMIT. Before any old-schoolers complain, the same is true of the Cessna 182 Turbo! Just put some rescue-gear in the back of the plane and you will be fine, though. The Cirrus weighs 2,386 pounds empty (max gross 3,400)… the Lancair is 2,519 empty (max gross 3,600). This means that Cirrus is built LIGHTER (better engineering?) but the Lancair CARRIES more (better aerodynamics?).

WEIGHT-CARRYING: ADVANTAGE: LANCAIR (BARELY! 1081 lb payload vs 1014 lb for the Cirrus)

 

Walking up the Cirrus SR-22 Turbo, as with all Cirrus SR-22’s, you are right away overcome with a sense of confidence at how well balanced the plane will be, and how easy to fly. The nice large cabin, long skinny wing, big window, and tall landing gear all make the plane look something like a Jeep or SUV: Big and burly, but very easy to handle in any conditions… a plane that will handle whatever you can. The new G-3 Cirrus has a really FAT-CHORD composite prop. This prop weighs less than a metal prop (GREAT!) and offers a HUGE amount of braking when power is reduced, as I would soon find out. Just LOOKING at this big prop hints as to the easy power and strong pull up to moderate speeds that the plane will give you. The Cirrus is just about always painted one color with some stickers stuck onto it to make it LOOK fast.. sort of like a Toyota Camry with racing stripes painted on it. This is a reminder that Alan and Dale Klapmeier want to build as MANY planes as possible, as QUICKLY as possible, and as AFFORDABLY as possible, to really make a positive difference in aviation. (As Henry Ford said of the revolutionary Model-T: ‘Get it in any color you want, as long as it’s black!’) Mr. Ford wanted to keep costs DOWN to keep production UP, and Cirrus does the same with the uni-color (uni-sex?) paint jobs on most all of it’s planes. The Lancairs, though, are always custom-painted from shiny little spinner to beautiful swept tail. Walking up to the planes, The Lancair exudes sexy, silky, customized SPEED, the Cirrus exudes well-balanced, mass-produced confidence.

LOOKS: ADVANTAGE: LANCAIR IF YOU LIKE CUSTOMIZATION AND SPEED, CIRRUS IF YOU LIKE UTILITY.

 

Getting into the SR-22 is as easy as always. Unlike the contortions required for the Lancair, you can really hop right into the Cirrus cockpit. Getting into a Cirrus is just a snap.

CABIN-ENTRY: ADVANTAGE: CIRRUS

 

BUT: The new G-3 Cirrus has some sort of hi-G seats which will apparently save your bacon in a hi-G crash, but they sit so high that the top of my headset was sort of bumping against the roof of the cabin a bit! Sitting in the seats in the Cirrus is sort of like sitting on a big tall throne in a small room: Kind of awkward if you are tall like me… not really fitting quite right. (Though I am not allowed to tell you how I know, I can tell you that the Ferrari-360 is equally tight if you are wearing a helmet while driving it, as you might do on a track, for instance… the car feels great with no helmet, but the height of the helmet is just enough to have your head interfering with the roof if you are tall like me). Now here is an interesting little tidbit: This tight interference does NOT happen in the Lancair!!! The Lancair has nice low-slung seats, and a low-slung cabin, and they all fit together to fit a tall person like me like a glove, with not much room to move, but not the slightest interference either. So even though the Lancair has LESS room inside, it fits a tall person BETTER than the Cirrus! It would be nice if they could get some seats that meet the new hi-G standard without being so tall… that could maybe get the Cirrus back closer to the Lancair category of comfort.

CABIN COMFORT: ADVANTAGE: LANCAIR (very clear winner here)

 

Starting the engine is pretty nice, as the exhaust is quieter for sure with that turbo sucking up the exhaust noise. Engine started, I was again reminded of how the Cirrus is a bit nicer to taxi than the Lancair with the Cirrus’s stiffer gear and more responsive brakes, and slightly higher seating position with maybe slightly better over-the-nose visibility.

TAXI: ADVANTAGE: CIRRUS (clear winner here)

 

Takeoff acceleration is almost impossible for me to judge because I always add power very slowly in these turbo planes so the turbo can spool up and not overboost anything. (If you punch the throttle too fast in a Lancair, you actually can stall the engine! You get all this fuel dumped in, but not enough air to balance it because the turbo has not spun up, and the engine just floods!) I GUESS the same thing might be able to happen in the Cirrus, and I know you want to keep an even fuel-air mixture, so I always advance the power slowly. Anyway, acceleration seems fine and climbout seems about the same as the Lancair… around 1,000 fpm when at absolute max gross weight, forward CG, really hot South Carolina day: In other words: The worst possible conditions.

CLIMB: ADVANTAGE: NONE. (?)

 

Handling of the Cirrus is just amazing, as always: The pitch response remains fine even with the forward CG from the turbos being up front, you hardly need to touch the rudder pedals thanks to that efficient vertical stabilizer, and the ailerons are snappy with those long thin wings and ailerons inboard from the tips a bit to stay out of the wingtip vortices. The Cirrus takes clear top honors in handling.

IN-FLIGHT HANDLING: ADVANTAGE: CIRRUS (clear winner here)

 

Climbout and cruise is pleasant and quick in the Cirrus, just like the Lancair, although the Avidynes in the Cirrus can NOT show XM-Radio like the Garmins in the Lancair, so you have to pull out a remote control and start scrolling around to try to find XM Radio stations to listen to… not nearly as nice a setup as in the Lancair. The interior of the Cirrus is still sort of plasticy compared to the Lancair as well… though certainly perfectly ergonomic and functional and roomy if you aren’t too tall and pushing the ceiling a bit on those hi-G seats.

AVIONICS AND INTERIOR COMFORT: ADVANTAGE: LANCAIR (by about 1,000 miles… this one is not even close… sorry Carol!)

 

In cruise, the Cirrus cannot QUITE keep up with the Lancair, but it is close. Here are the numbers:

16,500 feet, kind of hot day: (this is my personal experience, not a book number)

Cirrus, 17.5 gallons per hour: 195 knots
Cirrus, 15.5 gallons per hour: 185 knots
Cirrus, 12.0 gallons per hour: 163 knots

Lancair, 15.1 gallons per hour: 190 knots
Lancair, 12.0 gallons per hour: 169 knots

So, the Lancair still has 5 knots speed advantage on the Cirrus, while burning slightly LESS fuel. As well, the Cirrus carries 92 gallons, while the Lancair carries 106, so the Lancair still has 14 gallons (a full hour!!!) more fuel than the Cirrus.

CRUISE SPEED AND RANGE: ADVANTAGE: LANCAIR (clear winner here by a bit.. not a WHOLE lot though)

 

OK now let’s talk about descent: Pulling back the power in the Cirrus lets you down decently… the big fat prop really soaks up that wind and slows you. In the Lancair you really build up speed when you point the nose down… so the Cirrus has the advantage in the descent if you want ease-of-use, and the Lancair has the advantage if you want speed (a very common theme here!). Pattern entry and landing is really easy in the new Cirrus: Coming into the pattern in the Lancair involves sailing in at blistering speeds, the engine smooth and quiet at low power, popping out the speedbrakes and feeling the plane rumble and burble as the speed bleeds off, pulling in the speedbrakes, bringing the prop rpm up, and powering in on the approach: quite a nice little bit of energy-management, and it is always very fun. The Cirrus is simpler: If you pull back the power, the plane drops like a rock. That’s it. That fat prop acts like a huge airbrake and just soaks up all the wind and engine-brakes the heck out of you and down you go. There is NO NEED AT ALL for speedbrakes in the Cirrus, because that big prop just soaks up all the energy you could ever want to lose, and then some more besides! For ease-of-use, this is clearly what you want, but what if the engine quit in the Cirrus? You would be going DOWN, with no way to ditch that huge airbrake up front and glide well. In the Lancair, on the other hand, the prop does not add so much drag, and if you pull the prop all the way back, that Lancair will far out-glide the Cirrus. As always, the Lancair SLIPS through the air, while the Cirrus POWERS through it. This is determined by the big Cirrus body and huge Cirrus prop.

DESCENT: ADVANTAGE: ??? Cirrus is easier, Lancair is more flexible and capable. I call it advantage Lancair. You call it as you like.

 

Landing both planes is interesting… the Lancair is interesting because you really FLY it on. The Cirrus is interesting because if you pull the power on approach you will drop like a rock. Both planes feel a bit nose-heavy in the flare, but nothing too bad. After flight, you have to let the engine cool for 5 minutes before shut-down in the Lancair, but you do not have to do that for the Cirrus… you can just taxi in fast on that precise landing gear and shut down the engine right away.

TOUCHDOWN, TAXI IN, SHUT DOWN: ADVANTAGE: CIRRUS. (damn!)

 

OK I wanted the Lancair to win, but maybe it does not totally win… For all the points the Lancair gains in it’s ultimate speed, range, payload, efficiency, comfort, and avionics (ALL of which surpass the Cirrus!), the Cirrus can gain points right back in ease of use and simple utility and robust, versatile, balanced feel and operation.

So, which way do you go if you want to buy a plane?

Well, if you want ease of use, robust look and feel, great versatility, great handling, and care-free operation, (with maintenance facilities everywhere!) then you HAVE to get the Cirrus. It WON’T let you down.

But, if you want the fastest, sleekest, longest-range, most efficient, most comfortable airplane with the best exterior look, curves, and paint, and the nicest interior, and the most advanced avionics by far, well, the Lancair just leaves all comers in it’s propwash.

But, I guess I already knew that. 😉

Now I’m afraid Carol will kill me. 😉

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