When you look back at the historical arc of light general aviation, a few airplanes stand out as being so important that their introductions changed the way we flew and the way we looked at flying. At the certain risk of leaving out a few favorites, you can’t talk about the history of light aviation without bringing up the Piper Cub, the Beech Bonanza and Baron, the Cessna 172, 182, 210 and 206, the Piper Cherokee and Malibu and … well, I’ll let you fill in the rest yourselves. Suffice it to say, however, there aren’t many more.
My only point is that, when compiling such a list, it’s impossible to leave off the Cirrus SR22. I would argue that it is an airplane that, like the Bonanza and Skyhawk before it, changed the face of the light GA marketplace more than any other airplane of its time, both in the way we look at what an airplane should be and in the way in which manufacturers built and marketed their products. With its feature-rich, high-performance four-place single, Cirrus put the pressure on its competitors to offer models that were roomy, fast and technologically advanced and that featured a wide variety of standard and optional safety utilities. That’s quite an impression to have made in a relatively short time.
Even after its introduction, the biggest challenger to the piston-single status quo remained Cirrus, which continued to offer upgrades to its high-end single. Anniversaries like the SR22’s 10-year milestone can be good for a little perspective on how a design has changed and why. Looking at the Cirrus SR22 through this lens, it’s easy to see two things: that the airplane has changed substantially in the past 10 years and that it is a better airplane today than ever.
Recognizing this fact, Cirrus created a special 10th anniversary version of the SR22 called the Limited Commemorative Edition (LCE). And limited it is. Cirrus plans to build only 10 of the airplanes. Chances are that, by the time you read this, they might be gone.
In terms of technology, the Cirrus SR22 T LCE (the “T” model boasts the factory Continental turbocharged TSIO-550 engine) offers nothing new, which is to say it’s loaded with high-tech features. It’s got known icing capability, synthetic vision, enhanced vision, traffic, terrain, terminal charts, satellite weather and entertainment, the remarkable Perspective by Garmin avionics suite, the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS), air conditioning, lightweight composite prop and much more. In addition, the 10 LCE airplanes boast a sharp paint scheme and the slickest SR22 interior I’ve seen.
I photographed the first LCE on a couple of occasions recently. It is truly a distinctive-looking airplane. The first one is owned by a prominent Midwestern businessman who has owned other SR22s. He wished to remain nameless here, though you might recognize his face, if you know him, in the photographs. I don’t think I’ll give away his identity by saying that he is exceedingly proud of his new SR22.
Cirrus SR22 History in Brief
The introduction of the first Cirrus SR22 wasn’t a closely guarded secret, and the model shared so much in common with the company’s original product, the 200 hp Cirrus SR20 single, that the expectations were muted. Once people started flying it, and I was among the first, the mood changed. With more than a third more power than the SR20, the newest Cirrus was like a whole new machine. It was a true 180-knot cruiser, it carried more fuel, and it had a much longer range than did the SR20. It was, simply, a lot more airplane, and it was soon outselling its stablemate by a wide margin.
Over the next many years Cirrus continuously upgraded the model. It was given flat-panel avionics with the Avidyne Entegra suite — we named the Cirrus/Avidyne partnership as a winner of our 2004 Flying Editors’ Choice Award. The interior was updated, and new options, including aftermarket air conditioning, were added. With the G2 edition, Cirrus introduced a turbonormalized version, which made use of an aftermarket turbocharging modification by Tornado Alley. The turbo option powered the Cirrus SR22 to new performance highs, with top speeds of better than 200 knots for the first time. Soon after, in 2007, Cirrus launched the G3 model. While the G2 had evolutionary changes, the G3 was a whole new Cirrus, with new wing, landing gear and avionics options. The airplane also added fuel, upping the capacity to 92 gallons for an extra margin on long legs. The introduction of the Perspective by Garmin, Cirrus’ nameplate edition of the Garmin G1000 suite — with a keypad, a large multifunction display and more — came in 2008, and the addition of enhanced vision, synthetic vision and an optional approved flight into known icing TKS system all followed.
The 10-year anniversary of the Cirrus SR22 is a special milestone for Cirrus in part because business has been tough for the past couple of years. Much to its credit, Cirrus, along with its partners, has continued to innovate. The company just this past year announced in conjunction with Garmin its ESP system, for enhanced computer-controlled stability and upset recovery.
With a 10-year track record of constantly improving the design of its seminal four-seater, Cirrus’ continued commitment to moving the chains should surprise no one. I, for one, can’t wait to see what it comes up with next.
For more on the Cirrus SR22, see 10 Ways that the SR22 Changed Flying.