2009 Cirrus SR22

We fly the latest SR22 from Cirrus Aircraft and try out its long list of phenomenally cool safety features.

2009 Cirrus SR22

2009 Cirrus SR22

Cirrus SR22

Cirrus Aircraft has introduced its lineup for 2009, and the new airplanes come with some very impressive available features. The big news is a known ice protection system, but there's a raft of other recently announced upgrades, too, with a whole host of advanced acronyms available, EVS, SVT and FIKI, among many others, making the Cirrus SR22, for the time being, the most technologically sophisticated production piston single-engine airplane in the world, by a nose.

And Cirrus can rightfully brag about its commitment to innovation. The parade of new technologies Cirrus has brought to its high-performance fixed-gear single is mind-boggling, at least based on what we all thought we knew about small airplanes 20 years ago. And customers are demanding it all, and they're paying a pretty penny for it, too. The top of the line Cirrus, the Turbo GTS with all the options, goes for around $650,000, though lower priced and still remarkably well-equipped models can be had for less.

Straightening Out the Cirrus Lineup

As the Cirrus list of options has grown, the designations for the various models have gotten confusing for many customers (and journalists). Recognizing this, the company has created a trio of classifications for both the Cirrus SR20 and the Cirrus SR22, splitting its lineup into the "S," "GS" and "GTS" option package groups. (Some options are not available on the SR20.)

The "S" seems as though it might stand for "simple" or "standard," but these airplanes are still nicely equipped. They feature 10-inch displays and the S-Tec 55SR autopilot. These are the airplanes that Cirrus has traditionally sold to flight schools and other fleet operators.

The "GS" group is a step up, and boasts 12-inch screens, the S-Tec 55X autopilot, basic ice protection (more on that distinction in a bit) and some higher-end interior and exterior styling touches.

The top of the line is the "GTS," which adds dual AHRS, the Garmin GFC 700 autopilot, synthetic vision, enhanced vision, known ice protection, and top-of-the-line interior and exterior options. These are the airplanes that most customers order.

Flight Into Known Icing

The biggest news is that Cirrus now offers a certified flight into known ice (FIKI) TKS system for its SR22 lineup. The system is a $24,500 increase over the basic ice protection system, which is standard on the GS and GTS models.

The purpose of any anti-ice/deice system requires little explanation. In a nutshell, it's there to keep the airframe clear of ice so the aerodynamics (and pilots' view out the window) are as unaffected by the buildup as possible. This is, as with much in aviation, much easier said than done. And as with so many things, it's how the new system does it that counts. The details make all the difference.

As you probably know, the Cirrus SR22 has been available with a noncertified TKS ice protection package for several years now -- Cirrus now refers to this system as its "basic" TKS package. To get that system approved, all Cirrus had to do was show that its installation didn't introduce any hazard to flight.

Just what good does a nonapproved system do for a pilot? Good question. In terms of what it does for you in terms of ice protection, well, the answer is very complicated and ranges from everything required to not nearly enough, depending on the severity of the conditions and the outcome of the flight. Despite flying Cirrus SR22s in some of the iciest parts of the country over the years, my firsthand knowledge of the subject is minimal. I have asked a lot of SR22 drivers what their experiences have been, and they've had a lot of reassuring things to say about the nonapproved TKS system as installed on previous SR22s, as well as a few not-so-reassuring things. (The basic system will still be available even after the introduction of the FIKI system.)

But what a nonapproved system does for you from a regulatory point of view is easy to answer: nothing. There are few issues in aviation that are more controversial than what constitutes "known icing" conditions, and even the FAA over the years has waffled on the point. But the bottom line is, only a known ice approved system keeps you legal when you encounter icing conditions. A non-approved system, on the other hand, might keep you safe, but if you have an ice-related incident or emergency, it won't protect you from enforcement action.

A certified system, on the other hand, keeps you legal.

The second and more important part is, it undoubtedly keeps you safer, too.

The new TKS system was designed jointly by Cirrus and TKS manufacturer CAV Ice Protection Ltd. It's not just a beefed-up version of the former TKS system on the SR22 but a whole new system with upgraded components throughout. This includes the panels themselves, laser-drilled titanium units that can deliver more anti-icing fluid more quickly. There's also more coverage, with longer panels on the wing leading edges, a panel on the vertical tail and mini-panels on the mass balance on the elevator and on the wingtips. On the leading edge is a heated stall vane/angle of attack sensor, and an automotive style spray unit keeps the windshield clear. LED-powered ice lights on either side of the fuselage illuminate the surfaces, so you can see how it's going even at night. As on the previous installation, a slinger ring protects the prop.

There's more capacity and backups galore with the FIKI system. There are three pumps, two tanks and system display capability. When filled, the two 4-gallon tanks give the system 2.5 hours of capacity, automatically cycling between the tanks to keep the levels roughly even. On the MFD you've got a display that shows you the amount of fluid in each tank, the length of available deicing time in the system at each of the three flow rates (max, high and normal), and even the range available under current conditions.

On the day that I went flying in the new Cirrus SR22, there was, believe it or not, icing forecast over a wide swath of Central Texas. And with a 600-foot ceiling at KAUS and even lower down at San Antonio, where we were headed, the fact of the matter was, it was the perfect day to be FIKI equipped.

As is so often the case, even though ice was forecast, there wasn't any of it in the clouds. In fact, there was quite a temperature inversion, and freezing rain had been forecast further north. On the ground at Austin it was just above freezing, but by the time we got to 5,000 feet, the OAT was 50° F. The ride, you might have guessed, was silky smooth.

On the flight down and back up the performance of the anti-icing system, so far as I could tell without any actual ice, was impressive, with solid deicing fluid flow starting quickly and flowing strongly. The system monitor also alerted us, through the MFD, to the possibility of ice, based on the outside air temperature, and it monitored the flow and levels and even annunciated system problems -- in this case, there was a glitch, and even though the system kept working, the monitor indicated zero pressure for a time.

One new element I like a lot is the little spray head that keeps the windshield clear. Just like the windshield washer on my car, it consists of a little multi-head nozzle that sprays TKS fluid up onto the glass. The coverage, even at normal flow, was excellent, and provided it kept the ice away, it would provide a much better view out front than conventional "hot plate" style windshield deicers. The prop slinger, by the way, throws a good bit of glycol up on the windscreen, too.

At the time I flew the system early in the year, it had not yet gotten final FAA approval, though it had, Cirrus said, passed all of the certification tests. The remaining step was for it to go through a comment period for approval through the exemption process (which should be over by the time you read this). At that point the only thing an owner needs to do is remove a sticker covering the "certified" icing equipment placard and update the logbook.

Pilots worry about weight, and rightfully so. But there's good news on that front.

Now, the addition of the FIKI system adds a significant amount of weight to the SR22's basic empty weight, about 61 pounds (empty), or about 23 pounds more than the basic ice protection package. The total impact, of course, depends on how much TKS fluid you're carrying. Full fluid adds 73 pounds to the total, for a grand total increase of 134 pounds.

That said, Cirrus says that it has decreased basic empty weight on the new models substantially, in part by using a brand-new standard equipment Hartzell prop with a much lighter hub, so that the empty system increase in weight over the basic icing package should be negligible, or even lighter than previous SR22s. This is good news, too, to those customers who decline to get the known ice system, as they'll get the increase in useful load as part of the deal.

It's very probable that customers who choose to go with the FIKI system will be those who fly in northern regions, where ice is a more common wintertime hazard. It should be noted, however, that with the Turbo option, pilots routinely operate their SR22s in the high teens and 20s, where ice is a potential hazard 12 months a year throughout much of the country.

And I have to give a lot of credit to Cirrus, which has stressed over and over again that the real purpose of any anti-icing system is not to allow you to fly in the ice but to give you more time and additional margins to escape ice should you encounter it. The required training for those customers purchasing a FIKI-equipped airplane will doubtless help hammer home the message.

EVS Revealed

It was at the AOPA Convention in San Jose last fall that Cirrus introduced its enhanced vision (EVS) product, called Perspective EVS. Manufactured by Forward Vision, the camera that Cirrus chose for its EVS in the SR22 -- it's now available in the SR20, too -- is the EVS-600, a very economical infrared-plus-visible spectrum sensor. The camera is mounted on the lower side of the left wing, where it is aimed ahead and slightly down.

The goals of the EVS in the Cirrus SR22 are very modest. Unlike the conformal displays on a head-up display system, the EVS on the SR22 is a so-called head-down system and is displayed on the MFD. It's intended not for flying reference but simply for advisory purposes. EVS is not shown on the PFD. And unlike HUDs, the EVS in the SR22 isn't meant to give pilots any credit towards lower minimums. It's just a tool to help you see a little more outside the window under certain conditions.

In this case, the best use for the EVS is arguably to see better at night or in low light situations, when you can see a great deal more through the sensor than with the naked eye. The display is shown on the aux page on the Garmin MFD in either windowed or full screen mode. Like everybody else, I like the full screen view, though I wish it were easier to pull it up.

It was a fairly bright cloudy day when I flew with the EVS, and its benefit to us on that day was minimal. On our ILS approach to San Antonio we broke out at around 600 feet agl, and the visibility below the overcast was several miles, so there was little more to see there. We were able to see the landing environment a few seconds earlier on the EVS than with our eyes, but I don't think it would have made a difference between being able to land or not. Plus, you have to factor in the inadvisability of adjusting your scan to take in the MFD while in the middle of flying a low approach.

Still, the image quality was good, a little grainy with the mist we were flying in, but it had much better contrast than I'd expected. And combining the infrared and the visible spectrum was remarkably effective, mostly because the runway lights showed up bright and clear. That would be a huge benefit on a visual approach at night, especially on dark nights and into black holes.

Potential buyers who want an extra edge in their instrument flying and especially those who fly a lot at night would be smart to look into EVS. The system is a $14,900 option.

New Styling Options and More

When it comes to putting new technology in the cockpit, Cirrus is clearly an industry leader, and its customers love the gadgets. But Cirrus knows that its owners care about style, too, and it has consistently given them interiors that draw attention to the quality and ramp appeal of the ride.

The latest, which Cirrus calls the X-Edition, is striking. Check out the pictures to see for yourself. The seats are done in Alcanterra leather with available contrasting stitching; there are carbon fiber accents throughout, both on the interior and exterior; and you can get suede headliners and other panels, too. These new interior and exterior trim options add $14,850 to the price tag, and a distinctive two-tone paint scheme adds another $5,900. If history is any indication, these options will be popular with many Cirrus buyers, who historically check off every box before bringing their new airplane home.

New Maintenance Plan

For decades, owners of business aircraft have been able to predict their maintenance costs precisely because of the existence of engine and overall maintenance plans for them, such as Rolls Royce's popular Power by the Hour plan. Now Cirrus has such a plan, which it calls CMX, and just like the 'chute, it's good for the whole airplane.

For a sign-up fee of $2,900 for the Cirrus SR20 and $3,900 for the Cirrus SR22, owners of 2009 airplanes can enroll in the program and pay between $31 and $37 per hour in 100-hour increments, depending on the model, for maintenance. The customer supplies the fluids; everything else is Cirrus' responsibility. The plans are a no-brainer for business aircraft operators because they allow you to precisely predict the costs of ownership. Do the plans sometimes wind up costing more than the maintenance would have? You bet. But the big advantage is that they protect you from catastrophically high repair bills.

A few years ago, after Cirrus introduced the GTS, I wondered what it would do for an encore. How could it possibly tweak its already highly evolved four-seat piston single any more? The answers, I now know, were turbocharging, air conditioning, known ice, synthetic vision, enhanced vision, an incredible new avionics suite with dual channel digital autopilot, new interior choices, new training and service packages, and more.

For more information about the 2009 Cirrus SR20 and SR22, including pricing, options and other details, visit cirrusdesign.com.