In January 2017, Aviation Trader postulated that the most important aspect of the seemingly low key at the time Cirrus G6 series announcement was “The substantial market (and capability) repositioning of the previous ‘little sibling’ SR20.”
We said “The SR20 is now repositioned as a much strong player. It will be attractive to private buyers and training organisations alike, with that 215 hp engine and extra 150 lb useful load.”
These predictions have proven true. Cirrus has sold out of the G6 SR20 until way past the end of the year. Not just private buyers, but flying schools, including those of some airlines, in order numbers not seen for years, have snapped up this beauty.
On paper we liked the look of the SR20 because it now has a reliable, low cost to maintain, four cylinder, 215hp Lycoming engine (versus a 200hp Continental in the G3 model). Secondly, there is a massive, near “full passenger equivalent,” 150 lb increase in useful load, when the composite propeller is ordered. We also thought that the wrap around LED wingtip lights, would be much more than bling – rather a powerful visibility and anti-collision tool that would be handy in busy airspace.
When we test flew the SR22 G6 model in February we waxed lyrical about the QWERTY keyboard, and home key included with the new Garmin supplied avionics; and powerful computer chips that drive instant response. We also loved the ultra-clear, high definition screens and new fonts.
It seemed a long wait to test fly the SR20, but it was well worth it. Part of the reason for that wait was how it got to Australia?
New delivery model
With the announcement of the G6 series, Cirrus decided to no longer ferry aircraft out to Australia, but rather to partly disassembled them, and container them for shipping across the Pacific, with reassembly by leading local firm, Blue Demon Aviation, at Moorabbin.
The logic was less delivery risk, “newer” aircraft for buyers, and a locally observed “run in.” This is also a vote of confidence in the Australian aviation industry.
Aviation Trader was invited by Graham Horne from Cirrus Australia, and Blue Demon owner, pilot, and leading LAME, Mark Howe, to observe the assembly of the first G6 SR20 for Australia, and then take it for a fly.
Opened in 1991 and based at Moorabbin, Blue Demon is a fixed base operator (FBO) providing a comprehensive service including aircraft maintenance, sales, and hangarage. It is a Cirrus Authorised Service Centre, and the sole Cirrus assembly centre for aircraft shipped to Australia.
Blue Demon Aviation operates as a family run company under Mark and partner Lynda’s leadership, with one of Mark’s sons (also a pilot) working to qualify as a LAME, and follow in his father’s footsteps.
The assembly in Australia includes adding the spinner, undercarriage, wings, horizontal stabilizer, elevators, and parachute (with separately, and carefully shipped, rocket mechanism), and then connecting up all the avionics.
This description really is unfair to the team at Blue Demon, as it reads far too simply. The fact is that Cirrus is the world’s leading state of the art manufacturer of general aviation aircraft, with exacting standards. Blue Demon is one of the few organisations in the world with the expertise and trust by Cirrus required for assembly.
Interestingly, and technology enabled, critical parts of the assembly process in Australia are monitored, in real time, by Cirrus, from the US, to ensure perfection. It was impressive to see a team of half a dozen or more incredibly dedicated LAMEs, under Howe’s direction, keenly involved in the aircraft’s assembly.
The biggest impression a pilot takes away from attending the assembly is holding one of the two so called “Jesus bolts” that secure the wings to the fuselage. They are big heavy things of obvious quality. Aviation Trader got the impression not even a WWII Lancaster dropped 20,000 lb Tallboy bomb – or the latest US equivalent could destroy one, and indeed just one bolt would be enough to hold the wings on in any case.
It was the middle of the third week of May when an SR20 G6, still sporting a US registration of N54GG – its Australian registration will be determined by the local buyer, was cleared by US based, 16-years-at-Cirrus, test pilot, Brett Schelde for review. Schelde also test flies the SF50.
Cirrus uses highly qualified and experienced test pilots because as part of ensuring all is in order before the keys are handed over, the aircraft are taken to places in the envelope that most pilots don’t even know exist.
Says Schelde “These far corners of the envelope become normal for test pilots, but we still have tremendous respect and feel for the aircraft limits to be sure we do not go outside the safety envelope. Whereas in the early days we would occasionally encounter [significant] matters requiring correction, today, with all Cirrus have learned and applied to consistent, high quality manufacturing, such things are rare.”
Foremost in Aviation Trader’s questions before the test flight was – how fast does the SR20 fly, and how smooth is the new four cylinder engine? We were also curious about how it would stack up against its more expensive big bother.
N54GG looked fast just sitting on the ground. Its minimalist, pure white colour scheme, with dashes of blue and black, together with the thinner propeller and wing tip lighting, made it nearly indistinguishable from an SR22. Inside the aircraft was all but identical to a G6 series SR22 too. Cirrus made it that way on purpose. This facilitated an exceptionally easy “conversion” for a regular SR22 private pilot to the SR20.
Flying from the left, and feeling rather special in using a US registration for radio calls in Australia, pre-flight, start up and taxi were routine, and we enjoyed, as with the G6 SR22, the new super-fast, and crystal clear avionics.
Cleared for departure on runway 35 left at Moorabbin, the take-off run required modest right rudder, and gentle rotation at about 73 knots. Visibility was excellent.
Once turning downwind we set heading and vertical speed of 120 knots on the autopilot and sat back to enjoy the view. Climb rate was excellent and the engine seemed to have, well, just the right amount of power. Not too little, not too much. It’s much more of a “quiet E-Class Mercedes” than a V8 super car. The engine had a pleasant and reassuring throaty sound to it, and the extensive Cirrus work on the engine mounts was obvious via the smoothness and complete lack of noticeable vibration.
Climbing to 4,500 feet on autopilot, we set 85% power and leaned the mixture using the little blue triangle that appears on the fuel flow gage. This was incredibly quick and easy. It takes away both the mystery, and the guess work.
Due to cloud cover that day we stayed at 4,500 feet and quickly established a TAS of 156 knots flying over French Island towards Phillip Island. Unofficial reports from the US suggest a true airspeed of 160 knots is normal a few thousand feet higher, and we believe those reports for sure. Considering the SR20 has 100 hp less than the SR22 this is a remarkable achievement.
While up high we did some steep turns, stall practice, and very slow flight. In each case the aircraft displayed the stability, smoothness, ease of flight, and safety that has made Cirrus a top seller.
It was clear from talking to the humble Schelde, that he and every one of his colleagues take huge pride and satisfaction in continually striving for perfection in the design, performance and pilot satisfaction of the Cirrus product.
Once experienced, the docile nature, flagging of, and simple recovery of the SR20 stall (like the SR22), is something that can turn even the most ardent Cirrus armchair critic into a strong advocate.
When the time came to head back to Moorabbin, via the seaside reporting point of Carrum, we used the auto pilot’s VNAV facility – set from the centre console, with its QWERTY keyboard and blue backlit numbers, to fly our descent, and this it did with incredible precision.
In the very busy airspace of the Moorabbin training area – which contained a large number of aircraft that day, use of the autopilot gave us time to enjoy the view, plus detect and avoid the other traffic, using the TCAS display. TCAS is so effective we marvel now how we did without it before, and how many near misses there must have been – without pilots even knowing.
Four or five aircraft arrived at Carrum at about the same time. We saw them coming on TCAS, and they no doubt saw us too with the Cirrus high viability wig wag lighting. We took the opportunity to turn south for a while, and fly down the bay’s white sandy beaches.
Heading back to Carrum from Frankston, and making full use throughout the flight of the on board electronic (MDF) checklists, we were cleared straight in for runway 35 left, with circuits not available. Schelde had earlier advised that the G6 SR20 is indeed as slippery as it looks, and that quite low power settings should be used on descent. This worked well, and the 150 knot application of the first 50% of flap and 110 knots for 100% made slowing to the 78 – 80 knot approach speed easy. Approach was so very stable at that speed.
The author, keen not to embarrass himself, with a Cirrus test pilot on board, had flown 1.7 hour practice in a G5 SR22 the previous weekend, including at least ten circuits. However, despite never having flown an SR20 before a perfect landing was achieved first attempt. Graham Horne, who flew the aircraft in the afternoon (see below), reported the same, and we agreed that nice as it would be to take the credit ourselves, that the G6 SR20 is in fact an easy aircraft to fly and land well.
Aviation Trader predicted the SR20 G6 model would be a big seller, and that has proven to be the case. We thought it might be a competition killer too. Having flown it now, we know why it is selling so well. And yes, it will, we predict, decimate the competition in total sales.
The author landed with, and could not get off his face, an incredible smile. It was like knowing a big secret that no one else did. Seeing this beaming smile, and hearing the gushing compliments, Graham Horne, who had generously let Aviation Trader fly first, quickly arranged a flight himself for later in the day and significantly, for someone not easily impressed later texted simply “I flew the 20 – awesome!”
This is an easy, safe, smooth and yes, fast-in-cruise aircraft with a great payload. It gives huge satisfaction to pilots, and at the standard base price of US$389,900 plus delivery it can no longer be accurately described (as the G3 was), as a little sibling to the SR22. In reality, the G6 version is now much more like the younger of two near identical twins.
In Australia, as in the US, we predict, albeit a little slower initially, a good take up of the SR20 G6 by private buyers, but more particularly, by the most astute flying training and charter organisations.
Aviation Trader can see the aircraft having high appeal in the capital cites to well off want-to-be pilots. Just sitting in this aircraft or a quick trial flight will get them across the line in learning to fly. It will get them hooked on flying, and surely lead many through the Cirrus family via the SR22 to the SF50 personal jet.
N54GG, which has the “Aussie-essential” air conditioning option (and TCAS) is at the time of writing (with less than 5 hours on the clock) for sale. It will be used initially by Cirrus Australia as a demonstration aircraft – until September this year.
We see the SR20 as very quickly becoming the standard training aircraft world-wide. It you are half considering it, get in quick to secure N54GG, as the wait for a new SR20 is now out until Q2 next year!
About the author
Paul M Southwick is a Melbourne based journalist, communications consultant and pilot.