“It’s a jet Jim, but not as we know it!”
In August 2017 the author was invited to test fly the Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet, at the company’s Sales and Delivery Centre in Knoxville, Tennessee. The test aircraft was to be the stunning blue and white N52CV, number ten off the production line, just back from being mobbed at Oshkosh, with only double figure flight hours on the clock.
Such a privilege threw up many questions, and deserves a full reader account. The interest in the SF50 is so great, that a single LinkedIn photo post of N52CV with the author received more than 9,000 (mostly aviator) worldwide views in just ten days.
Our guide was to be the head of the Cirrus SF50 product line for the last three years, Matt Bergwall, the man with perhaps the most coveted job in aviation.
Some big questions
With ten years pent up demand, six years of production sold out, and the pedigree of its younger sibling, the super safe SR22, the SF50 may be the most desired and dreamed about aircraft in recent history.
Whereas there have been reports from an American viewpoint, Aviation Trader wanted to know how suitable the jet is for Australian and New Zealand conditions.
Many Cirrus pilots have a simple question: “Can I safely and confidently convert to the single pilot, single jet engine SF50?” They want assurance, not just from sales people, or the company, but from another pilot, perhaps a mere 450-hour private pilot, because if he can do it, they can do it.
The other big question is whether the SF50 can be a serious business tool.
Aviation Trader wanted to find out, and tell readers, not just what it is like, but what it feels like, to fly the Vision Jet from the left-hand seat. Can SR22 pilots make that transition, and if so, will passengers, whose approval will often be required for purchase, like it too? Can the same SR22pattern and approach speeds really be used for the SF50?
The base price, at just under US$2m, is about half the cost of other jets. This puts ownership within reach of many businesses and individuals. Bergwall says a typical selection of options yields a fly away price of US$2.3m.
The SF50 is powered by a single, well proven, 1,800 hp Williams FJ33-5A jet engine. The Williams is centre mounted on the top of the SF50, away from runway debris, similar to the German Heinkel He 162 Volksjäger of WWII. The jet has a V-tail. On the obvious question of the V-tail, no, it is not an issue in flight. All pilots, except test pilots will likely notice no difference at all from a conventional arrangement.
With (remember this is a jet) a stall speed in the sixties (knots) and full flap reference speed as low as 81 knots, the Cirrus take-off roll is just 620 metres, and landing roll less than 500 metres. That gives the SF50 the competitive advantage of being able to get into and out of shorter regional airfields – many more than other jets or even turboprops.
The top cruise speed is 300 knots, and the SF50 can climb, in cabin pressurised and air-conditioned comfort, to 28,000 feet, well above weather and most other air traffic, except the airliners which are way above that. As we found out, FL280 is not a busy place, even in the USA.
With a maximum take-off weight of 6,000 lbs, the SF50 has an economy range of up to 1,200 nm. That makes trips like Knoxville to Boston, Brisbane to Adelaide, or Munich to Istanbul, a breeze, and it will get everyone home for any early dinner.
Using the jet’s ability to quickly climb to altitudes to catch strong tailwinds, and in descent, we saw ground speeds exceeding 400 knots.
Above the statistics, there is one important additional factor in the Vision Jet’s favour. Like its smaller siblings, the Cirrus SR20 and SR22, the SF50 has a “whole of aircraft” parachute – in this case carried in the nose, that can be deployed in an emergency, and lower the jet gently to earth, so that everyone walks away unharmed.
Aviation is continually getting safer, but incidents do sometimes occur. When they do, the Cirrus SF50, with its parachute, is a better place to be. Its 90-foot canopy in likely to return pilot and passengers to their loved ones. If the SF50 chute is deployed, multiple automatic actions take place, including slowing of the aircraft.
Bergwall makes the point that safety for the SF50 is about much more than the parachute. Also increasing safety are the ultra-reliable turbine; multiple passive safety features, like emergency descent, stall, over, and under speed protection; and the extensive pilot customised training, type rating, and annual recurrency checks.
The set up
It was by no means “jump in and have a quick fly.” Two full days were generously reserved by Cirrus for the SF50 briefings and flights.
Seeing on line that there was a Hilton Hotel at the airport, where Cirrus is based, it was booked for four nights. The third day was spent flying with the SR20/22 product head, Ivy McIver – about which a separate report appeared on Aviation Trader’s website on 24 August 2017.
Cirrus showed typical southern hospitality, collecting the author from the hotel, for the two-minute drive to their offices, which overlook the Delivery Centre, aircraft hangers, runways, and the under construction, Training, and Customer Experience Centres.
On arrival, all the “important people” made a point of popping by the office allocated to and carrying the author’s name to say “welcome!” That is a sign of a good and happy company culture.
Of great distraction was the Gift Centre with lots of Cirrus branded goodies on display. The author came away with a SF50 jacket, a Cirrus jacket for his wife, and a sky blue SF50 T-shirt for his five-year-old son. Also acquired was a red SF50 lapel pin – sure to elicit many a question when worn to meetings. Very clever marketing indeed.
On inquiry, as to how the SF50 flight experience would play out, Bergwall gave a perfect answer: “Select the best destinations, anywhere in the US, for pleasure or business that your readers would like to fly to, and we will fly there.” The journalistic responsibility to get the story right went up a notch or two.
For the author, who had flown in many different parts of the US before, the New York Hudson River Corridor of Captain Sully, and Tom Hanks “Miracle on the Hudson” movie fame, was top of the list (would that be possible?), plus enough circuits and air work, to be sure the SF50 was indeed easy to fly.
Briefing and routes flown
On the first day Bergwall spend several hours talking about the jet, its history, market niche, and performance. There were also some computer presentations and videos.
Of particular note is the fact that the jet really has not a single direct competitor, in the same category or class. Would be competitors are more complex, slower, expensive to operate, or more than double the price.
The SF50 fills the large gap between owner flown, and professionally flown aircraft. It does so with composite construction methods; a (single) lower cost, and fuel-efficient turbine; and more capable, integrated avionics. Most importantly, it is purposely designed as a natural step up from the Cirrus SR22.
There are one or two possible competitors “on the drawing board,” or somewhere over the distant horizon. But if and when they exit the expensive and lengthy development and certification process, Cirrus will be on their nth version of the Vision Jet. This will likely include significant technological, performance, economy, comfort, safety, and ease of flight improvements, as is Cirrus’ 14-year track record with the SR20/22.
Unusually for summer, on the first day of scheduled flying, the weather was cloudy, with rain over large parts of the US. As a result, after lunch we picked a hole in the “soup,” and decided to head for Dayton (KDAY), 245 nm to the North. In a way, the patchy weather was a bonus, as the SF50 is an IFR aircraft and we wanted to see all the IFR related features in action.
On the second day, we would fly 577 nm (and then some) north east to the corporate jet stronghold of Westchester County Airport, at White Plains, near New York, and on the way back request, despite the Presidential TFR in place, a run down the Hudson River Corridor.
In the composite
On the ramp the SF50 looks just like its photographs, with an obvious family likeness to its smaller siblings. The walk around seems awfully familiar. It has smooth, clean, and shiny composite lines. It is just the size and proportions pilots expect and apart from the family likeness, it looks like nothing else. The SF50 is the SF50.
For a pilot moving up from the SR22, the external design, and cockpit are not at all intimidating, as in some “complex,” flight level aircraft, with what seems like squillions of knobs and switches.
There was not a hint of “I’m way too much of an aircraft for you!” Sitting proudly outside the hanger N52CV seemed to be quietly whispering to the author, “Relax my Cirrus friend, we can and will do this, no worries.”
The pilot seat is a genius, practical, as well as easy to use feature. It slides back and forth so far, and so effortlessly, that it allows simple access for both passengers and pilots. It has a safety mechanism if pilots want to slide it all the way back in flight – just the simple lift of an extra lever. There are hand grip inserts either side of the windshield central pillar that make moving either front seat easy. Unlike other narrow or console restricted jets and high performance turboprops it is easy to get in and out of the pilot’s seat. User experience testing is obviously a big thing at Cirrus. None of this usability happens by accident.
Sitting down for the first time in the left front seat SR22 pilots will feel right at home, with everything exactly where their hands and feet naturally go to.
In the whole cabin, there is a feeling of spaciousness and flexibility, in terms of being able to configure for different groups of adults and children – or indeed luggage. Seats can be quickly and easily moved, removed and stored.
The room for passengers is huge, with great views from all seats, and every convenience, like USB charging, cup holders, headset jacks, power outlets, and personal music streaming. There is an external storage locker behind the cabin for further storage.
Not immediately noticeable on the ground, is the incredibly good visibility over the nose in climb, cruise, and descent. It’s almost as if pilots are perched on the nose of the aircraft, like a magic carpet.
Then the penny drops. There is no propeller shaft, spinner, or large engine cowling out front to spoil the view. The front slopes away more steeply than on a SR22. Most pilots will not be able to see the nose in flight. The more pilots fly the aircraft, the more they will love this feature. Having no propeller, and many less moving parts lowers maintenance costs too.
Above the front seats are a few seldom needed items. For example, oxygen masks, and the buttons for their microphones, fire extinguisher switches, and of course the CAPS handle with pin, which looks identical to the one found in the SR series.
The circuit breakers are conveniently located at hip height to the left of the pilot, and right of the co-pilot. They are much easier to see and use without the bending and contortions required in the SR22.
Bergwall says “The SF50 is the combination of all the learning from the company’s SR series aircraft and its many customers.” It is difficult to find a single significant thing that requires change or improvement. That does not mean to say that Cirrus is resting on its laurels, and Bergwall says a lot of his time is spent on planning innovations and improvements for the jet.
Noticeable on the walk around are the de-ice boots on the wings and V tail, plus various outlets for the anti-icing fluid on the nose and just in front of the windshield. The boots are grey, not black, and made of a special material that is easy to clean and maintain.
Lastly, pilots will notice, and want to remember, that unlike the SR22, the undercarriage is retractable. That needs to be relearned – and reinforced by religious checklist use.
First day’s flying
It was so easy to start the turbine by simply turning the switch near the “true” control stick to “run” and pushing the “start” button while monitoring the engine instruments. No key was required, and the electronics automatically checked everything, for example, the fire extinguishing system. Turning off the jet engine when back on the ground was just as simple – pushing the same button.
Having keyed in our personal weights, and knowing how much fuel was on board, the avionics displayed the aircraft’s weight and balance graph, plus told us the density altitude, ISA figure, aircraft weight, take off distance – both roll and over a 50’ obstacle (used later if we tried to line up on a too short a runway), and the Vx climb gradient. In descent, the aircraft weight and both landing distances are similarly displayed.
We could also quickly see the status of multiple other items, for example, oxygen and de-ice fluid, and if the door was open or closed. Things that are okay appear in green and those that are not appearing in red, on a large MFD located SF50 icon.
With quite a long taxi at Knoxville, there was plenty of time to get used to the differential braking, just like on the SR22. At 6,000 lb, the SF50 is a heavier aircraft, and required at least 22% power to get moving initially and a bit more over rising ground. The author’s concern that the jet might shoot ahead, out of control, if the throttle was advanced too far just didn’t eventuate.
With taxi came a sudden pilot realisation “I am actually, really going to fly the SF50 jet.”
The pre-take-off checks were conducted using the split screen PFD in front of the pilot. They were short, and no run up, as for a piston engine aircraft, was required, or missed! Just a quick scan of the MFD was needed to ensure all the jet’s engine gauges were in the green, and we called “ready.”
Given take-off clearance by the tower, we lined up on runway 23, applied full power, noting no need for right rudder – this is a centre thrust jet, waited for 90 knots to come up (which seemed a little longer than for ~70 knots on the SR22), gently but firmly rotated, and climbed out.
The stick is very similar to the one on the SR22, albeit a “true” one and in the take-off run it moves noticeably backwards towards the pilot as the control services gain effectiveness.
Bergwall says that there is a tenancy for new SF50 pilots to pull the stick too far towards them, rather than directly back, for lift-off, but once alerted to this, it is easily avoided.
Having activated the go-round button under the throttle before take-off, it was simply a matter of matching the yellow chevron with the purple one. This required some down trim – which is more easily achieved using the moderately sized black wheel, to the right of the throttle, than the SR22 like trim hat on the stick, which is for fine adjustments.
With take-off nicely completed, a thought comes to mind “I am still not a jet pilot until I successfully land the SF50, so get back to and concentrate on the job at hand, the climb.”
We dialled in our initial approved altitude, pushed the FLC button on the autopilot, selected desired airspeed, and then the NAV button (Bergwall having keyed in the IFR cleared route earlier), before engaging the autopilot, and sitting back to enjoy the ride and the view. The great thing is that the autopilot is exactly the same as the SR22.
For a piston pilot the soothing sound and constant thrust of the jet engine is melodic and seductive.
In terms of the panel, looking at the photos before flying, and at very first, it seems like a lot of information. But pilots will soon find the screens full of all the right information, in just the right place, at just the right times. They quickly become normal.
The split screen function for both the PFD and MFD is particularly useful. The three smaller screens at the bottom of the panel each have different functions, and can be swapped around electronically at the push of a button, to suit pilot preference. The left hand one – conveniently right in front of the pilot, as we found testing PFD revisionary mode, becomes the backup instrument.
Pressurisation on the air-conditioned SF50 works automatically, as does engine management, with the full FADEC system.
With relatively little traffic around on this rainy day we were soon through the clouds and on top, cruising at high speed in bright sunshine and strong glare from the clouds below. Aviation quality sunglasses are essential for flying the jet.
Despite the lack of other nearby traffic it was fun to play with the large traffic screen option on both the PFD and MFD.
We had seen the glory of the SF50 already – easy to start, taxy, take off and climb – maybe easier than the SR22, and were now heading at jet speed, in clear blue sky, above the weather and other traffic for Dayton.
We used the autopilot to fly the Dayton approach down to two and a half thousand feet and then hand flew finals. It was good to be able to put the both the gear (210 kts) and flaps (190 kts) down early. This gives pilots an ability to reduce speed and lose altitude quickly. We were to see more of that on the second day.
The SF50 was stable in the descent (through the clouds) and easy to keep lined up with the runway, albeit with noticeable, but soon feeling normal, heavier flight controls, than the SR22.
The thrust setting for finals was 30%, reducing on short final to 28%. Then, above the piano keys, the power lever was simply reduced to idle, and the author, with reassuring words of advice from Bergwall, held the SF50 off for a pretty good first landing. We stopped in a tiny fraction of the 10,901’ runway 6L. It really was just like landing a SR22.
After landing the hard part was concentrating on taxying the jet, with that feeling of “I did it.” Taxi is made easy by the fact that the jet does not have a wide wingspan. It fits in standard hangers too.
We taxied to the Wright Brothers FBO, from where helpers magically appeared to guide us to parking. They refuelled, while we went inside for refreshments.
It is hard to describe all the emotions of flying and landing the SF50 jet for the first time: successfully and professionally conducting the flight; revelling in the sound of the turbine, landing well, and to be really honest – being the one in the left-hand seat, as you taxi in. It was like an out of body experience that had to be photographed, and it was. The author couldn’t help thinking “Was that really me?”
Like much in life, flying the jet for the second time seemed infinitely easier than the first, and more familiar. We taxied out for an 8,502’ runway 36 departure, and climbed to 22,000 feet, making full use of the radar on the MFD to dodge spots of weather ahead. The air traffic controllers were clear and concise and had no problems with allowing “as required” temporary diversions.
McGee Tyson Airport (Knoxville) – named after a WWI airman from the area, lost over the North Sea, appeared and then disappeared multiple times behind low cloud, so it was good to use the autopilot to approach the field. The bottom line is that it just wasn’t that hard, as the SF50 was smooth and stable, and if the right speeds were used, it landed easily. We concluded the first day with 3.0 flight hours.
Thoughts after the first day
Flying a SF50 is (really) just like a SR22, in that pilots can tell a lot of love and attention has gone into its design and perfection over the 10-year run to certification. The sense is that everything is where it should be, everything is optimised, and nothing appears on or in the aircraft that doesn’t deserve to be there. It is as simplified and as easy as can be. Bergwall says “every button had to justify its existence to appear on the panel.”
As someone who has flown nearly 30 types of aircraft, the author couldn’t help appreciating the pure simplicity of the aircraft, compared with other sophisticated options.
It’s true that if you are a SR22 pilot you can jump into the SF50 and quickly, after just a few hours, feel at home, and more than able to cope. Pilots will feel “at one” with the SF50 and without even noticing it pass the anxiety feeling and move on to the pure joy.
There is substantive, serious book work and ground study to be done as part of the type rating, the FAA insists on that, but having had or desiring a taste of the jet, no pilot will begrudge that, and will most likely enjoy it.
In the evening of the first day’s flying, while back in the hotel, there was quiet personal satisfaction in writing two entries in the logbook that had “SF50” under the type column. But more than that, there was much anticipation of day two in the Vision Jet.
Second day’s flying
Day two was to be the highlight not just of the SF50 evaluation, but of the author’s entire aviation experience – which started with a Victor Airtourer flight in 1973, paid for by his WWII RNZAF pilot father. We were to make a 1,300nm plus return trip, via IFR routes, to the 439’ elevation, White Plains, Westchester County Airport (KHPN), near New York, and a run down the Hudson River Corridor on the way back.
The author was fully aware of the triple task at hand – flying well, capturing every detail for readers, and remembering to savour the flight itself.
This was to be the “continental business test” for the SF50, to see if it could take a typical owner pilot, plus colleague, to distant White Plains, New York, and back, for an important meeting, divert for a short scenic, and still get them home to the family for an early dinner.
The Hudson River Corridor would be a “big ask” this day, as there was a large protected TFR touching the river, due to the US President’s residency in New Jersey at the time.
The trip by car, at 758 miles, or at least 12 hours non-stop driving, each way, would be impractical, and no airline could make the trip easy either, due to early starts, lots of waiting, crowds, airport connections, and rental car requirements. A piston aircraft would not cut it either. This was to be a test typical of the demands of potential SF50 customers in Europe, the US or Australia / New Zealand.
As the author hopped into the SF50 pilot’s seat, ready to go, Bergwall said “You look right at home there.” And that was exactly the feeling. By the second day, and third flight, it was normal and automatic. Little prompting or reminding of what to do was required.
After take-off, we temporarily suspended our IFR Flight plan, to do some air work, including steep turns and stalls. The SF50 was easy to manoeuvre, and the stalls were so well flagged in advance with: slow and decreasing speed; less air rushing noise; higher angle of attack, and a changing yellow to red panel indicator of that; a speed tape starting to appear red; flashing yellow and then red messages on the PFD, a loud “stall” enunciator; stick shaker; and finally stall protection pitch forward, that it’s hard to imagine anyone stalling this aircraft.
White Plains is one of the larger corporate aviation locations in the US. There seemed to be more corporate jet aircraft at this field alone than the whole of Australia and New Zealand combined. We flew a course to the north east, wide of the coast and over Long Island towards the mainland, finally breaking through patchy cloud at 6,000 feet.
On landing we chose the aptly named FBO, “Million Air” and were met by wide eyed marshals who had cameras running, and put 160 gallons of jet fuel in the SF50, for the return flight to Knoxville. It’s kind of fun being with the product head for the jet when others start to ask questions about the aeroplane – yep this guy really does know!
Our FBO courtesy car was an E-Class Mercedes, fitting with the standard of the SF50. We were given a recommendation for a local restaurant. Needless to say, the quality of the steaks in New York is second to none, and the “business meeting” was a huge success. We had arrived refreshed, unhurried, and did not need to rush back through traffic to queues and airport delays. It was obvious why FBO to FBO jet flying is so popular for business and pleasure in the US.
Returning to the ramp, we called clearance delivery and asked if there would be any chance of the Hudson River Corridor flight. It took about 10 minutes for our clearance to come back as a “possible, but you’ll have to ask the controllers on handover when airborne.”
We were cleared for take-off and quickly sighted the Tappan Zee Bridge over the River and were told that the Hudson route was not normally available to jets, and particularly not today. When we said we were a Cirrus Vision Jet, and could fly really slowly, within a few minutes, approval was granted – much to our surprise and delight. It did seem most unlikely any other fixed wing would have been given permission for the corridor.
Here the author was, one of six children born into a modest family, from a small New Zealand town, manually (on purpose) flying the SF50 Vision Jet, at (exactly) 2,000’, at piston speed, down the right-hand side of the Hudson River Corridor, not sure whether to laugh or cry, as we passed Central Park, Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, skyscrapers, bridges, airports left and right, and eastern sandy beaches.
No doubt the blue and white Cirrus was being photographed by many people on the ground, in apartments, and peering out of office blocks. This is still a very rare and beautiful bird. Some have read or heard about it, but few have seen it, and even less flown it.
Engaging the autopilot (altitude hold and heading mode) for photos and movie taking, we were passed from airspace to airspace, and controller to controller, all of whom seemed to like having us “with them,” and eagerly spotted helicopter traffic going west up the river, about 1,000’ below, and heavy jets into or out of New York’s many airports. We sighted no other fixed wing aircraft flying in either direction.
Flying the Hudson in the Vision Jet was like a wedding day. That is, much anticipated, seems to pass in one second, but leaves a warm fuzzy glow, and lots or treasured, frequently recalled memories. The flight gave us even greater respect for Captain Sully and his “everyone survived” Hudson River water landing in a commercial jet – it is a particularly busy waterway, and looks narrow from the air.
We passed over the Statue of Liberty and emerged at the end of the run over Staten Island, and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. After five minutes of scenic views at 2,000’ over Lakewood, on a heading of 230°, we were given our IFR clearance back to Knoxville. The author couldn’t help saying “Bye, and thanks so much New York.”
During the flights, we saw how the avionics greatly reduced the workload of the pilot. No paper is required, in a SF50. If a clearance is not heard perfectly it can be played back, at the push of a button. With the really long clearances an iPad was useful for “writing” them down, as it was for flight planning and filing, but otherwise it is not needed in flight.
The avionics make it easy to find and enter all airports, routes and approaches, as well as see the destination information, and select required frequencies – automatically dumping them straight into the right coms box and position. It is also easy to get real time weather updates, winds aloft, and much more. Multiple safety features, like safe taxi and approach, help ensure pilots do not land or take off on the wrong, or too short a runway.
Returning to Knoxville, the author had one last request (although, “Can we fly again tomorrow – maybe to Key West?” and “Can I keep it?” were really on his mind). As all the previous landings had been straight in approaches, the request for Bergwall was a couple of circuits, so as to test if they really are just like in a SR22.
Indeed they were, albeit flown, as we were in a jet, at 1,500’ AGL and slightly wider. Otherwise the circuit handling was the same, if not better, because of the smooth running turbine.
On the downwind for the first circuit, Bergwall demonstrated what the Cirrus folks call “the elevator.” He pulled the thrust lever all the way back to idle (as you can in a jet), lowered the gear and put out full flaps. Down we went, with perfect visibility, at 3500 fpm, under total control. This demonstrated just how flexible the SF50 can be.
Our IFR weather dodging flight north east (which can be tracked by searching N52CV on www.flightaware.com) via GVE J150 CYN and BOUNO4, with a strong tail wind, had been at 27,000’ with a maximum ground speed of 369 knots or 425 mph. That’s seven miles per minute, or one mile every 14 seconds.
Direct-to miles were 665 but we actually flew 802. On the way back, at 26,000’, into a strong headwind, we flew 723 miles via LANNA J48 MOL J22 and VXV, with a top ground speed of 280 knots, or 322 mph.
We arrived back at Knoxville before 5pm. We were in plenty of time for our imaginary business traveller, who had secured a big deal in New York, to make it home to a large leafy property on the Tennessee River for dinner, and to plan the family holiday to the beaches of Miami, or maybe even the Caribbean.
Our flight time for day two was 5.9 hours, giving a total for the four flights, over two days, of 8.9 hours. We had had a very good look at and fly of the SF50. It was not enough to be “signed off,” but did enable us to answer the key reader questions posed earlier.
Bergwall had been the perfect guide – knowledgeable and there with guidance as needed but equally happy to quietly sit back and monitor the author’s flying and let him savour the unique pilot experience that is the SF50.
Thoughts after day two
Improvements will no doubt be introduced in coming years, to the delight of the placeholders. For example, the Spectra wing tip lighting on the SR range; and perhaps the engine will become more efficient, or more powerful, giving more speed. But much more speed would be too much. That is not the niche Cirrus is aiming for, or the right thing for the type of pilots who will fly the Vision Jet.
With variable costs of just US$606 per flight hour (or US$2.23 per nm), accountants will be ecstatic about the SF50 as a business tool of competitive advantage. They will quickly calculate a return on investment, from getting executives, where they need to be, when they need to be there, and back again, at a comparatively low cost, refreshed, and in safety. The SF50 will be a great charter aircraft too. Politicians and movie stars will love it.
The FADEC engine does it all, and greatly reduces pilot workload. The days we flew were about 22°C above standard, and although this resulted in less performance, as for any aircraft, it was, in all phases of flight, exactly as per the jet’s operating handbook.
It was interesting to observe the range of fuel consumption, based on different factors such as temperature, altitude, and percent of power (thrust) settings. The SF50 burnt between 39 and 85 US gallons per hour on our flights, including in the mid-fifties, cruising at 300 knots, at an efficient FL270.
We proved that the SF50 does indeed represent the best of all worlds – on the one hand it can fly up high and fast, to distant destinations. The classic 300 to 500-mile trip can be done in an hour or two. However, when slowing back down to land, it is as easy, in some cases easier to fly than a SR22.
From a passenger viewpoint, the aeroplane is classy; easy to access and exit; has a large pressurised cabin, with a sense of space; comfortable, with luxurious leather seats, and air conditioning, with fabulous views out the large windows. There are multiple power and USB points, and the ability to stream music. A conversation can be held without a headset. It is a great business or family aircraft, and children will love it.
For the slightly nervous passenger, and the jet was intentionally designed with this little feature, the seat next to the pilot is perfect. There, displayed on the top of the large MFD, are the destination, how much fuel remains, how far it is to the destination, and when the plane will arrive. That’s reassuring – for the kids too (“Mum and Dad, when will we be there?”) And of course, the parachute handle is right above the front seats.
Getting pilots ready for the SF50
The Cirrus team work closely, well in advance of delivery, with SF50 position holders, to ensure that they are both ready and able to take delivery of, and safely fly the aircraft. This may involve discussions about, and help with flying currency, and capabilities, before even going into the nine-day intensive training program.
The type rating involves four to five days ground work, including learning how to master the avionics, and then extensive air work, across several days, before a flight check.
Bergwall says that because so many of the SF50 customers are experienced SR22 pilots, there have been few problems with the training, and “students” seem to adapt quickly to the SF50. The minimum requirement for the rating is a private pilot licence (or “certificate” in US jargon) and an instrument rating. No doubt many pilots will add the later, specifically so they can fly the SF50.
Conversion to the SF50 will be facilitated by the coming buildout of the Cirrus Training Centre at Knoxville, plus the addition of several full motion simulators.
Flying the SF50 jet it’s difficult not to feel a tiny weeny bit special, looking down and seeing vehicles labouring along in traffic jams, or even at speed on motorways, or think of all those people stuck in offices. Cruising high and fast above the terrain, heading to business or holiday destinations, there’s a strong feeling of satisfaction.
The most important thing to report from flying the SF50 though is addiction. This is an aircraft that is very hard to get too much of, and pilots will find themselves making excuses to fly it more and more often, and replaying the fun time over and over in their heads for days or years afterwards.
The overall pilot feeling after flying the SF50 is “Somehow, some way, I’ve got to get more of this.” Credit for that goes to Cirrus team members and suppliers who all worked so hard to bring the vision, which is the SF50, to market.
Suitability for Australian and New Zealand conditions
This is an aircraft well suited to the typical trips business people need to make in Australia and New Zealand – and other places like Europe, India, Africa, and South America. It is a plane that owners can and will want to fly themselves.
The extra speed of the jet will enable business people to conduct more work, waste less time, and still get home for dinner. It is also an aircraft which they will want to take away for the weekend.
Star Trek’s Mr. Spock would no doubt say, in a very good way “It’s a jet Jim, but not as we know it!” There simply is nothing else like the SF50.
Cirrus has made, what is complex in other aircraft, simplicity personified. It seemed no more difficult to step up to the Vision Jet than to an E-Class Mercedes from a C-Class. Simplicity itself is not enough though. It has no value if it is not backed up by safety. And safety is through and through the SF50’s DNA.
Owners’ partners are going to love the roomy, family friendly cabin, and views. The safety of the parachute, and price, will settle the “which airplane shall we buy” question for many partners.
Although SF50 production is accounted for until 2023, it is possible to acquire the jet with a lead time in the months. Some place holders, who have not yet taken delivery, are happy to sell their entitlement, because of changed circumstances.
As the word gets out about just how good this jet is, demand will surely increase, and supply tighten. If you are uncertain or wavering, be quick!
The Vision Jet is the aircraft aviators, business people, and their partners have been dreaming about for years. Many came, and many failed. But Cirrus has pulled it off – and with total class. The SF50 is aviation perfection.
Aviation Trader expects to see a lot of Vision Jets being used for business and pleasure. The owners and their colleagues or family will be easy to spot, as they will have huge smiles of satisfaction on their faces.
For more information go here: https://cirrusaircraft.com/
About the author
Paul M Southwick is a journalist, communications consultant, and (jet) pilot based in Melbourne, Australia.