For a Cirrus pilot, it is both a thrill and an opportunity to be offered a one-on-one chat, and then go flying, with the US based head of the Cirrus SR product range – yes, Ivy McIver, the dynamic woman in all those videos.
McIver is a role model and inspiration to many pilots, both male and female. With her colleague, Matt Bergwall, who heads up the SF50 Cirrus Vision Jet product team, she arguably has the best, or perhaps the most coveted job, in all of aviation.
What is her background, and what makes her tick? How do you get a job like that, and what are the key challenges?
There’s no escaping the flying bug
McIver, who was born and raised near Boston, MA, was with Cirrus for many years, proving herself in sales roles, out of Utah, and later Seattle, before moving to her current position – she was the first person in that role, initially based in Duluth, MN, but more recently in Knoxville, TN, three years ago.
An ATP rated pilot, but not from an aviation family, McIver tells the amusing story of what happened when, while still at school, she went to see the movie Top Gun, with her girlfriends.
Says McIver “After watching the movie, all my girlfriends wanted to marry a naval aviator. But I wanted to be a naval aviator!”
Being 5’2″ tall, meant McIver was deemed too short for naval aviator training, so on the advice of her “very wise mother,” she went to MIT instead, to study to become a computer engineer – you know the story, what parents say is, “just as a backup.”
Post-graduation McIver secured a great job with a top Chicago based international company. But her heart wasn’t in it. She still had an aviation itch. The job did pay well though, and this allowed her to earn her private pilot and instrument ratings while working as a software engineer. She also has aerobatic, mountain flying, formation flying, and tailwheel endorsements, not to mention her seaplane rating. The later will come in handy when her Icon seaplane placeholder deposit converts to a delivery in a few years’ time. Ivy has flown an Icon already and says it will be a fun machine.
Almost by chance, encouraged by a friend, McIver applied for a Cirrus sales job. After a successful set of interviews, and in her own words, “Found myself tossed a set of keys for a brand new SR22, and told to fly off from Duluth to Salt Lake City, not really knowing what I was in for, but ending up absolutely loving it.”
Let’s go flying
Our aircraft for the day together in Knoxville, TN, (KTYS) was a brand new, red and silver, G6 version, SR22T, registration N178SB, with just ten hours on the clock. There is something exciting about the sight and leather smell of a new Cirrus, and this air-conditioned turbo version, with every option, did not disappoint.
Any apprehensions of this humble 460-hour private pilot author at flying with such an accomplished Cirrus super star were soon dispelled by McIver’s friendly and bubbly personality. A joint love of aviation made it an enjoyable and relaxed time, as did McIver’s detailed knowledge of every single aspect of the SR22, including its high speed, ultra-clear, Garmin based, G6 version of the Perspective avionics.
A nice feature of flying from the Cirrus Delivery Centre is that there is a dedicated team of Cirrus engineers and operations folks who always have the plane looking like new, gassed up and ready to go, in perfect condition. When Cirrus completes the Vision Center Campus, all visiting pilots will be able to enjoy that same level of quality and service.
Our destination was to be Asheville Regional Airport, (KATV), one to which McIver had also not been before, a Class C airport, approximately 76 nm away, across the state border, in North Carolina.
Asheville opened in 1961 and was visited by the Concord in 1987 – when it got snowed in overnight. That gives a sense of the size of these “small regional airports” in the US, that tend to be as large as international airports down under. The airport has also seen Airforce One and President Obama visit, as well as British royalty.
With good weather, the flight would be VFR, with the outbound route following the meandering Tennessee River, and flying back over the beautiful green and blue Smoky Mountains, yes, of Dolly Parton fame. The attached screenshot from the FlightAware App shows our trip.
Cleared for take-off on Knoxville’s 929’ elevation, 9,000’ (2,743m) runway 05R, and to climb initially to 4,500 feet, we did a full pre-take off briefing, just like in the POH, and Cirrus training material, gave it full throttle and headed straight for the Tennessee River. We both called out “CAPS available” at the right time.
Not far out of Knoxville we spotted the grass airfield where McIver bases her tail wheel, aerobatic, Citabria. Why was that not a surprise?
The scenic way
Given a free hand in how we got to Asheville, the author chose a few maneuvers to get the hang of the SR22 again, after the two days before flying the SF50 Vision Jet, and then descended at a reduced power setting, to 1,000 AGL, for the best possible views, as we “slowly” wound our way up and above the river.
We both reveled in the pure joy of flight in a Cirrus – no one can ever get enough of that, and agreed there is something really reassuring about looking outside and seeing that familiar silver SR22 wing. Before entering the mountains, we also looked down on multiple possible forced landing sites – many of them long grass strips, and agreed “We would not like to be in a position to have to, but if we were, we would not hesitate to pull the chute.”
We admired many large multi-story homes with huge sections fronting the river and gained a whole new appreciation of the wide open and green nature of the surrounds. Make no mistake, this is a beautiful part of the US, with a great climate. No wonder Cirrus choose Tennessee for its delivery and Customer Experience Centre.
Perhaps, no let’s say it is likely, that many of the local residents were admiring and photographing the shiny new SR22 too, as we passed over. But we were in no mood to swap, not today!
Over the hills to Asheville, at 2,162-foot elevation, and cleared for a downwind, left-hand approach, to the 7,001-foot (2,134m) runway 35, we were surprised when abeam the numbers to be suddenly asked to make a very short approach due to corporate jet traffic on long final, something common in the US, and did so for a nice tight landing. That’s the thing about an SR22, it can go fast up high, when it has to, but also safely slow right down and tighten up in the circuit like a basic trainer too.
Product strategy mixed with a $100 hamburger
We taxied into Signature Air – one of the large FBOs throughout the USA, and were marshalled past Gulfstream, Falcon and Citation aircraft to parking. We then took a Jeep SUV courtesy vehicle to one of many large breweries in the area for lunch.
Over lunch we talked all about the SR series, including the now immensely popular and big selling, upgraded SR20, with a focus on both short and long-term enhancements, as well as marketing strategies. “What would you like to see?” asked McIver. Luckily the author had prepared a “soon” and “later” wish list.
These conversations were off the record, but it can be revealed that one of the author’s requests, and one McIver fully understood was more export market driven, from countries that do not have the same plethora of long sealed runways as the USA, was for enhancements that would deliver shorter take off and landings, so as to be able to get in and out of more strips, like the wineries in Australia, and farm strips in New Zealand.
That could involve things like better brakes, or maybe even a modified wing design. So much easier said than done, and that is the challenge of any product manager – sifting through all the customer wish lists and marrying them with the possible, affordable, and sellable. Cirrus’ track record in that respect is well proven by its “14-year top selling general aviation (GA) aircraft in the world” results. Pilots can be assured that with McIver “at the controls,” that will not change anytime soon.
Cirrus has well and truly set itself up as the market leader in single engine (GA) aircraft, but is still a comparative unknown in the business world outside of aviation circles. This is where there is a rich vein of potential business / pleasure customer gold for Cirrus. Reaching and telling the “Cirrus as a business/pleasure tool” story is one of the keys to longer term sales success.
McIver shared an interesting insight to the product development process at Cirrus. She said “We always have short term plans for minor improvements, based on customer and sales team feedback. But then, to ensure Cirrus stays at the very frontier of safety and innovation, we also have really big initiatives that bring major cost and improvements. These larger initiatives play out over three or four years, and require big decision making at the front end, tick along in the middle, and then absorb massive time and resources for completion, and finally launch, at the end.”
Flying back to Knoxville we used the fantastic power and climb rate of the turbo Cirrus to pick our way through some light cloud; flew along the ridges of the Smoky Mountains; and then over the famous, and very popular family theme park, Dollywood.
We saw so many huge homes tucked away in the mountains, some high up on ridges. Very useful, and called up by McIver, as we flew through the unfamiliar mountains, was the terrain profile on the MFD, to be sure we had sufficient clearance over the mountain tops. The wind indicator on the PFD showed us that there was next to no breeze at our altitude, so mountain down waves were not a factor, as the autopilot flew us so sweetly home.
We were cleared by the Knoxville approach controller via vectors – we were in Class C airspace, for a wide right downwind landing on runway, 05 or simply “5” as they say in the US, so as to give room to a CJ jet – one of the many so-called “regionals” that frequent Knoxville, on long finals. This is a very busy airport with heavy metal from the Navy and Air Force also based at the field.
Having keyed in the runway, McIver selected a VFR Visual approach, and the magenta boxes appeared as a further safety and guidance feature on the Garmin Perspective+ driven PDF.
Holding the SR22 at ex
actly 80 knots on short final and keeping that nose pointing down (thanks Ivy), made for a perfect landing, and a nice way to finish three days of flying at Cirrus.
It was a smart idea of Cirrus to arrange the SR flying after the two previous days flying in the SF50 Vision Jet. That lessened the withdrawal and post jet depression symptoms. And of course, many flying tips and information about the SR22 were forthcoming from McIver.
The place to be
As Cirrus builds out its extensive presence and facilities at Knoxville, including a Customer Experience Center, no doubt many pilots will find their way to Tennessee. That is something Aviation Trader recommends. Take the family too – there is a Hilton Hotel right at the airport, because there is a lot to do, and it is a very family friendly place.
Make sure you also pay a visit to the Cirrus Gift Centre as there is a great and wide range of classy goodies on sale – with something for everyone.
About the author Paul M Southwick is a journalist, communications consultant, and pilot, based in Melbourne, Australia