Cirrus sketches jet details in broad strokes

 - November 2, 2007, 12:07 PM

“From our point of view it’s not as big a jump from piston aircraft to a jet as you might think,” Alan Klapmeier, chairman, CEO and cofounder of Cirrus Designs, told AIN.

Klapmeier explained that the key to making jets more accessible is recognizing that high performance is not necessarily linked to complexity. “It used to be that to get a high-performance airplane it had to be complex. We saw a link among jets, complexity and performance, but the three are actually unrelated. You can have any combination [of two] without the other.”

He believes that building a personal jet industry requires that the airplanes become less complex. “Airplanes have to be simpler to operate, simpler to build, lower in cost and simpler to maintain,” he said. “Our current SR series is all about making it easier to fly the airplane. Building on our knowledge base, we [are developing] a different kind of jet.”

Klapmeier stressed that the company is building a personal jet rather than a VLJ. “Our jet will be personal transportation similar to our current airplanes but up in performance,” he said. “We’d like to have a base price around $1 million. We’re not locked into that price because we still don’t know the price of all the components, but we do know how to build airplanes, so we’re not just guessing at it.”

The company expects the airplane to have a maximum cruise speed of about 300 knots. “You get more uncertainty about what the range will be at 300 knots, which causes uncertainty about how much fuel it will carry, which ultimately leaves payload open to question,” Klapmeier said. “We went into this believing 250 knots is a reasonable jump up from our current airplanes if it will fly a much bigger payload a longer distance, so that’s essentially our low-end cruise airspeed.

“The goal is 300 knots,” he said. “If we go over that then we’ve had to give up some low-end performance as a tradeoff. We don’t need to go 301 knots, but we do need to be able to operate out of as small an airport as possible because that’s the real time saver–being able to operate anywhere you want. The problem is how low an approach speed you can get and the low-speed handling characteristics.”

Steve Serfling, vice president of the advanced development group, said he anticipates a 25,000-foot ceiling, an approximate 300-knot maximum cruise speed and an NBAA range of 1,000 nm.

“We looked at a two-engine version versus a single engine, and the over-riding [factor] was, ‘If the cost of two smaller engines is more than one larger one, go with the larger single engine.’ The reality is that the performance and reliability of a turbine are high, so operating with one engine really isn’t an issue.”

Serfling said the engine placement position, just below the top of the aft fuselage, was the result of a long study considering noise in the cabin, uncontained-fire issues, center of gravity, air-inlet placement, ducting, maintenance accessibility, airflow and thrust versus center of gravity.

Klapmeier said another major design factor was payload. “We decided that the full-fuel payload of the airplane should be 300 pounds... We’ve talked to our customers and most say they tend to fly by themselves. They want the ability to carry more fuel.”

Klapmeier expects to fly a non-conforming prototype sometime next year.
“We know there will be some changes and tweaks,” he said. “But it will fly with the conforming engine, the Williams FJ33-4A-19. The truth is no one can pin down the exact date when it will be done, how much it will cost or the exact performance; there are too many variables, some of which are out of our control.”

The company has also learned its lesson about providing specific performance figures too early in the development process. “The more you talk about a specific set of numbers, the more your potential customers will be upset if you don’t hit them exactly,” he said. “When we first talked about the SR20 we said it would cruise at 160 knots. It ended up being 156 knots and we had all kinds of people saying, ‘Cirrus couldn’t hit its goal.’”

Klapmeier was equally cautious about estimating a date for the first delivery. He said, “Two years is impossible, three years would be nice, four would be likely, and if it’s five I’ll be really disappointed.”

To date the company has firm orders for 365 jets. Klapmeier estimates that 60 to 65 percent are from Cirrus owners.