Cirrus certification date uncertain as tests proceed

 - February 17, 2010, 8:37 AM

Despite the difficulties it has faced in obtaining development funding for its SF50 Vision jet single, Minn.-based Cirrus Aircraft still describes its personal jet program as its “absolute top priority.” During a live Web cast last month company president and CEO Brent Wouters told order holders that while he didn’t know when the $1.72 million aircraft would enter the market, the company has formulated several cash flow-based production timelines based on the current funding levels. “We need to understand the dollars and the available capital before we can answer that for ourselves,” Wouters told the audience. “I can tell you this, we will get the program done as soon as humanly possible.”

Describing the company as a survivor of the recent economic downturn, Wouters said Cirrus is regaining its financial strength by reducing its debt by 12 percent year-over-year and reducing its inventory by 75 percent during the same span while increasing market share. During that period, the company had been relying on internal cash flow to continue its SF50 program. “In 2009 and before, that was about survival; quite frankly we had to do everything we could to work through the challenges that were thrown at us,” said Wouters. “We could not raise capital for the jet or for anything else in 2008 or 2009.”

Encouraged by what it describes as its strengthening financial situation, Cirrus plans to accelerate efforts to raise funding, but in the meantime it has made moves to defer until next year all higher cost expenditures, including tooling. “Of course we have fewer people today and of course we have fewer dollars focused on the jet program. That’s just a product of the environment we live in,” Wouters explained.

For the coming year, the company instead will concentrate on design to refine the flying prototype (V1) and ease the transition to the eventual production of conforming prototypes. The program has established several benchmarks. Last fall, the aircraft saw the installation and integration of its Garmin GFC-700 digital autopilot with the same controllers currently used in the SR22. The SF50 production model will use the same system but with a Cirrus-specific control head designed
to accommodate the jet’s layout. Another major milestone achieved last fall was validation of the single-piece carbon layup shell for the fuselage pressure vessel. According to Dave Rathbun, the program’s chief engineer, the construction will allow for a high level of durability along with efficient rate production.

The aircraft, which has completed its dry ice shape testing, recently had its pneumatic icing boots installed and is currently undergoing flight testing with them to validate the ice shape results in preparation for its flight-into-known-icing development. Con- structed by Goodrich out of a new silver-toned urethane material, the new boots promise longer lifespan. Later this winter plans call for the fitting of a heated engine air inlet for operation in icing.

According to Cirrus, the program so far has logged 400 engine-run hours and almost 240 flight hours, allowing the company to expand the jet’s center of gravity envelope and complete a large part of the stall testing.

Service Ceiling Plans
The company also announced that it will seek FAA certification for the entry-level jet to FL280, a move foreshadowed two years ago by its adoption of registration number N280CJ for the first Vision prototype. Other aircraft in the class can go higher, but Cirrus evaluated the incremental efficiency, performance and other operational benefits associated with operation above FL280 against the considerations of initial acquisition cost, training complexity for a typically owner-flown, single-pilot operation, and continued airworthiness costs and determined that such an approval would yield diminishing returns. “The considerations were two-fold,” Cirrus COO Pat Waddick told AIN. “RVSM is required from FL290 to FL410, and there are special equipment and equipment certification requirements, as well as crew training requirements to operate at RVSM altitudes.” As evidence for its decision, Cirrus analyzed the use of Cessna Mustangs over the first half of last
year and found the average flight distance was approximately 350 miles, with an average cruise level of nearly 29,000 feet. Certifying the SF50 above that altitude would impose more costs on the customer.

As for standard features, the aircraft will be outfitted similarly to the piston-powered SR22 GTS, including the Cirrus airframe parachute system, oxygen masks for crew and passengers, known ice protection and reclining seats. The glass cockpit will have avionics based on Garmin’s new G3000 system, modified in much the same way as Cirrus’s Perspective system was derived from the G1000 for use in the SR piston series. It will feature dual Waas GPS, active traffic system, XM radio for audio and weather datalink, a mode-S trans-ponder and dual attitude heading reference systems (AHRS) as well as dual air data computers (ADC).

Among the optional equipment under consideration for the Vision will be a lavatory–unique to this class of aircraft–as well as Taws, lightning detection, an enhanced-vision system and various cabin upgrades.

During the height of the downturn in late 2008 and early last year, the company experienced dozens of order cancellations as position holders requested and received deposit refunds. According to Gary Black, the company’s jet sales director, interest in the aircraft has been on the upswing, as he reported receiving one or two new orders each week.

The company currently has orders for nearly 430 SF50s, 80 percent of which are held by SR22 owners. Since the beginning of September, when Cirrus announced its pricing structure, it has added new orders for 54 Visions. To drum up support for and interest in the program, Cirrus has also taken the prototype on “barnstorming” tours around the country to show it off to customers and potential buyers. Last month saw flight demonstrations and appearances throughout the Southwest, yet until the company can secure the needed funding, it may be a while before it is joined by another Vision. In the words of company chairman and co-founder Dale Klapmeier, “We have certified aircraft before and we can get this one done. We’ve got an exciting few years ahead of us.”