Owners of Cirrus airplanes have come to expect regular updates to keep the aircraft fresh and appealing to new buyers, and it’s no surprise that Cirrus Aircraft has adopted this philosophy for its entire line, including the SR piston singles as well as the single-engine Vision Jet. Just before the opening of this year’s EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the airframer unveiled the latest version of the aircraft, the G2+ Vision Jet, with some helpful new features.
Chief among these is a performance improvement, thanks to an upgrade to the jet’s Williams International FJ44-5A Fadec (electronic control) system. The change doesn’t affect power output but it delivers a 20 percent “optimized thrust profile” that provides increased performance where it’s most needed, during takeoff on hot days and at high altitudes.
The other upgrades include Gogo Avance L3 “Inflight Wi-Fi,” USB-C ports, and new paint scheme “colorways” that include Titan Grey, Volt, and Bimini Blue. Another new feature, the Flex cargo management system, was announced more recently. This adds cargo attachments to the seating system, enabling the safe carriage of large items such as bicycles, golf clubs, coolers, and luggage. The Flex system adds no weight to the jet and will be available in the first quarter of 2022.
Of course, the Vision Jet also is fitted with Garmin’s Autoland system, branded Safe Return by Cirrus. This means the jet now has two key safety features: the whole-airframe parachute for the rare possibility of engine failure or some other catastrophic problem, such as a midair collision; and Autoland, to help handle the unlikely chance of pilot incapacitation.
Third Vision Flight
To preview the upgrades, I flew the G2+ with Vision Jet program manager Matt Bergwall, who met me at Hillsboro Airport near Portland, Oregon. Although the flight took place before the heatwave that brought 110+ deg F weather to the area, we were able to observe the improved jet’s high-altitude performance while flying from Hillsboro to Sunriver, Oregon, and back.
I’ve flown the Vision Jet twice before and have also received formal training in the Cirrus SR piston single-engine four-seater, so I’m somewhat familiar with the layout of the cockpit. The Vision Jet and SR are so similar that it’s an easy transition; the main difference is that operating the jet’s engine is far simpler than efficiently managing a piston engine’s controls.
The pilot’s (left) seat moves far back on its tracks and lines up with the doorway to make climbing aboard simple. The Garmin-based Perspective Touch+ avionics are a familiar home for a Garmin user but have the added advantage over the SR series of touchscreen controllers mounted at the bottom of the instrument panel. We started the 1,846-pound-thrust Williams FJ44-5A engine, an automatic process typical of modern electronically controlled engines, and then Bergwall set up the Farmington 7 departure and route to Lake County Airport, 231 nm away. The plan was to exercise the G2+ at a higher-elevation airport to test the improved takeoff performance, but given some time constraints, we ended up diverting to Sunriver, which was almost as high and a bit closer.
Having owned an airplane with no nosewheel steering, I’m comfortable with the Cirrus “steer by brakes” castering nosewheel, a characteristic in all Cirrus airplanes. It might seem odd that a $3 million jet doesn’t have nosewheel steering, but it doesn’t need it; as long as pilots don’t overuse the brakes, it works fine, although you do need to give the jet a little burst of power before making any turns.
With 254 gallons of fuel and two of us on board, the jet weighed 5,747 pounds, 253 pounds below the 6,000-pound maximum takeoff weight. The avionics calculated our takeoff distance over a 50-foot obstacle at 3,453 feet and handily showed our climb gradient of 1,184 ft/nm. The outside air temperature was 22 deg C—ISA plus 6 deg—and density altitude was 664 feet.
I taxied the jet from the modern Hillsboro Aviation FBO to the long runway, 31L, and soon after holding short at the takeoff end, we had completed the before-takeoff checklist displayed on the center multifunction display (MFD) and were ready to go.
With takeoff flaps set, I pushed the go-around button to set the flight director cue for the initial climb attitude, switched on the autothrottle, then pushed the power lever all the way forward. Takeoff in the Vision Jet isn’t a hurried affair, but once the engine spools up, the acceleration kicks in, and with a gentle tug on the sidestick, we were quickly rotating, climbing, and then retracting the landing gear and flaps. A left turn after takeoff lined us up for the southbound departure route, and with few other aircraft in the area, we soon were climbing to the maximum altitude of FL310.
The Vision Jet is one of the more comfortable airplanes to hand-fly, with prompt response to control inputs and little need to move the controls much to elicit a response. Unlike the piston SR series, which has a control yoke on the outer corners of the instrument panel, the Vision Jet has a real sidestick that pivots fore and aft and side to side. Even though the stick is relatively short, it possesses plenty of control authority, and I could fly the jet most of the time with my fingertips, making small adjustments for the desired amount of bank and pitch.
I reluctantly gave up my hold on the stick after we climbed into the teens and switched on the capable Garmin autopilot, using indicated airspeed mode set at 150 knots. It was a beautifully clear day, with views of all the mountains surrounding the Columbia river gorge.
Leveling off at FL310, I was happy to see that the Vision Jet’s avionics now incorporate the handy heading sync feature, which automatically matches the heading bug to a new heading after a turn, when heading is selected on the flight director.
It was ISA +11 deg C at FL310, and speed settled at Mach .525 and a true airspeed of 315 knots (higher than the published maximum of 311 knots) while burning 64 gph. (Fuel indications can be switched between gallons and pounds, depending on the pilot’s preference.) Cabin altitude was 8,000 feet.
I tested the Gogo Avance L3 air-to-ground connectivity system during this leg, easily connecting my phone to the internet. Although the L3 system is not as fast as the more expensive L5, the L3’s 3G speed is perfectly suited to a smaller aircraft. Owners of light turboprops and jets have been clamoring for a reasonably priced internet solution, and the G2+ is the first “personal jet” to be so equipped. With Avance L3, pilots can surf the web, send and receive emails, and access Gogo features such as moving maps, news feeds, and flight information. Cirrus is also offering an initial Gogo Wi-Fi subscription included in the JetStream ownership cost program, which covers “normal wear replacement, recurrent training, direct support, subscription services, and more for a worry-free ownership experience,” according to Cirrus.
We descended and slowed down for the traffic pattern at Sunriver, and the Vref on final approach was an incredibly low 85 knots, just a few knots higher than the final approach speed for an SR and another reason transitioning to the jet is so uncomplicated.
A major difference remains, however, between a piston SR and the Vision Jet: it’s not hard to get behind the power curve in the jet, and it’s important to keep the power up to a reasonable level and not allow the jet to get too slow and with a low power setting at the same time, although full flaps stall speed is a low 67 knots.
Having flown the Vision Jet only three times and not gone through the type rating training in the full-flight simulator in Knoxville, Tennessee, I find that I try too much to move the throttle to keep the speed at Vref. Bergwall pointed out that this all works better by just setting power at 30 percent thrust and massaging the pitch to keep in the vicinity of Vref. Otherwise, it’s easy to end up slow and with power at around 20 percent, then jam the throttle forward to bring the power up when the speed lags, which is what my final approach looked like.
Nevertheless, the forgiving Vision Jet lands a lot like an SR and my result was reasonably smooth and didn’t use too much runway. Just a light push on the brakes left enough speed to tap on the left brake and turn off the runway.
I taxied back to the beginning of the runway. The airport elevation is 4,164 feet, but the higher summer temperature pushed the density altitude to about 5,500 feet. The takeoff run felt just as short as it was at much lower Hillsboro, and the Vision Jet took off and climbed quickly to the mid-20s for the return leg.
Setting up the RNAV 31L approach to Hillsboro with the touchscreen controller was a cinch, basically the same as using a GTN 750 navigator. I followed the flight director guidance, hand-flying the approach and this time trying to do a better job managing airspeed on final. Just a tiny nudge of back stick as we neared the runway worked perfectly, producing another smooth touchdown, reminding me again why I like flying this jet so much.
While the enhanced engine performance doesn’t change the 1,275-nm range and 311-knot maximum speed, it does improve takeoff performance at higher-elevation airports, allowing carriage of higher payloads. For example, on an 82-deg F day at Aspen, the total takeoff distance is reduced by 1,000 feet.
The Vision Jet’s roomy cabin, ergonomic cockpit design, terrific visibility, and harmonious flight controls all make for an ideal personal jet package. At $2.98 million, including the Gogo Wi-Fi, the G2+ costs less than larger and faster single-engine turboprops, and Cirrus’s penchant for rapid product improvement and the jet’s step-up familiarity with the SR piston singles almost guarantees it a receptive market.