Tom's Flight Dreams
I've topped the winds-swept heights where never Lark or even Eagle flew...
I don’t usually get too attached
to ‘common’ production airplanes, but I must admit that I have developed a fond
appreciation of the Cirrus SR20. A friend of mine, Michael Burke, was an early
production spot holder as the company went through development and into certification.
I listened for several years as he extolled the benefits of the plane and his
reason to purchase one.
ft 4 in (11.68 m)
ft 11 in (2.7 m)
ft² (12.54 m²)
lb (961 kg)
lb (1,363 kg)
Continental IO-360-ES (200 h.p.)
KTAS mph (287 km/h)
nm (1,161 km)
ft (5,334 m)
Once Michael got his plane and I
flew in it, I was impressed, but certainly not in love with it. Over the next
couple of years, though, my family got larger with the births of Sean and Alex.
When they got old enough that I thought we as a family could take a trip in a
plane, I decided to combine my desire for a multi-stop family cross-country
with a check out of the Cirrus.
Getting checked out in the
Cirrus was the first obstacle. The manufacturer, FAA, and insurance companies
had gotten together and agreed that the standard 1-hour checkout expected for
most other single-engine pistons was not sufficient, although it could technically
be accomplished. Instead, they developed a 15-hour checkout process, which I
accomplished in 2008. This was a very expensive endeavor – over $3,000 just to
get qualified to rent the plane on my own.
Once accomplished, I then took a
couple of shake-down trips with the family, before we set out for a 2-week,
multi-stop trip down the coast to LA and back.
The things I enjoy most about
the Cirrus are its comfort and safety. The inside of the plane looks and feels
more like a Mercedes sedan than a piston airplane. Even though I am slightly
more than 6’ 1” tall, I found traveling in the plane very comfortable, and Kay
was comfortable in the back seat for some of the legs when we allowed one of
the boys to ride up front with me. The boys enjoyed sitting in front since
there was no conventional yoke in the way, the Cirrus instead using a side
stick. For a low-wing plane, the visibility is quite good, even over the nose.
For safety, Cirrus pioneered the
use of a ballistic parachute to lower the entire plane to the ground in the
event of a problem. Oddly enough, I had scoffed at the initially plan for the
parachute, for I feared it would entice pilots with marginal skills to press
into situations that they ought not to be in. When you are travelling with your
spouse and two young children, the peace of mind that this provides is
From a handling standpoint, the
Cirrus SR20 flies like a Cadillac: smooth, but not very maneuverable. Given
that it is intended as a safe, fast, comfortable means of transportation, that
is just fine. Stick forces are higher than I would like, and there is a ‘heavy’
feeling to the plane. It is easy to do nice landings, since the low wing gives
you added ground effect cushion in the flare.
The handling of the plane
generally isn’t important – it is intended to be flown by the autopilot from
the time you climb through 500’, all the way until on final. I felt that the
methodology for using the plane was very similar to flying a Boeing – autopilot
management is the crux of ‘flying’ the plane.
The lines of the Cirrus are
pleasing, especially when compared to the boxy lines of the Cessnas and Pipers.
Its sleek fiberglass exterior looks fast just sitting on the ramp, and this is
borne out in flight. Even with 4 passengers on board, it will cruise at 150
KTS, whereas a similar Cessna 182 would be hard-pressed to turn out 125 knots.
Carter and Michael Burke pose in front of the distinctive doors of the Cirrus
descends gently under the full ‘chute
– The Cirrus that I got checked out in and our family did its traveling in
and Kay are comfortable in the back seat
of the Cirrus SR20 – side sticks, full glass panel, single power lever, and
and Alex enjoy traveling in the back seat
in the pilot’s seat over Northern California
SR20 during actual CAPS deployment
Cirrus SR20 Specifications