Flight Test: Cirrus SR-22 GTS G6
- Credit: NA
Generation 6: Your generation? Onwards and upwards! How does the new SR-22 ‘Generation 6’ compare to the very recent G5? Words Keith Wilson, Photos Keith Wilson & Cirrus Aircraft
According to GAMA statistics, Cirrus’s single-engine piston aircraft sales have consistently outperformed all other general aviation manufacturers in the last fourteen years, the company taking the largest share of the GA market for the past two years. Readers of Pilot’s flight test on the Cirrus SR-22 ‘Generation 5’ aircraft (January 2017) may be surprised to learn that the featured model has already been superseeded. Cirrus is not a company that rests on its laurels, regularly updating its products with new offerings.
Maybe the competition should take a leaf out of its book.
The 2017 ‘Generation 6’ upgrades apply to the Cirrus SR-20, SR-22 and SR-22T. The SR-20 now features an engine that is more compact and yet produces greater power, the latest 215hp four-cylinder Lycoming IO-390-C3B6 replacing the previously-offered 200hp six-cylinder Continental IO-360. Reducing the cylinder count by two means a lighter unit with fewer parts and therefore, according to Cirrus, lower maintenance costs.
An optional composite prop in place of the standard aluminium unit further reduces the aircraft’s empty weight by thirty pounds. These changes play a part in allowing a 150 lb increase in the maximum all-up-weight to 3,150 lb. Judging by recent announcements of significant numbers being purchased by a couple of very large airline-based commercial flight training schools, the SR-20 G6 is very attractive for flight training.
Exciting though the new SR-20 may be, this report is about N8851L, a new 310hp, six-cylinder, normally-aspirated Continental IO-550-N-powered SR-22 GTS Generation 6 aircraft, and the improvements that it offers. Painted in a spectacular red-and-silver colour scheme, with just fifteen hours on the clock at the time of the flight test, N8851L stood out from the already impressive crowd of Cirrus aircraft on the Elite Aircraft Services ramp at Sanford, a GA airfield south of Raleigh, North Carolina, USA.
Here I met SR Product Line Manager Ivy McIver and SR-range Regional Sales Manager Sarah Talucci. Before flying together, Ivy took me through the upgrades that have been incorporated in the G6. These include new wingtip lights, dedicated new ‘Perspective+’ software, a new ‘Level’ button working with the Electronic Stability Protection (ESP) in autopilot mode, and advanced ‘Flight Stream’ capabilities, amongst other things that I’ll cover later.
Beam me up
The Cirrus Spectra wingtip lights?an automotive-inspired LED lighting solution for the wingtips, exclusive to Cirrus?are a joint project between Cirrus and Whelen Engineering. Cirrus designed the system and Whelen built the tooling. The entire bank of LEDs is housed behind a single lens, so the landing lights, navigation and position lights, dual-strobes, along with a clever ‘halo’ and ground lighting system, are all located in one area. Press the remote keyless entry system, or open the door, and they light up an area around the aircraft along with further specific lighting illuminating the steps.
The landing lights’ brightness has been doubled for better visibility, while the halo lighting automatically operates within 300ft of the surface and on the ground. Above 300ft the pulsing ‘wig-wag’ strobe lighting functions provide clear visibility to other aircraft. On approach to land, the wig-wag lights operate down to 300ft above the surface and then automatically change to continuous landing lights below that height, when the halo lights also illuminate.
Triggering is based on the GPS agl calculation. Cirrus has designed these lights to be effective on the ground, allowing you to be seen easily while taxying, while not being as distracting as conventional strobe lights – particularly to other aircraft in the vicinity. Marketing for the G6 includes the strap line ‘arrive, be seen’ and that’s certainly true. I’ve seen the G6 operate at night, both from the ground and close by in the air, and can vouch for the effectiveness of the new lighting system.
In terms of changes in the cockpit, Cirrus has continued to work with Garmin, and the G6 includes the latest next-generation Garmin G1000 technology which has been incorporated as the lightning-fast Cirrus Perspective+ software. This drives both the Garmin navigational and flight management systems, along with new hardware which now enables a number of new features to be included.
One of the complaints levelled at the earlier version of the Perspective software?including that used in the G5?was its relatively slow warm-up and operating speeds. The legacy Perspective system had effectively reached the end of its development, and adding even more new systems and code-enhancements merely slowed it down to a point where it was becoming almost ineffective.
That is no longer a problem. Almost as soon as you power up, the new G6 system is ready to use. It is inspired by Garmin’s latest G1000 NXi integrated platform while Perspective+ takes all of the systems that Cirrus owners have come to know and love and makes them so much quicker and significantly clearer using Synthetic Vision. The processor is ten times faster?yes, that’s ten times?than that of the previous Perspective avionics.
The system now features an all-new QWERTY keyboard interface, with slightly larger keys, and a dedicated comms control facility so, regardless of what page you are displaying, you can still enter frequencies into the system. When not in use, the keyboard defaults to comms (radio, transponder, nav and course) and a little blue light appears while all of the blue number keys illuminate.
If you move from radio to transponder, the blue numbers remain lit. If you move to something requiring the alphanumeric keys?for example the flight plan page?the blue numbers go out and are replaced by the alpha keyboard letters and numbers illuminated in white. Simple, yet very effective.
Another new nicety is that the radio displays the identity of the frequency you are tuned to. No more guessing whether you are on Approach, Centre or Tower, identification is displayed under the frequency, along with the aircraft registration. The system also features a new ‘Home’ key that instantly returns you to the main navigation functions?normally your default map?with the touch of a single button. Pressing this Home button also allows you to make immediate changes to radio and nav frequencies, transponder codes or a new waypoint, without having to scroll all the way back out of the system.
One button no longer on the display is the yaw damper engagement. The yaw damper function is now automatic, a move intended to align the SR-20/22 product line with the new Vision Jet. At 200ft agl after takeoff the yaw damper automatically activates, whether you are on autopilot or hand-flying. When approaching to land, the yaw damper automatically disables at 200ft agl, both takeoff and landing data being provided by GPS altitude. Another SR-20/22 and Vision Jet alignment is the identical autopilot controller, again assisting migration between the aircraft.
While the yaw damper button has gone, a new, blue ‘Level’ button has appeared. It’s a one-touch, autopilot-engage capability that will capture altitude and roll wings level. It’s designed particularly to be used at times of spatial disorientation, a moment of confusion, very high workload, or even a loss of control. Pressing the Level button will normalise everything by rolling the wings level and capturing the altitude?all in a gentle manner so as not to stress the airframe?giving the pilot time to take a deep breath and deal with the situation.
The Level button works alongside the ESP within the autopilot function. ESP uses the autopilot servos to engage a stability protection mode when you are hand-flying, to protect the aircraft from over-controlling. If the pilot enters more than a 45º bank, the ESP provides stick pressure to bring you back to a 30º. If you approach the stall speed, it will provide an aural alert ,“Stall, Stall” as well as a visual alert on the PFD and will gently push the stick forward and the nose down to gain a little more speed.
If you are over-speeding, it will gently raise the nose. The system is designed to keep the aircraft within a safe envelope and only cuts in when the aircraft is being flown in a manner that requires intervention. Keep the aircraft within its designed limits and you would never know the aircraft even had the ESP system fitted, but it’s reassuring to know it’s there.
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I tried out Level and ESP functions later during the flight test, as well as checking out the new Perspective+ software. This new ultra high-speed processor supports a variety of new facilities including an animated Global Datalink weather system; ‘SurfaceWatch’? a taxi guidance aid; payload management; visual approach capabilities; wireless database uploads; and animated NEXRAD radar.
As well as standard Garmin maps, there is the ability to switch between VFR and IFR sectionals covering many countries across the world, including the UK. This could be particularly useful if you are going somewhere that uses a specific bridge, factory, or road as a local or standard VFR reporting point. These weren’t previously on the Garmin display but now appear on the sectional.
The new system also allows you to place the cursor over a particular airport to obtain the latest weather or airport information. When using the IFR chart, if you place the cursor over an airway, it immediately gives you the minimum joining altitudes and other relevant data. Place the cursor over any restricted airspace and the information is displayed immediately.
If you are using the traffic information facility, this can be overlaid above the sectional in use. The system itself is smart too. If you are operating within very busy airspace, Atlanta for example, when you scroll into a five-mile view it will no longer display the sectional but instead the ATL TAC (Terminal Area Chart), while the IFR approach plates are also available. You can also split the screen showing, for example, the Garmin display on top, with the IFR approach chart?along with its frequency and procedural information?displayed below. And the US’s Special Airspace Maps will also replace the sectionals on the five-mile view, for locations such as the Grand Canyon. The days of a heavy pilot flight bag full of charts have gone!
The flight test
There is little difference externally between the Generation 6 model and the G5 aircraft described by Dave Unwin in January’s Pilot flight test, so I will avoid repeating his observations. Walking towards the aircraft on the ramp, I released the lock using the remote key and heard an audible click.
Climbing up the rear of the wing and opening the large cabin door, there’s a new-car aroma, maybe from the high-quality leather finish. Once seated and with straps adjusted, it is time to fire up the system. Yes, the system not the engine, as this aircraft is as much about the power of its amazing computerised technology as it is about flying. And it powers up almost instantly thanks to Perspective+.
Ivy sets up the checklists to display on the MFD and, once we have checked all the relevant parameters, including weight and balance, I follow the engine start routine. The engine springs immediately to life and settles into a smooth idle. I allow it to warm up before setting off across the Sanford ramp towards the runway. With the new SurfaceWatch ‘safe taxi protection’ selected and displaying on the screen, the system provides an almost progressive taxi facility.
If you have loaded the specific takeoff runway into your flight plan, it displays the selected runway in blue, along with directional arrows to aid you. If you approach the wrong runway, there’s an aural alert in your headset (a female voice demands “Check runway”) and a similar visual warning on the MFD.
Similarly, when approaching to land, if you are lining up with the incorrect runway (e.g. 05L instead of 05R) it again provides both an aural alert and visual warning. Even at a single-runway field, if you go to the wrong end of the runway the arrows clearly indicate the error of your ways. And if the runway is not long enough for safe operation, a “Runway Too Short” aural and visual warning is given. I was impressed with the additional situational awareness provided by the new system (it certainly sounds foolproof?Ed).
Once the various checks on the checklist displayed on the PFD are all completed, I remove the safety key to the CAPS Ballistic Recovery System from above the centre of the cockpit roof and stow it just ahead on the panel, ensuring the system is armed. Next, I set the flaps to takeoff then taxi onto the runway centreline. I hold the aircraft on the brakes as I progressively add power.
Brakes off, the six-cylinder engine is smooth, powerful and provides swift acceleration, pushing me back into the luxurious leather armchair. I need a little dab of right brake to keep on the centreline, but as the speed increases so does the rudder authority, making it easy to keep it straight. I add slight back pressure on the side stick in my left hand to keep the weight off the nose wheel and rotate at around 80 knots, which is reached in around 450 metres. I retract the flaps at 90kt and allow the speed to build up to 120kt?a good climb speed?and continue the climb up to around 3,000 feet in the vicinity of Jordan Lake.
Now to test out the new kit!
First, the ESP function. After clearing the area I try progressively to increase bank angle past the magic 30º towards 45º. It is a somewhat strange sensation to feel the controls stiffen in your hand, restricting you from going too far. After levelling, I try the climb, followed by a descent. Again in the descent the stick stiffens as the speed increases, pushing it back against my hand pressure to reduce the rate of descent. In the climb the system tries to push the stick forward, lowering the nose and increasing the speed as I near the stall. This clever use of the autopilot servos is most effective in what is a secondary rôle for them.
Next I test the effectiveness of the Level button. I disarm the ESP system before simulating a scenario of the aircraft entering cloud and me becoming disorientated. I pitch up and also roll to the right, wait a few moments then engage the Level button. The aircraft slowly and gently rolls back to a straight and level attitude, maintaining height, heading and speed. I repeat the test with a left turn and a descent. Again, the Level button does exactly what it says on the tin. This really is an amazing function.
Having reviewed the new safety systems, I climb up to 5,000 feet to try out the new Perspective+ system. Initially I test the airport facilities at nearby Raleigh-Durham International Airport and everything works as described. Next, I pick a nearby airways reporting point, and again the prescribed information is immediately displayed. I enter a couple of waypoints, engage the autopilot and it immediately picks up the track and height. It’s very fast and very effective. I love it!
Here’s a couple more flight tests:
The normally-aspirated SR-22 is good up to 17,500 feet, while the turbo version can be taken up to FL250. Today, we are operating at around 5,000 feet on a very warm morning and, even without the benefit of a turbocharger, cruising at 167kt TAS on a best economy setting (or around the mid-170s at best power setting).
However, the higher you take the normally-aspirated SR-22 the more the speed erodes, while the reverse is true of the turbocharged version, which is good for 210-212kt at FL250. Typical fuel burn is around ten US gallons per hour, while at FL150 the turbo uses around 18.5 US gph, cruising at around 190kt. As a consequence, the overall economy on the turbocharged version may prove better if you are flying long distances at higher altitudes.
After almost an hour of being impressed, it is time to return to Sanford. I disconnect the autopilot and hand-fly back towards the airport. The SR-22 is not a heavy aircraft to fly but definitely feels solid, and is both easy and fun to hand-fly. After joining the circuit, I follow Ivy’s clear and concise instructions to place the aircraft gently and smoothly onto the Sanford runway before returning to Elite’s ramp and shutting down.
Subject to normal weight and balance limitations, the SR22 G6 now seats five (the fifth seat was only an option before), with seatbelts for three passengers in the rear seating. The high quality, grey finish leather interior is now standard although there are three further options?’Carbon’, ‘Platinum’ and ‘Kinetic’?featuring extra-soft leather. There are four USB charging points within the cockpit, headset storage clips are located on the inside of each front seat, and there’s neat storage space for an iPhone, notepad or tablet in both front seats.
There are cup holders, seat-back pockets, and pretty much everything you would expect to find in a top quality motor vehicle. Cirrus recognises that its aircraft owners do not expect to compromise on quality, as they may have done with previous generations of GA aircraft.
The Iridium satellite telephone using Global Connect is available within the USA, which can be operated through the Garmin system, and sending text messages is certainly much easier through the new QWERTY keyboard. Calls can also be made through the system with communication through your headset. You can even have music while you fly through the Garmin system connected to XM Radio in the US. Additionally, front seat passenger and rear seat passengers can have separate and alternative music options, and you can connect a mobile device to the audio panel using Bluetooth to provide the music.
Cirrus offers an option to replace the analogue standby instrument display with a small, neat four-in-one digital display, developed for use in the Cirrus Jet (again permitting easy upward migration). This also aligns the back-up instruments with the standard digital displays, aiding safety. For example, the ASI on the back-up instrument is shown as a tape?just as it is in the main display. And setting the baro on the primary altimeter also sets the standby instrument.
Probably the hardest aspect of flying the Cirrus SR-range of aircraft is mastering the complexity of the Garmin flight deck?after all, it’s just a fixed-gear, single-engine aircraft! Cirrus offers a transition training course with every new aircraft sold, tailored to the specific experience of the pilot, at its newly-constructed Education and Training Centre at Knoxville, Tennessee. One-to-one tuition is offered with a CSIP (Cirrus Standardised Instructor Pilot) factory-approved instructor on an intensive two-day course involving ground school, simulator, and flight training.
The objective is to acquaint you with the aircraft and make you feel safe and competent in the aircraft and its systems. The flight instructor can also assist the owner to take his new aircraft back home, providing additional cross county experience. Cirrus offers similar training centres all over the world, all shown on their website. Overseas centres are regularly audited to ensure they are providing the required standard of education and training.
Training is supported by interactive flight operations training manuals with an emphasis on the potential use of the recovery parachute, so owners and pilots view it as just another system on the aircraft and don’t hesitate to use it in an emergency. Some US insurance companies now waive the excess if you pull the parachute. Cirrus has sold around 6,500 aircraft to date but parachutes have been deployed in only just over sixty cases in the eighteen years the aircraft has been on the market. That’s a very small percentage but it represents a lot of lives saved.
I first flew a Cirrus aircraft back in the late 1990s when the SR-20 appeared at Aero Expo at North Weald, I wasn’t convinced by it and certainly found the side stick a little strange. Fifteen years on, the design has progressed significantly. Over the last five years, and through the good offices of Elite Aircraft Service’s Matt Walsh, I have flown a variety of Cirrus aircraft and also used them as cameraships for air-to-air photographic sorties.
To be honest, I am now a complete fan of the SR-20 and SR-22 range of aircraft and am most impressed by the new Generation 6. Cirrus claims the G6 ‘is the smartest, safest, most innovative general aviation aircraft a pilot could desire’. I think they have a point.