Unless you are brand-new to general aviation or have been under a rock for the past decade, you know by now the Cirrus Design story. Wisconsin brothers Dale and Alan Klapmeier started building kit airplanes, but soon recognized that the real market was for a new-generation mainstream-certificated airplane. In 1995, they announced, with much fanfare, that they were going to produce just such an airplane. The airframe would be composite and incorporate the latest thinking in aerodynamics and survivability. Unusual doors that lift upward and forward (actually, in the mock-up they were sliding doors like your minivan has), opening to a wide and comfortable cabin. The plan was to incorporate the latest avionics and engine management systems to reduce pilot workload and improve situational awareness. And deliver it all at a higher "value" than was then available in the market.
At first, Cirrus planned to offer a unique rocket-powered parachute as an option. Later, the Klapmeiers decided that the parachute would be standard equipment. The parachute is designed to lower the aircraft to the ground in such a way that those inside would survive. However, the 1,800-foot-per-minute descent rate beneath the deployed parachute will most likely damage or destroy the aircraft upon impact in the worst case scenario. Still, as a last-ditch effort in the event of a loss of control, it's not a bad safety net. “In 2002, the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System™ made aviation history with the first safe landing by a private pilot after deploying the parachute.” (Cirrus Design Corp.)
Development and certification of the parachute system took many months and many tests. Eventually, the system, dubbed CAPS, for Cirrus Airframe Parachute System, earned FAA approval.
Hidden in an area in the aft fuselage, the parachute and its rocket, along with the extra structure to accommodate the system, weigh less than 80 pounds. A pull forward and down on the handle ignites the rocket motor and propels it out through the skin of the aircraft, pulling the parachute with it. Wide straps buried just below the composite exterior skin of the fuselage, running beneath the door openings, are ripped free by the force. In the end, the fuselage is suspended by the straps, which are attached to the firewall and the aft cabin. The system requires almost no maintenance, just an inspection and repacking of the chute every 10 years and perhaps replacement of the rocket motor.
The Klapmeiers believe that the aircrafts’ avionics and navigation systems will improve situational awareness. On Cirrus Aircraft, the Avidyne Multi Function Display has always been standard. Later models are equipped with the Avidyne Entegra Integrated Flight Deck, providing the pilot with a new level of situational awareness and safety.
SR20- Handling and Performance
The SR20 has a very solid, stable feel to it in flight. At slow speeds, the unusual leading edge cuff comes into play to prevent the aircraft from easily entering a spin. Cirrus certified the SR20 in the "spin resistant" category, thanks to the cuff. The cuff causes the air flowing over the ailerons to remain "attached" to the wing at very high angles of attack. As a result, the ailerons remain effective even after the inboard portions of the wing have stalled. Because of this, you can easily fly the airplane, feet on the floor, despite much of the wing's being stalled. You'll be descending at several hundred feet per minute, but with complete aileron control. The intent is to prevent the common base-to-final-turn stall-spin accident by allowing the pilot to simply roll wings-level even in a stall. There is plenty of natural buffeting to alert even the most distracted pilot that the aircraft is entering a stall. It's a good system and a significant safety enhancement.
Part of the reason for the SR20's stellar cruise speeds on such a small, efficient engine is the composite fuselage. The fiberglass material allowed the designers to carefully shape the fuselage to be aerodynamically efficient. In the beginning, the airplane was to be all composite, but Cirrus engineers discovered fairly early in the process that it was difficult to make strong and stiff flight control surfaces out of fiberglass because of the tight spaces inside, particularly at the trailing edges. As a result, the SR20 has aluminum ailerons, flaps, rudder, and elevator.
The engine itself delivers other efficiencies. The Continental IO-360-ES utilizes both tuned induction and tuned exhaust to efficiently extract every horsepower while keeping fuel flows down. A tuned induction system delivers an equal amount of air at the same velocity to each cylinder, allowing efficient and consistent combustion from cylinder to cylinder. A tuned exhaust system, evidenced by the long parallel stacks along the belly, decreases exhaust back pressures, allowing the engine to efficiently deliver rated horsepower with minimal fuel burn.
Overall, the SR20 combines a unique blend of tried-and-true systems married to many advances in safety and avionics, all bundled into a robust and efficient airframe.
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