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Jet mods for Cirrus piston fleet

New avionics, better visibility, easier jet transition

Editor's note: This story was updated January 12 and January 18 to correct the aircraft price and the frequency of the automatic fuel selector. AOPA regrets the error.

Call it convergence. The Cirrus SR series of piston aircraft and the SF50 Vision Jet have long shared certain similarities, but the new G7 model brings their likeness to a new level with avionics, control placement, warning systems, and a cabin redesign that make the piston and jet cockpits nearly identical.

“We want to make our product lines so similar that transitioning between them is seamless,” said Ivy McIver, Cirrus executive director and SR product manager. “The pilot’s environment is going to be very familiar regardless of whether they’re flying an SR20, an SR22 or SR22T, or a Vision Jet.”

My introduction to the G7 comes in an SR22T at Billy Mitchell Airport on North Carolina’s scenic outer banks—but the morning brings a few challenges. A northwest wind is blowing directly across the runway at 12 knots with gusts topping 20, and a family of deer keeps crossing the 3,000-foot runway near midfield, apparently indifferent to aircraft.

Click images to enlarge and view captions.

The G7 avionics, switch positions, and orientation (above) are almost identical to the SF50 Vision Jet. Two Garmin Touchscreen Controllers allow pilots to alter the primary and multifunction displays, change radio frequencies, and find the information they seek. Photo by Chris Rose. Ivy McIver, Cirrus manager for the SR product line, with an SR22T model G7 at the company’s headquarters in Knoxville, Tennessee. Photo by Chris Rose. Below the touch-screen controllers are the autopilot controls, USB ports and a storage space, environmental controls, and a flap position switch. Photo by Chris Rose. A Cirrus SR22T model G7 over the Oregon Inlet near Manteo, North Carolina. Photo by Chris Rose. A four-blade Hartzell composite propeller is an option on the G7. Also, note the infrared camera on the bottom of the airplane’s left wing. Photo by Chris Rose. A pair of SR22T model G7s flying south along the Atlantic coastline of North Carolina. Photo by Chris Rose.

Stepping into the G7 cockpit, the most obvious change is the vastly lower and narrower glareshield that dramatically improves visibility, especially at the windshield’s periphery. The avionics package is a strikingly clean Garmin suite with two 14-inch screens and two horizontally mounted Garmin Touchscreen Controllers (GTCs). Cirrus calls it the “Cirrus Perspective Touch +.”

There’s no standby flight instrument, no dedicated engine monitor, no analog gauges, and no keyboard. The GTCs handle all data entry tasks. And if the primary flight display (PFD) fails in flight, the left GTC becomes a standby flight instrument.

Strapping in is a simple matter of connecting one seat belt with an automotive-style shoulder strap and built-in airbag and pulling the doors shut. Engine start is normal for a Continental TSIO-550 with a push-button starter that’s also got a dial used to select left, right, or both magnetos. A digital checklist on the PFD makes the steps particularly easy to follow. Engine data on the multifunction display (MFD) resembles a jet with percentage power most prominent on top. Manifold pressure and rpm get secondary billing.

The electric flap selector and position display are identical in size and placement to the jet, and they have a new capability in the G7: If flaps are selected at too high an airspeed, they won’t deploy until the airplane slows to the proper speed.

The G7’s side-mounted half-yoke operates the same as previous Cirrus models, but the stick grip itself is slightly slimmer to match that of the jet.

The fuel selector is in its traditional, central location, but there’s a big change in the G7. The fuel selector automatically switches between the left and right wing tanks every five gallons unless the pilot chooses to make the changes manually instead.

The PFD screen after start shows an external, three-dimensional view of the airplane on the ramp. When the pilot selects a runway and taxi route via the GTC, the PFD shows the airplane and the route to follow externally, and the MFD gives an overhead view of the route along with holding points.

“It’s a game-changer at big airports with complex taxiway systems,” McIver said.

Taxi with the free-castering nosewheel requires some differential braking because of the wind. Runup is standard and all pre-takeoff items are quickly completed while scrolling through the PFD checklist.

With McIver in the right seat and 80 gallons of fuel, the G7 is moderately loaded and near the forward edge of its center-of-gravity limit. Cirrus has worked hard to reduce weight, and the G7 is actually lighter than previous versions mostly because of an EarthX lithium-ion battery that saves 20 pounds over a gel-cell.

Acceleration on takeoff with full throttle is moderate, and the authoritative rudder is effective immediately with full engine power. The airplane reaches its 77-knot rotation speed in about six seconds after a ground roll of slightly less than 1,000 feet.

The G7 climbs energetically at 105 knots, and I raise the flaps at pattern altitude and let the airplane accelerate to 125 knots at a pitch attitude of 15 degrees and a climb rate of 1,500 feet per minute. Because of the cool outside air temperature and sea-level elevation, the density altitude is 1,700 feet below sea level, and the engine display shows a muscular 115 percent power during the initial climb.

At 3,500 feet, I throttle back to 28 inches of manifold pressure, and the single-lever control reduces engine/propeller rpm to 2,500. The four-blade Hartzell prop is remarkably smooth and quiet, and that enhances the turbine-like feel.

A series of familiarization maneuvers shows the elevator, ailerons, and rudder well balanced and harmonized with strong centering and moderate breakout forces. The airplane’s broad speed range requires lots of elevator trim as it moves between fast and slow, and raising or lowering the flaps produces significant pitching moments, particularly near the top of the white arc.

Steep turns are made video-game-simple by placing the green dot on the PFD, or flightpath marker, on the horizon line and holding it there.

Stalls are preceded by both aerodynamic and aural warnings, and the G7 adds an impossible-to-ignore stick shaker (just like the jet) as well as flashing red messages on the PFD. The stick shaker activates about five knots above a power-off stall itself, and the warning acts more like a buzzer with a high-frequency rattle that’s triggered by the airplane’s angle-of-attack-based stall sensor.

The G7 is equipped with Garmin’s Electronic Stability and Protection (ESP) system in which the autopilot automatically engages and levels the wings whenever the airplane’s bank angle exceeds 45 degrees. It also has built-in “envelope protection” that prevents the airplane from flying too fast or slow.

Frankly, I hadn’t been thinking about ESP until a particularly exuberant lazy 8 activated the system. But once the autopilot was on, I programmed it via the dedicated GFC 700 autopilot’s buttons and knobs to fly a visual approach to Runway 7, which it did with its normal/exceptional accuracy.

I hadn’t flown a Cirrus regularly since 2009 when AOPA had a SR22 G2 as the top prize in its annual sweepstakes. That Avidyne-equipped model was my first glass panel, and it taught me to internalize Garmin logic with its dual GNS430 nav/coms. But the G2 also had a somewhat artificial control feel because of its bungee aileron-rudder interconnect system, and that detracted from its flying qualities. Cirrus did away with that needless system in the G3 and all subsequent models.

The G7 is particularly enjoyable to hand fly, and a series of approaches and landings on both Runway 7 and 25 showed its crisp and responsive yet obedient nature.

McIver recommends flying 80 knots with full flaps and 30-percent engine power on final, then reducing power to idle in ground effect. That combination works beautifully. The airplane’s wide wheelbase and authoritative rudder are more than sufficient to counter the crosswind, and the reduced glareshield keeps the runway edges visible in the landing attitude.

Jet bridge

Cirrus is in the enviable position of producing the world’s most popular single-engine piston airplanes (the SR20, SR22, and SR22T) as well as the leading single-engine jet (the SF50) in general aviation.

The company’s future clearly hinges on jets, which sell for about three times the price of new piston airplanes, but in 2023 piston deliveries still led in both unit and revenue terms.

Given those realities, it makes sense for Cirrus to fuse its product lines as tightly as possible. Not only is it simpler from a production standpoint, it’s beneficial from a pilot and flight training perspective. The Garmin avionics suite is clean, clever, fun to use, and provides exceptional situational awareness both in the air and on the ground.

Student pilots flying SR20s will adapt to it quickly, and veterans will be able to do the things they currently do better.

The G7 will certainly streamline the process of moving Cirrus pilots from pistons to jets. But I suspect the company will find that’s a two-way street. Some jet pilots are bound to find the G7 a better fit and move down the Cirrus product line while still enjoying a highly capable and refined aircraft with industry leading safety tools.

It’s easy to envision even more convergence between the SR and SF product lines in the future, particularly when it comes to Garmin’s Autoland technology. That’s currently installed in SF50s, but it’s unavailable in piston aircraft because the system requires autothrottles, and that technology is only widely available today in turbine engines.

The next iteration of the SR product line is probably several years out if the company’s historical pace of introducing new models continues. But my guess is that the next big step for Cirrus will include a FADEC version of the Continental IO-550 equipped with an autothrottle, or perhaps a turboprop.

Meanwhile, Cirrus pilots can enjoy the smooth, powerful, exceptionally jet-like G7. Add kerosene fumes and it would be easy to get tricked into thinking the G7 was a turbine.

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Dave Hirschman
Dave Hirschman
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.

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