Cirrus’ first production jet takes to the air
DULUTH -- Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft recently took another big stride toward bringing its first jet aircraft, the Vision SF50, to market. Ben Kowalski, a Cirrus spokesman, provided an update on the company's efforts to get the Vision Jet approv...
DULUTH - Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft recently took another big stride toward bringing its first jet aircraft, the Vision SF50, to market.
Ben Kowalski, a Cirrus spokesman, provided an update on the company’s efforts to get the Vision Jet approved for sale to a long line of waiting customers.
“On May 5, we celebrated a significant milestone in the Vision Jet program, as the first production aircraft took flight in Duluth, and that aircraft performed exactly as intended,” he said. “It demonstrated that we have implemented out a repeatable process on our production line and are prepared to begin initial production of the Vision Jet.”
Cirrus jets have been soaring above Duluth for months. Three flight test aircraft have logged more than 1,700 hours in flight to prove the design and refine it.
But Kowalski said the production jet now being tested is different.
“This is the first aircraft that has come down the production line, using the exact same tools that we plan to use to build the Vision Jet as we ramp up production,” he said.
In fact, Kowalski said Cirrus has several aircraft going down that production line already, in anticipation of successful certification.
Kowalski said Cirrus plans to submit its first production jet, dubbed the P1, to the Federal Aviation Administration for type certification by the end of June. Assuming testing goes smoothly and the aircraft receives certification, Cirrus aims to begin delivering jets to waiting customers shortly thereafter.
How long it will take the FAA to certify the jet remains an open question.
Cirrus blew past a previously stated goal to have the SF50 in production by the end of 2015, but Kowalski said the company chose not to rush the project.
“We planned to take the right amount of time to deliver the right aircraft to our customers,” he said.
‘World’s first personal jet’
Nearly 600 people have each plunked down $100,000 deposits to secure positions to buy the first jets to roll off the line at Cirrus. Each Vision Jet is expected to sell for $1.96 million.
Kowalski said a “vast majority” of the people who have placed orders for the SF50 are already Cirrus customers, and are looking to step up into a bigger, faster, higher-flying aircraft.
“What you’re really seeing is the creation of a new category of aircraft. This is the world’s first personal jet that is truly going to revolutionize regional travel. We’re getting interest certainly from our current owners but also from other operators who see the Vision Jet, with its acquisition cost and its operating cost, as the aircraft that fits their needs exactly,” he said.
With the launch of its Vision SF50 production, Cirrus plans to expand its footprint in Duluth by about 20 percent. Kowalski said the company expects to break ground on a new 70,000-square-foot finishing center within the next month and have it ready to operate by early November.
Cirrus also is investing in a new customer service and delivery center in Knoxville, Tenn., where a factory service center is expected to open this summer. But Kowalski said the facility will open in phases, with completion expected to take 12 to 18 months.
At least initially, people who buy the Vision Jet will continue to come to Duluth to accept delivery of the aircraft and receive training.
Like all Cirrus aircraft, the SF50 will come standard-equipped with a whole-plane emergency parachute system. The proprietary rocket-fired chute is called CAPS - short for Cirrus Airframe Parachute System. In the case of the Vision Jet, the parachute will deploy from the nose of the aircraft. The massive canopy for the parachute measures nearly 90 feet in diameter.
“To put that in perspective, the wingspan of the Concorde is only 83 feet,” Kowalski said.
The FAA has determined Cirrus can prove the safety of the parachute for its new jet aircraft without conducting an in-flight deployment of the system while the plane is under its own power. But Kowalski said Cirrus is putting the system through rigorous paces.
“We’ve done a large amount of testing on the parachute system for the Vision Jet. We’ve been testing it for several years now. We’ve done extraction testing on the ground. We’ve done parachute drop tests in the air. And we’ve also done in-flight deployment tests, where we dropped jets and deployed the CAPS system from them. So we’ve done an enormous amount of testing on the parachute system for the Vision Jet. And we’re continuing to do that, as we speak,” he said.
As for the development of the CAPS for the Vision Jet, Kowalski said: “It’s an amazing system that was designed by an amazing team of engineers here at Cirrus Aircraft.”
But he said the whole aircraft was built with safety in mind as a top priority.
“The key takeaway on the parachute is that it’s one piece of a total safety system. You have the reliability of a turbine engine. You have a type-rated trained pilot. You have the most capable avionics in the world, meaning they have electronic stability protection - a feature that’s very similar to what you’d find in a lot of cars out there, which sense when you’re potentially doing something you shouldn’t be doing. It auto-corrects for you. So you have all these amazing safety features on the aircraft, and the CAPS system is just one part of that total safety system,” he said.