Cirrus Vision Jet Update

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Cirrus Design CEO Alan Klapmeier and Mike Van Staggen, vice president for advanced development, briefed the press on Wednesday on the status of the Vision single-engine jet program, and revealed new details and updates about the design. Klapmeier stressed that the jet is aimed directly at the personal-transportation niche, not the corporate or air-taxi segments, and the needs of that market strongly drive the design decisions that are being made as the program evolves. Test pilots have put about 120 hours on the aircraft, and so far the jet is performing as expected. The entire CG envelope has been checked, in-flight engine re-starts were done, and stall tests are under way. Aerodynamic design is being tweaked, with the help of computer models, to improve performance, and the angle of thrust on the engine has been adjusted, with significant results. For the production version of the jet, the right side door will be eliminated, to reduce weight, and an emergency egress hatch will be added. An illustration of the production version shows the nose will be slightly sharper and the belly a bit roomier. The wing-root fairing has been adjusted, and the tail sweep reduced. A larger ventral fin is about to be tested, and a dual fin might also be tested, Van Staggen said. Maximum payload will be 1,200 pounds, with 400 pounds available with full fuel. Klapmeier said the trade-off of fuel and weight took into account input from customers who say they will often fly alone and were willing to trade off payload to carry more fuel. The jet will fly about 1,100 nm at max cruise of 300 knots.

While overall the tone was upbeat and positive, Klapmeier was realistic about the state of the economy. "The fourth-quarter reports when they come out in January are not going to be good," he said, referring to the industry-wide data reported by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. The first quarter of 2009 isn't going to be good either, he said, but beyond that, nobody really knows how long the downturn will last. "There's a crisis of confidence right now, but we're excited about the future, and optimistic going forward," he said. He added that he was disturbed by the recent criticism of auto executives for traveling in corporate jets, and said the industry needs to do a better job of educating the public about the practical value of GA. The Cirrus production workers who have been furloughed for December will retain their company benefits and return in January, he said. Meanwhile, Cirrus is still looking to fill a few positions on the jet team, and no layoffs are expected there, although the pace of development is likely to slow a bit as the company keeps an eye on the economic situation. "We're not ramping up as fast as we were," Klapmeier said. No decisions have yet been made on a production facility for the jet, and that announcement is still at least a year or more away.

Klapmeier said his team plans to submit an application to the FAA for a type certificate in about two weeks, but they will hold off on seeking EASA certification because aircraft in the Vision jet's weight class are subject to high user fees in Europe's air traffic system. He also noted that the training requirements for pilots will be built right into the TC, a strategy that was also followed by Eclipse. This gives the "force of law" to the training regimen, "so you're not legal to fly it without meeting those requirements," Klapmeier said. A mentor pilot program for low-time pilots will be part of the requirements. The base price for the jet, now at about $1 million, is sure to change by the time it reaches the market, which will be sometime after 2011 or 2012, but Klapmeier said he hopes to keep the price in that general ballpark. "We can't predict inflation, and we don't know yet when we will be done," he said, so he can't be more precise about what the ultimate market price will be.

A recording of the first 43 minutes of the press briefing is now posted online, including graphics, performance charts, and a couple of videos -- although at our deadline, the videos weren't working for us, but maybe you'll have better luck.