Cirrus' New Turbo: Baffling

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The way the story goes, Cirrus Aircraft (still called Cirrus Design back in 2006) didn't initially want to sell a turbo version of the SR22. Then customers starting seeing SR22s regularly doing 200 knots on FlightAware, clustered around central Oklahoma. The story continues that there were threats of canceled orders; customers would rather buy a used Cirrus capable of this mysterious extra speed than a new one.

I don't know if customer pressure finally convinced Cirrus to come out with the turbo (SR22TN), but when Cirrus did move, it took the unusual step of doing it by STC, embracing the turbonormalized system cooked up by Ada, Oklahoma's Tornado Alley Turbos (TAT).

The SR22TN has a turbo system strapped on the SR22's high-compression IO-550 engine. Normally, this would be a detonation minefield, but TAT avoided this because the installation boosts only enough to maintain sea-level power as the airplane climbed. But with a high percentage of 310 horses available in the flight levels, the SR22TN pushed past the magic 200 in true airspeed.

It was also mandated in the POH that the engine must be run lean-of-peak. This was a first, although other aircraft have been certified with the lean-of-peak option. But not lately. The TAT system proved Cirrus' most popular model and one of the most successful and reliable turbo installations ever.

Fast forward four years and Cirrus rolls out a new turbocharged version, the SR22T, at the annual Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association migration, which I attended last weekend in Dayton, Ohio. The new model has a TSIO-550 that ground boosts up to 34 inches and uses the traditional low-compression pistons. There are a handful of other changes that dress up the new model that Cirrus billed in the announcement as "lighter, quieter, smoother."

Judging by comments I heard at Dayton, some current Cirrus owners seem less than impressed. Devotees of the TAT system are practically evangelical in their support of the turbonormalized system, so it's no surprise they latched on to some of the new model's shortcomings and made their counter pronouncement: "slower, hotter, burns more gas."

Cirrus concedes all three of those points, but quantifies them as an acceptable trade. The speed Delta may be as much as 10 knots or so up in the mid-teens where most turbos travel; the fuel burn is 0.3 GPH more. I say "may be" because our trial of the airplane for an article in the July issue of Aviation Consumer revealed inconsistent data. But the TN still appears faster.

The SR22T POH has "acceptable" CHTs in the low 400s. Some folks would disagree on how acceptable that is over the long haul, especially given the troubles Continental has had with premature cylinder wear. Outside the rabid TAT fans, whom you'd expect to turn up their noses at the new machine, reaction of the crowd at large seemed to fall between lukewarm and, well, apathetic.

This disturbs me, especially in light of Cirrus billing the new model as having "future fuel flexibility." This is a clear play toward the lower-compression engine being able to burn lower-octane gas. But notably missing was any statement on how much flexibility an SR22T owner would have when burning lower octane gas.

Teledyne Continental has been pushing 94UL as substitute for endangered 100LL, but it concedes that to avoid detonation, power reductions may be necessary. So is a buyer of an SR22T covering his bases for a future fuel, or just thinking he is? Nobody knows and Cirrus isn't volunteering any numbers to help buyers out. In other words, there's no power table for running this airplane on 94UL or anything less than 100UL. That's where the apathy bothers me. I think there are plenty of potential buyers who don't know enough on the issue to ask this question.

If five years down the road, a couple of hundred SR22T owners get smacked with enforced power reductions they thought they had immunity from, someone's going to start talking lawsuit. I think an SR22T buyer is going to read "fuel flexible" as "burns 94UL without restrictions," and this hasn't been shown to be true. In addition, the SR22TN has an excellent maintenance history. The long-term maintenance of the new SR22T is an unknown. There's some risk that this could come back to bite them if maintenance issues emerge.

Against these factors, I'm having trouble seeing where the risk of introducing the SR22T is worth whatever gain there might be. Normally, new models are supposed to be better in measurable ways--faster, higher and so on--but this one isn't. Not in terms of the engine anyway.

I would say that many of the folks at the COPA migration were baffled by the introduction of the SR22T, thinking there must be some behind-the-scenes deal making or myopic bean counting going on. I can see why.

Comments (35)

Cirrus seems to have lost its drive for innovation which is what made it so successful until a few years ago. This engine is a step in the wrong direction for Cirrus. It offers no advantage to the customer over the current TAT version and, in fact, has a lot of disadvantages with respect to temperatures and speed. Why would anyone buy one of these when they could have the TAT version?

Posted by: Brian Turrisi | June 23, 2010 11:37 AM    Report this comment

When Cirrus announced that a new model was in the pipeline, my first reaction was: "Yes! We finally get our diesel-version ! " . At least, that's my idea of an innovation. Boy, was I wrong...

Posted by: Stijn Lammens | June 23, 2010 3:05 PM    Report this comment

Not good at all. They Have given cont. an in for 94ul, and told their existing customers to pound sand. I wonder how much cont is supporting this, u can bet cirrus didn't go it alone.

Posted by: John Fulton | June 24, 2010 6:22 AM    Report this comment

If Alan was still around, the SR22T would have never happened. It's going to be another 'drain' on the companies resources; exactly what they don't need at this time, with their finances stretched as they are.

Posted by: Patrick Kelly | June 24, 2010 8:29 AM    Report this comment

I've been a long-time supporter for the entire Cirrus line. I currently own a used SR-20 and am thinking about a 22. The only question to Cirrus is "WHY?"...why build an airplane with a different engine to compete with an airplane that they already have that customers rave about and is a cash cow?? Seems like the bean counters have taken over Cirrus...

Posted by: R. Doe | June 24, 2010 9:18 AM    Report this comment

The SR22T is certainly an error. I do not want to repeat many of the good comments already posted, but to reinforce them by theory and practical example. First, If we are trying to "Go Green (aahrg)," we are going the wrong way. As any good internal combustion engineer can verify, efficiency decreases with decrease in compression ratio -- so with the 22T we are going to be burning more fuel for less performance. I once had a Bonanza with the TSIO 520 engine which could be boosted to 36". It was not intercooled. Compared to the IO550 engine I have now in the same aircraft, normalized and intercooled (the TAT package), the TSIO ran hotter, burned more fuel, performed much less well (especially at upper altitudes)and went to only half TBO before requiring a top. I'm on my second IO 550 now -- the first went to over TBO (without topping), and the second is now well beyond half TBO with good compressions et al. SR22T -- a big error.

Posted by: CALVIN EARLY | June 24, 2010 9:23 AM    Report this comment

Cirrus seems to have lost its drive for innovation which is what made it so successful until a few years ago.

Exit, Alan Klapmeier. Enter, "professional management."

For a period of some years, Apple was run by professional managers from Pepsi, IBM and other blue chips. It was post-enterpreneurial and didn't need a visionary any more. They dumped Steve Jobs, who to spite himself dumped his Apple stock and took a huge bath.

Of course Apple did fine without Jobs... oh, wait.

Posted by: KEVIN O'BRIEN | June 24, 2010 9:41 AM    Report this comment

I have read the reviews and spoke to Cirrus reps. There is a lot if smoke and mirrors, no precise performance numbers. This is typical of Cirrus to cover up shortcomings with a lot of sparkle and very little substance. I agree that with a similar model doing well why introduce this one. Cirrus hurts their existing customer base and resale by continually coming out with "new" models that are actually just minor changes to old models. Their FAA certifications only list the SR20 and SR22.

Posted by: Matt Tutton | June 24, 2010 11:24 AM    Report this comment

All great comments, agree with them all!
Innovation left with Alan for sure. The only changes that have been made since his departure have all been interior and the stickers. Wait, I can now also get a "fake" gear handle installed in a cirrus and play make believe I'm a retract.
TAT was brought into the fold, used to get what cirrus could get out of them and thrown away. There is quite the similarity with the way Avidyne and L-3 were handled. It is just cheaper for cirrus to use Tele now with deposits on the jet running the company. If Thielert hadn't of had their troubles we should of had kerosone piston in a cirrus by now.

Posted by: Dirk Diggler | June 24, 2010 12:02 PM    Report this comment

Dirk --

Cirrus wanted to do a Jet A plane and even announced it: the SR-21TDI. Not Thielert, but SMA power. The problems they ran into were multiple, but failures to cold start in Duluth winter were a big one. Cirrus is based where other firms go to conduct extreme cold weather testing.

As a result of the various problems, including but not limited to the SMA's environmental limits, Cirrus reluctantly spiked the SR-21. If you google about you can find traces on the net still.

Posted by: KEVIN O'BRIEN | June 24, 2010 2:39 PM    Report this comment

Would one of you fine gentlemen please advise what is the real, (not marketing dept) TAS for each of these 2 engines on a standard day at higher levels- sy 18,000 and 24,000? Thank you.

Dick Kenney

Posted by: RICHARD KENNEY INC | June 24, 2010 3:37 PM    Report this comment

I can't get you the higher altitude, but at 17,500 feet, my data showed 212 knots for the TN, 199 for the T. Data gathered on separate test flight, but observed by me with a Cirrus demo pilot flying. Cirrus challenges these findings. Real world TN numbers seem to be 204 to 206, best case.

Additional interviews suggest the speed different at that altitude is 5 to 9 knots, in favor of the TN and a fuel flow difference of about .3 GPH, again favoring the TN.

Really need to do a wing-to-wing flyoff to settle it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 25, 2010 6:51 PM    Report this comment

I think this was a premature launch. I get why people are ticked, but I also understand why Cirrus did it. If I were dropping $600k for a new airplane, I'd sure as heck want it to be compatible with whatever fuel is available 15 years from now. The only problem is, I'm not 100% certain the SR22T is. I'd be more comfortable with an aircraft certified for 94UL on the TCDS with all the limitations (if they exist). The demise of 100LL is all but guaranteed, but a suitable alternative is not so certain. If 100UL happens, Cirrus and TCM will look like idiots, but if not they'll be geniuses - IF it works.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | June 26, 2010 9:12 AM    Report this comment

If 100UL happens, Cirrus and TCM will look like idiots, but if not they'll be geniuses - IF it works.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 26, 2010 11:46 AM    Report this comment

I cannot connect the dots. First the people in Ada have helped/enabled Cirrus to create a great TN airplane and they have sold a boatload of them (by todays standards). Ada thinks they may have a solution to to 100LL and indeed is flying a TN Cirrus around the US with the new fuel apparently with success and it creates a success for their fleet. Yet Cirrus who is arguably the current leader in GA aircraft appears to be doing nothing to promote the fuel? What the heck is going on behind closed doors while the rest of us are being help hostage? What is it that we dont know????

Posted by: John Fulton | June 28, 2010 9:17 AM    Report this comment

IMHO - Cirrus and TCM are in the dark too. They had to run with something, and they know we'll at least have 94UL. I don't think anyone in their right mind would buy a 100LL airplane new today. There is no certainty as to which fuel will win out. I know GAMI won't release the formula, Swift is in testing but costs are unknown. I think Swift might have more traction, because being a biofuel they are the darling of politicians right now. I'm betting that the oil industry will be the ones to kill 100UL - they already know how to make 94UL, have the refineries, distribution channels, and certification for them will be easy. Don't expect big oil to pay hundreds of thousands or millions to develop and certify a new fuel that they sell 180m gallons of a year. And they won't be paying royalties to GAMI for every gallon they produce under license. Why - because they're big oil and they don't have to. If GAMI comes out with a 100UL that's cost effective, they still have to produce and distribute it which will be hard to do. I'm pretty confident that GAMI 100UL will be sold as a 55 gallon drum specialty fuel for warbirds - but will it make it into the fleet and be available anywhere - I for one am not quite so sure. Don't shoot the messenger - I wish we could keep 100LL - I don't buy the environmental claims but a reality check says it's days are numbered. Sorry.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | June 28, 2010 10:01 AM    Report this comment

Paul- if you could delete my double post please. I only hit submit once - honest! :)

Posted by: Josh Johnson | June 28, 2010 10:10 AM    Report this comment

Knowing what I know about the refining business, I would say it's not too likely that any small company would find capital (or interest) to set up its own avgas refining. Refineries are losing businesses, generally. And let's not even think about distribution. Never say never, but it's a long shot.

I'm pretty sure these licensing arrangements exist throughout the petrochemicals industry. If a company can make money selling the product, they'll pay the licensing costs.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 28, 2010 11:15 AM    Report this comment

It seems to me that we need a fuel that will work in our engines. If it work, it will be profitable and the oil companies will have no trouble making it. Right now the production of 100LL is a small percentage of the oil business yet they keep making it because of the need.
So I do not think the oil business is the problem here. The new G100UL fuel seems to work well in the larger high compression engines and according to GAMI is not more expensive to produce. The 94UL just will not work in 30% of the engines that consume 70% of the current AVGAS.

Posted by: Brian Turrisi | June 28, 2010 11:26 AM    Report this comment

I applaud the efforts from Cirrus with their new aircraft and new engine. I think this is an AVGAS 94 UL aircraft and for me this is great - because for us in Sweden this fuel already exists, is from time to time produced, has proven it is reliable (flown some million hours)and is cheap. It can also be produced from known AVGAS components widely available among the refinery industry. There is also a world outside the US and foreign EPA:s don,t either want to have leaded fuels. What is 10 knots less and 0,3 gallon higher fuel consumption compared to a fuel that is cheaper to produce than 100 LL compared to any unknown fuel with unknown capabilities and at unknown future price.
If you would chose to fly the 100 LL Cirrus the 94 UL Cirrus or not fly at all - what would you do?

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | July 1, 2010 10:25 AM    Report this comment

What is 10 knots less and 0,3 gallon higher fuel consumption compared to a fuel that is cheaper to produce than 100 LL compared to any unknown fuel with unknown capabilities and at unknown future price.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | July 1, 2010 1:36 PM    Report this comment

Does anyone remember whan Piper first introduced the piston Malibu? It had a Continental twin turbo, intercooled engine that looks like the new Cirrus offering. As I recall, it was also touted as a run LOP engine. Yes, this was pre-GAMI, I believe. Piper was seriously stressed by the blizzard of AD's & failures of this engine. TBO? Forget it. This looks like a warm-over of that engine.

Posted by: Paul Chelew | July 1, 2010 2:20 PM    Report this comment

1984 was the first year for the 310P. Had issues with piston pins, crankshaft bearings and cylinders. Piper grounded them for a time to sort out engine and systems problems.

Interestingly, at the time, the airplane required LOP ops to make its range numbers. But in those days, lean of peak went against the conventional wisdom--for a very few, it still does--so pilots ran them 50 rich of peak and went through cylinders like candy.

I wouldn't say the SR22T is a repeat of that, though. The 550 is a better engine than the 520, it has better intercooling and lean of peak and now well understood.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | July 1, 2010 2:35 PM    Report this comment

The Current Cirrus SR22T with the current numbers of higher CHTs and higher fuel consumption is based on burning 100LL. If 94UL was used in this engine, its operating envelope would have to be significantly curtailed and operated at less than 70 % power.
Probably closer to 60-65% to avoid detonation. So it is a bit misleading to say this engine will run on 94UL. If it does, it will not be producing anywhere near the same power as it does now with 100LL.

Posted by: Brian Turrisi | July 1, 2010 3:24 PM    Report this comment

Paul - interesting to read about cultural differencies - but at the end we are not that different. There is one major point - and that is Sweden is a small country with 9 million people with a unique language and as such we know we have to adapt to the various things happening in the world - because we realise we are small and the world is big.
For this reason we also have to learn other cultures, speak foreign languages and be very flexible. We also have mother nature against us at the high latitudes.
Perhaps is this what makes us as survivors.

But when it comes to the environment - well also the US also has do adapt to realitites.

The 100 LL is as said before produced at our facility and the same that is producing the 91/96 UL. The unleaded 91/96 UL is about 10 us cent cheaper than 100 LL and has been so for the entire life of 91/96 UL or 19+ years.
Hjelmco competes with Shell, BP and Statoil (former Exxon) which only provides 100 LL and of Shell production. So our competitors have all the logistical advantages of one fuel, one tank at the airport and the fact they co-operate in distribution and storage.
So what price there is for each product is not really relevant for a comparision with the US -- however it is relevant if you compare the Hjelmco prices compared to the competitors as stated above based on the thought that the market place is effective and not distorted.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | July 1, 2010 3:40 PM    Report this comment

The Hjelmco AVGAS 100 LL is about 10 cent per us gallon cheaper than the price of the 100 LL of the competitors.

Unleaded AVGAS 91/96 UL is cheaper to produce because it contains one step less in the production chain than 100 LL -- it does not contain any lead -- and lead is very expensive.

At the end the world is changing and people have to adapt - those that don,t will not survice - whether the mother nature will dictate it or politicians do it.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | July 1, 2010 3:40 PM    Report this comment

Brian - my understanding is the SR22T will have the same performance on 94 UL as on the 100 LL.
This is equal to when you take a factory new Piper Archer from Vero Beach today where the engine is stamped 91/96 UL and if you use either 100 LL or unleaded AVGAS 91/96 UL. The performance is the same of that aircraft.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | July 1, 2010 3:46 PM    Report this comment

my understanding is the SR22T will have the same performance on 94 UL as on the 100 LL

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | July 1, 2010 4:06 PM    Report this comment

My understanding is still the SR22 will have the same performance regardless of mid or high octane fuel.
Realising that the options out there in the US is a greatly more expensive high octane fuel than present 100 LL -- other bloggs have indicated up to 10 USD/ US gallon -- prices we only can speculate of compared to knowing the price of a mid range octane unleaded AVGAS - where would you invest your money?

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | July 1, 2010 4:13 PM    Report this comment

My understanding is still the SR22 will have the same performance regardless of mid or high octane fuel.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | July 1, 2010 4:16 PM    Report this comment

If GAMI and SWIFT can do it for 5-6 USD / gallon -- congratulations!
Hjelmco would not make it........

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | July 1, 2010 4:21 PM    Report this comment

Right now the price of the fuel is not something that can be calculated as there are multiple factors. What is MORE important is whether ANY alternative fuel will work in our engines to produce the current rated power and avoid detonation margins. The 94UL WILL NOT DO THIS! Anyway who has an understanding otherwise has been led down a deceptive pathway.

Posted by: Brian Turrisi | July 1, 2010 4:49 PM    Report this comment

Right now the price of the fuel is not something that can be calculated as there are multiple factors.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | July 1, 2010 5:21 PM    Report this comment

What are Hjelmco's current prices for these fuels?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | July 1, 2010 5:22 PM    Report this comment

The Hjelmco 100 UL contains ETBE. ETBE is sold in ships in Europe (car gasoline grade ) at around 2.50 - 3.00 USD/US gallon pending season.
I have not all information about the GAMI and SWIFT fuels -- but I can say that if you can get them at the pump at 5-6 USD/US gallon (before government incentives) -- congratulations because then the price will be better than 100 LL.

Posted by: Lars Hjelmberg Hjelmco Oil Sweden | July 2, 2010 9:54 AM    Report this comment

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