Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet: Learning From the Past

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At last week’s NBAA show in Orlando, I was having a little argument with myself in one of the press conferences. A staple of these things is what we used to call in the newspaper business “grip and grins.” The assembled people of import grip the certificate/plaque/award/trophy, face the camera and beam. Click. Two cols on page 9 the next morning.

I lost the argument with myself. I finally unassed my seat and snapped a photo of Cirrus receiving its type certificate for the SF50 jet soon to be delivered to customers. What the heck, a $250 million piece of parchment deserves a few pixels on my iPhone. I actually used the photo in this video.

We had already covered the news, so I was just sitting in on the press conference as a seat warmer. But as the presentation unfolded—basically an update on the SV50 program and coming production—it occurred to me that what I was watching was the result of a painful lesson Cirrus learned during the early 2000s. The company learned that just equipping an airplane with a parachute and other safety features doesn’t de facto make it “safe.” If the pilot isn’t integrated into the aircraft’s operation with a thoughtful training doctrine, pilots will find a way to defeat the best efforts of the engineers and designers. And pilots did.

The Cirrus SRXX safety record was, for many years, barely average and the fatal rate was worse than average. But recently, Cirrus, in conjunction with an active and devoted owner group, got serious about analyzing accident causes and devising training programs to suit the airplanes’ unique needs and use patterns. The accident rate has plummeted and the rolling 12-month fatal accident rate, since 2014, has been less than half the GA rate of about 1.2/100,000 hours. Some of that is due to rising fleet numbers and hours but most of it is more likely due to the simulator-based scenario training new pilots are getting and that many are doing recurently.   

The point is that Cirrus has clearly learned from this experience and although the SF50 will have a parachute, the airplane won’t be pushed into the field without a rigorous training program for pilot/owners beginning with a basic skill assessment a year ahead of accepting delivery, then a deep dive into training six months before delivery. The initial training is a 10-day cycle. That’s not atypical of new jet and turboprop aircraft, but it looks to me like Cirrus’ execution of it is more vertical than other companies. It will exercise strong oversight of the training as part of a single-point-of-contact ownership program that basically covers everything related to the airplane, from product support to training and maintenance.

I can’t see how Cirrus could do this any other way based on the company’s experience with the SR series. Still, it was nice to see that they appear to have thought through the entire process with few details left untended. We don’t see that very often in business, must less the business of airplanes. We’ll see how it works out when deliveries begin next year.

As I said, the SF50 will have the CAPS. At the press conference, Cirrus said this system has been credited with 70 “saves” in a fleet numbering 6500 aircraft or about 1 percent of the fleet. You can decide whether it has been efficacious in the Cirrus safety record, but I would say that it has been, even if it took awhile to get there. I would expect a different equation in the jet because its deployment envelope is smaller by dint of speed. And that’s where the training comes in. The doctrine of “pull early, pull often” will need to be tailored for a faster, more sophisticated airplane. And despite the automation, which the SF50 has in spades, pilots will have to perform to a different set of standards than they do in a slower piston airplane.  

The press conference discussion gave me the impression that Cirrus is ready for this or soon will be. Now the question is: will the pilots be?

This Just In

One thing I'd like to see the newly elected President Trump do is to reexamine and eliminate these ridiculous presidential and VIP TFRs. If the election was supposedly in reaction to the elites running amuck, this is a good place to start. This one popped up Wednesday and it effectively closes the Hudson River VFR corridor. It's a classic example of silly administrative overreach that's similar to overbroad gun legislation.

The TFR is too small to be any good if it could be any good at all and the sole effect of it is to deny law-abiding pilots access to the corridor. Let's get rid of the stupid things.

Veterans Day

How could I forget? I didn't. I'm always a day behind the calendar. Today is Veterans Day; the 11th hour of the 11th day that officially marks the sacrifice of so many who have served. It's customary to thank a veteran for his or her service. I'm not so sure the casual thanks reserved for this day is the best idea. In this essay author Matt Richtel describes it as the equilvilant of "I haven't thought about this until now." Thanks rendered, duty done. "Patriotic gloss," says Tim O'Brien, Vietnam vet and the author of The Things they Carried

So what's the alternative? I think newly elected Illionois Senator Tammy Duckworth, a grievously wounded Iraq veteran, recently said it best. She said she wanted to be in the Senate to remind people who have never seen the inside of a barracks, much less a crap filled trench 5000 miles from home, that this is what you're asking us to do. Just so you know. And she certainly does.

Maybe the better thing to say is, "next time, I'll pay more attention before we send you to war."

Comments (14)

Purchase contract?

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | November 9, 2016 11:37 PM    Report this comment

"One thing I'd like to see the newly elected President Trump do is to rexamine and eliminate these ridiculous presidential and VIP TFRs."

That would be great if he does. Somehow, though, I'm not holding my breath...


"The TFR is too small to be any good if it could be any good at all"

Shhh! "They" might hear you and decide the answer is to make these TFRs larger.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 10, 2016 8:44 AM    Report this comment

"Purchase contract?"

Maybe they're learning from others' pasts too...

Posted by: Bob Key | November 10, 2016 10:13 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for a good and timely piece, Paul.

I have a more-than-passing interest in Cirrus' personal jet. For reasons that I won't waste everyone's time with, I might buy one of the things.

With that confession (endorsement?) disclosed, I'll try to address Paul's basic questions, which I will paraphrase (misrepresent?) as this: "will SF-50 pilots be prepared to safely operate the aircraft?"

As I see it, there's Training, Tooling, and Demography in play here.

TRAINING may be the easiest part of the answer to the question. The Vision is a turbojet-powered aircraft, so it will require a type rating. The FAA takes jet type ratings seriously, and so applicants will have to do the same. But demonstrating that you can operate the airplane on a checkride is vastly different from possessing the ability to operate it safely in the real world. (Yeah, I know - I'm a master of the obvious.)

TOOLING - the vehicle, itself - is a tricky thing. The avionics suite certainly is capable - it even includes autothrottle! The vehicle's maximum certified altitude of 28,000 feet is a curious thing, but I want to save a critique of the airframe for another time. Do I think that this airplane will be "easy to fly?" You betcha.

They say that DEMOGRAPHY is destiny. I don't believe in destiny, but I have a keen appreciation for influence. Just who are these SF-50 pilots going to be? I'm guessing that the bulk of the non-Part-135 operators are going to come from the sizeable population of SR-2X owner-pilots. Training these guys (and gals) to pass a checkride will not be a Hurculean task. Cirrus' offer of mentor pilots sounds helpful, but it may be impractical in a majority of cases (unless insurance companies impose constraints).

So what about that parachute? Most accidents happen because the pilot exceeds his or her capabilities - not the capabilities of the airplane. In the SR birds, the parachute can become a game-saver if it is used subsequent to the pilot figuring out that he/she is in snorkel-deep doo-doo - BEFORE the aircraft comes apart or hits terra firma.

I have to say this: It both disappoints and frightens me that type-rated jet pilots would allow themselves to create situations in which the best available course of action is to press a "Help!" button. But Cirrus is in the business of selling airplanes; not in the business of allaying some opinionated moron's disappointments and fears. The record clearly shows that they know how to sell airplanes. And they continue to promote the jet's ballistic parachute system with every available opportunity. They're like wind-up-dolls (Energizer bunnies?) in that regard.

I have concluded (hold your applause) that Cirrus believes that the inclusion of a parachute will be as important to their jet sales efforts, as it is to their piston sales efforts. Will deployments become an important part of the jets' ultimate safety record? I'd like to think that the answer is "no." But I readily admit that I have no F-N idea.

For more background, you can find my comments on the Special Conditions Order surrounding the jet parachute at:
regulations.gov/document?D=FAA-2016-3462-0012

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | November 10, 2016 1:56 PM    Report this comment

"It both disappoints and frightens me that type-rated jet pilots would allow themselves to create situations in which the best available course of action is to press a "Help!" button."

I always assumed they included it for the SR-22 pilot-owner's significant others so they can say "see, the jet has a parachute too, so you don't have to worry if I become disabled at the controls". We shall see how wide (or narrow) of a deployment window it will have, and how effective it will be, but you can't under-estimate the power of, well, suggestion.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 10, 2016 2:13 PM    Report this comment

One would hope that president-elect Trump, as an owner of a personal aircraft (albeit a B-757), would have a heightened appreciation of the utility of GA - and would offer a nod to Ronald Reagan's great oratory: "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Tear down these TFRs. I shudder to think that the Hudson corridor may be history for much or most of the next 4/8 years.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | November 10, 2016 2:21 PM    Report this comment

"One would hope that president-elect Trump, as an owner of a personal aircraft (albeit a B-757), would have a heightened appreciation of the utility of GA"

Not likely.

The AOPA Pilot magazine, Nov 2016 edition p. 54, says that the Trump campaign ignored AOPA's multiple attempts to get responses to their questions on the candidates' positions regarding GA.

At any rate, the billionaire non-pilot owner of a 757 isn't particularly likely to have much interest in the interests pilots of 40-year-old 172s.

Nor is the candidate who ran on fear of terrorism likely to abolish the VIP TFRs.

We'll have to see.

Posted by: Rollin Olson | November 10, 2016 3:29 PM    Report this comment

Is that an elephant I see?...

Until the sedative wears off and I awaken, I'll play along too.

My paid-off home free and clear to anyone who can prove, today, this person knows what a TFR is.

Baby steps, I know. A little grade school civics here, a minute of thoughtfulness there. We're here to help, right?

Posted by: Dave Miller | November 10, 2016 6:00 PM    Report this comment

I see the latest update to the VIP TFR has a narrow sliver of the Hudson River corridor reopened. My first thought was "hey, progress", but then my second thought was "wait, are they TRYING to permanently close the corridor by encouraging another mid-air".

As for Veteran's Day, I'm honored that I get to talk somewhat regularly over the radio at my local airport's ATC to two people who have served. And most of the times I talk to them, I remember they served. So to anyone here who has served, I thank you also; it's not just a one-day thing for me.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 11, 2016 7:12 AM    Report this comment

"The accident rate has plummeted and the rolling 12-month fatal accident rate, since 2014, has been less than half the GA rate of about 1.2/100,000 hours. Some of that is due to rising fleet numbers and hours but most of it is more likely due to the simulator-based scenario training new pilots are getting and that many are doing recurrently."

Recurrent training in particular is the key to reducing the GA accident rate. Yes, it takes a commitment of time and money, and yes, I know the GA ranks are thinning so would I please shut up.

Posted by: Jerry Fraser | November 11, 2016 10:47 AM    Report this comment

Knew you would never forget, Paul. With Matt's article, though, you've exposed one of the military's hidden gripes that isn't easily smoothed over. Most of the vets are understanding about the public's effort, however, in my view.

What is unfolding in real time, now to be considered, is the shift in power occurring from this national election. I speak of the wave of fear, ignorance and Xanadu that the playboy surfed on to victory that is now receding back into the populace where it originated, as it is useless now to him. In the realm of the vets, it is visibly stark to see on some of their faces not fear of re-deployment, which there rarely was, but real shock of their spouse, parents, friends or extended family being deported. There are many of these situations in our military.

Seems we need to pay attention to a host of things now, including reckless wars.

Posted by: Dave Miller | November 11, 2016 12:32 PM    Report this comment

Paul,
Love your point on TFRs. Let's get AOPA on this as well.
Best,
John

Posted by: John Dalsheim | November 11, 2016 4:17 PM    Report this comment

They are on it, apparently. As Gary mentioned, the FAA shaved the corner of the circle. Now all the airplanes have to squeeze through 200 yards of space over the river.

Think of the fun!

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 11, 2016 4:55 PM    Report this comment

It will be interesting to see how the FAA will deal with a pilot who scrapes a wingtip on either boundary of the corridor.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | November 11, 2016 7:27 PM    Report this comment

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