Fifteen years after Cirrus’ SF50 Vision Jet made its maiden flight, and seven years after the first delivery, the company has rolled out upgrades it promises will reduce pilot workload and improve safety.
Catering largely to owner-flyers, Vision Jets are the only single-engined very light jets in the sky. The company markets the aircraft as “the world’s first personal jet”.
The additions this year, introduced just before the annual EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, include “Auto Radar”, an automated weather tracking system for the type’s Garmin avionics that Cirrus says provides improved situational awareness when flying through inclement weather.
Cirrus also gave the type Cirrus IQ, a company-owned software that tracks aircraft data (such as fuel levels, flight hours and aircraft location), and presents the information to owners via an app.
Since Vision Jet pilots are typically not professional pilots, but rather fly the jet only about 100-150h annually, “we try to make it pretty approachable, intuitive and more user-friendly,” Matthew Bergwall, executive director of Cirrus’ Vision Jet product line, said in July.
The Auto Radar system automatically scans the sky ahead and displays a composite, real-time depiction of weather.
“Along with NexRad data-link weather, you put these two images side by side and you get a pretty clear picture of what’s out there, and you know what you need to do to avoid that,” Bergwall adds.
Cirrus has offered its Cirrus IQ system in its single-piston SR-series aircraft since 2020, but is now rolling out the option for Vision Jet customers. It calls the system a “mobile pilot intelligence hub”.
“When the aircraft flies, that module collects the data, and then when it lands, it transmits that data into our cloud, we process it, and then we share the insights for some of the parameters of the aircraft within the app itself,” says Seneca Giese, director of Cirrus IQ products and services.
“After each flight, you’ll see how much fuel you have remaining, how much oxygen you have. It’ll estimate your hours and flight time and then it’ll add a cycle. And then all you need to do is just tap… to confirm that those are indeed the hours and cycles.” After confirmed, the system saves the data to the jet’s online history.
The information helps owners track inspection cycles and assists in managing maintenance items, service bulletins and airworthiness directives.
Since its beginnings in a Wisconsin barn in the 1980s, Cirrus has been among the most creative companies in general aviation, launching the SR20, the first aircraft fitted with an emergency parachute, in the late 1990’s. The SR22, the best-selling general aviation aircraft every year since 2003, followed, and then came the two-time Collier Trophy-winning Vision Jet.
Like its piston-powered SR-series brethren, Vision Jets are outfitted with the so-called Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) – the first Federal Aviation Administration-certificated whole-airframe parachute – as standard equipment. The system is credited with saving 250 lives, the company says.
Vision Jets also come with an emergency landing system the company calls “Safe Return”, which can be activated by a single button in the cabin, should the pilot become incapacitated. Once initiated, the system finds an appropriate airport and lands the aircraft autonomously.
Duluth, Minnesota-headquartered Cirrus has delivered about 475 Vision Jets since the type was certificated in 2016, and expects to make its 500th delivery in the coming months. (It has delivered about 9,000 SR-series aircraft.)
In 2022 alone, Cirrus delivered 90 Vision Jets – making it the best-selling jet in general aviation for the fourth year running – and 539 SRs.
In addition to the pilot, Vision Jets can seat up to six passengers. Powered by single Williams International FJ33 turbofans, the jets have about 1,000nm (1,852km) of range.
Cirrus says the global Covid-19 crisis drove demand for private travel in recent years, helping the company introduce Vision Jets to a wider group of potential customers.
“We did see a significant bump in sales,” Bergwall says. “The demand is definitely there, and in fact, to the point where I knew we were trying pretty hard to get to the supply to match demand, and we’re still not there today.”
Deliveries of new aircraft can now bring with them a wait time of up to 18 months, he adds.