Cirrus Aircraft launched its ground-breaking, single-engined SF50 Vision Jet in 2006. It received US Federal Aviation Administration certification in October 2016, with European Union Aviation Safety Agency approval secured the following May.
The world’s most affordable light jet enjoyed immediate market success, and more than 260 have been delivered to date.
I was fortunate to fly the original Vision Jet in July 2017 for Flight International. Since then, Cirrus has not stood still, offering a major upgrade with its Generation 2 (G2). Launched in early 2019, this standard increased the jet’s operating ceiling from 28,000ft to 31,000ft, made possible by upping the Williams International FJ33 engine’s thrust output at altitudes above 24,000ft.
The Vision Jet’s composite fuselage was also reinforced, so that the original G1 version’s 8,000ft cabin altitude pressure could be maintained. This higher altitude and thrust capability pushed maximum range out to 920nm (1,700km) with four occupants. Stated in other terms, the G2 could carry 68kg (145lb) more payload than the G1 over 800nm.
Aside from its increased performance, the G2 also gained an auto-throttle (AT), a welcome addition that reduces pilot workload.
In July 2021, Cirrus announced the latest upgrade to the SF50, the Vision Jet G2+, offering what might be best characterised as increased bandwidth.
The major update is in enhanced hot and high operating performance. Changes to the FJ33’s FADEC increase available thrust for take-off, allowing more range and/or payload compared with the G2. The next bandwidth increase is actual in-flight connectivity, using Gogo’s Avance L3 3G broadband system. This keeps pilots and passengers connected in real time, improving productivity.
Enhancements to passive sound deadening from the G1 to the G2 reduced ambient cabin noise levels by up to 3dB. Matthew Bergwall, Cirrus’s director of Vision Jet product line, says this reduction allows him to characterise the type’s cabin as a headset-free zone.
Recently, Flight International was invited to fly the Vision Jet G2+ out of San Jose’s Norman Y Mineta International airport. Cirrus’s piston product line features large and airy cabins, and the Vision Jet continued this feature. As I had noted before my flight four years ago, the Vision Jet has a certain ramp presence driven by its sizeable cabin with large windows, and the single jet engine mounted prominently on its fuselage’s dorsal spine. Finally, the large V-tail, employed so that engine exhaust would not impinge on the empennage, shouts: “Look at me!”
I accompanied Bergwall as he performed the pre-flight walk-around inspection of our preview aircraft, N275CM; a production-representative G2+. There was little to visually differentiate this from the original variant, but keen eyes might notice the two broadband antennae mounted on the underside of the fuselage. As we circled the jet, Bergwall pointed out where minor aerodynamic refinements had been made to reduce drag.
The original Vision Jet had Boundary Layer Energisers (BLEs) installed before the ailerons to improve handling at high angles of attack. Follow-on testing for the G2 showed they could be removed with no adverse effect. As I would find out later while in flight, the BLE-free wing provides for lighter lateral control stick forces and crisper roll performance. Fewer parts and better performance equals a win-win.
Integral steps on the lower half of the clamshell door aided entry to the large, airy cabin. Before settling into the left-hand pilot seat, I took note of the passenger accommodation. The cabin is fitted with three seating rows, with removable seats. The densest configuration offers seating for seven: five adults and two children. Ours featured two middle-row seats, separated by a console, and two children’s seats in the third row. A 51cm (20in) LCD display viewable from the aft two rows was a feature sure to put the in-flight broadband to good use.
One unique aspect of the Vision Jet’s layout is where the emergency switches are located. Engine fire control switches, emergency locator transmitter, quick-don crew oxygen masks, as well as several other emergency controls, are conveniently placed on the overhead above the flight deck. The Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) actuation handle is nestled between the oxygen masks.
Standard across the whole Cirrus offering, CAPS is a hallmark of the airframer’s dedication to providing industry-leading safety features. Just aft of the CAPS handle is the autoland activation panel, with its large recessed red activation button accessible to the first-row passengers.
Safe Return is Cirrus’s implementation of Garmin’s Autoland system, which was awarded the 2020 Collier Trophy, recognising it as the greatest accomplishment in aeronautics or astronautics in the USA that year. According to Garmin, Autoland is “the world’s first certified autonomous system designed to activate during an emergency to safely fly and land an aircraft without human intervention”. One of three aircraft types so far to be certificated with Autoland – along with the Daher TBM 940 and Piper M600 SLS – the SF50 is the only jet.
Safe Return is armed by pushing the ceiling-mounted button. At altitudes of more than 600ft above ground level (AGL) this will engage the system after a 10s delay. A green “landing airplane” icon illuminates on the panel to show activation. At any time, pushing the yoke-mounted autopilot (AP) disconnect switch will disengage Safe Return.
Designed primarily for cases when the pilot is incapacitated or unable to land the aircraft, Safe Return turns the Vision Jet into an autonomous air vehicle. The system uses all available resources to find the nearest suitable airport to land safely. The transponder is automatically set to 7700, with advisory radio broadcasts made on air traffic control and Emergency Guard frequencies. During the emergency recovery, passengers are informed of the time remaining to landing. Once on the ground, the Vision Jet brakes itself to a stop on the runway.
It should be noted that operation of Safe Return is predicated on good GPS data, and degraded operations can result if there are aircraft system failures.
This revolutionary enhancement provides an additional layer of safety to operations of the Vision Jet, which was itself a Collier Trophy winner in 2017.
As Bergwall strapped into the right-hand pilot seat, I reacquainted myself with the Vision Jet’s flightdeck. When I had first sat in the type four years earlier, I noted that the flightdeck was “arranged in a somewhat unique manner”. The forward panel was unlike any aircraft I had flown before, looking like it came from a car of the future.
Over the intervening years the design has grown on me. It is anchored by two 35cm GDU 1400 display units, for the primary and multi-function flight displays. A bolster forward of the screens gives the flightdeck its unique look, with three GTC 580 touchscreen controllers placed below it. The number one (leftmost) screen also serves as a standby flight display. The AP control panel is placed below the controllers, with the single thrust lever (TL) on the small centre console.
Engine start controls are located just forward of the sidestick. Placing the engine knob to RUN and depressing the engine button initiated the start sequence. The FADEC-controlled start was essentially automatic, with the pilots monitoring for an abnormal start. Time to IDLE was 25s, with interstage turbine temperature peaking at 655°C (1,210°F); well below the 1,000°C start limit.
The flaps were set to the take-off setting (50%) before the taxi to San Jose’s runway 30L. Taxiing the Vision Jet would turn out to be the hardest task I would perform on the preview flight, owing to its fully-castoring nose wheel. Cirrus ecosystem pilots are used to this, but for me it was a bit of a learning curve, especially as the Vision Jet tried to weather vane into the 13kt (24km/h) crosswind. However, by the time we reached the runway I had gained confidence in my ability to keep the G2+ on taxiway centrelines.
Before lining up on the runway, Bergwall reviewed take-off contingencies. Response to an engine failure would be guided by altitude. Below 600ft AGL: land straight ahead; between 600ft and 2,000ft AGL: deploy the CAPS; and above 2,000ft: initiate an air start while turning towards an emergency landing field.
Cleared for take-off, I advanced the TL to the full forward take-off (TO) detent. On the 24°C day TO power stabilised at 98% of rated (SL STD Day). Differential braking was used to maintain the centreline until the rudder become effective at around 40kt indicated airspeed. At 85kt, a moderate aft pull was needed to establish the 5° nose-up TO attitude.
Pitch trim easily removed yoke force changes caused by flap retraction during acceleration through 115kt. At 5,000ft, I retarded the TL to the MCT detent, (62% thrust for that day) and established a 150kt en route climb. I referenced the flight director’s (FD’s) ‘Highway in the Sky’ boxes to keep the Vision Jet on the published ground track and at desired climb speed.
During the climb I engaged the AP and familiarised myself with the Perspective Touch+ flight deck. Time to level off at 31,000ft was slightly over 25min. During the climb, temperature was about 10°C hotter than standard. With three occupants, book data for the G2 showed the time needed as 32min, so our G2+ had reached its operating ceiling 6min sooner than its predecessor.
The first leg of my preview flight was to Bishop, California. Increased TO thrust is the main performance improvement offered by the Gen 2+, unless you are glued to a screen. Bishop sits at 4,124ft mean sea level (MSL), at the northern end of the Owens Valley, and forecast high temperatures would make it an ideal place to demonstrate the G2+’s increased performance.
Cruising at 31,000ft en route to Bishop I left the TL in the MCT detent (34% thrust), to see how fast the G2+ would go. After 5min of slow acceleration, it settled at 188kt indicated airspeed. Cirrus lists 305kt for high-speed cruise, but this is predicated on standard day temperatures. On our test day it was 10°C hotter, yet our true airspeed was 313kt (Mach 0.52). Fuel flow was just 65gal/h. As with the climb performance, Cirrus had under-promised and over-delivered.
While in cruise I also noted the 6.7psi/462hPa delta p pressurisation system was maintaining a cabin altitude of 8,000ft, comparable to that of many airliners at cruise altitude. I also took off the noise-cancelling headset to assess ambient flightdeck noise level. It would be a bit of a stretch to compare it to my flight four years ago, but I did note that we could converse easily over the background noise.
With my headset back on, we prepared for the RNAV (GPS) runway 12 approach, to be followed by a low approach and visual circuit to runway 17 to a full stop. Bergwall guided me through, loading the approach and setting our minimum descent altitude at 6,600ft MSL. With the AP and AT engaged, we descended in Vertical Speed mode to the Final Approach Fix (JAAKE) altitude of 7,900ft sea level just outside of JAAKE.
Established on final, the AP and AT did an excellent job of tracking the approach path. Fully configured, with gear down and flaps at 100%, the Vision Jet had a reference speed of only 85kt indicated airspeed. When MINIMUMS was announced by the flight management system, I pushed the TO/GA button on the TL. I sat back and watched as the aircraft pitched to 7° nose up. I immediately retracted the flaps to 50%, followed by the gear when a positive rate of climb was established. Passing 115kt I retracted the flaps and clicked off the AP and AT to hand-fly the circuit to runway 17, as the winds were 180°, 17kt, gusting 23kt.
Despite the bumpy conditions, the Vision Jet was a pleasure to fly in the circuit. On short final I retarded the TL to IDLE at 30ft, and the flare manoeuvre, started a few feet above the runway, resulted in a soft touchdown. Light toe-braking slowed the Vision Jet for runway turn-off and taxi back to runway 12 for our flight back to San Jose.
Lining up for take-off on runway 12, I advanced the TL to the TO stop and noted available thrust was about 93% – a sizeable increase over the G2’s. FADEC changes – akin to the automatic thrust reserve feature available on some twin-engined jets, which boosts thrust on the good engine in the event of a failure to the other – deliver the additional thrust. On the 38°C day, book take-off roll for a G2 is 3,600ft, while our G2+ lifted off in only 3,000ft.
The FADEC remapping provides a 4% thrust increase at SL STD Day, and up to 20% more at higher temperatures and elevations. According to Bergwall, this now opens up 4,000ft-long East Coast airfields to maximum gross weight take-offs in typical hot summer temperatures. Out of Henderson, Nevada – Las Vegas’s general aviation/executive airport – at 41°C the G2+ can carry 227kg more payload than the G2. This additional capability will no doubt be appreciated by Vision Jet pilots, with the only downside being a slight increase in Cirrus’s Jet Stream hourly cost.
I hand-flew the climb out of Bishop as we circled to gain altitude to cross the Sierras at 16,500ft MSL. At this lower-altitude transit, a fuel flow of 81gal/h was needed to maintain 215kt indicated, with a resultant true airspeed of 285kt. During the medium-altitude cruise, Bergwall discussed the Vision Jet’s emergency descent mode (EDM), an automated descent to a safe altitude in the event of cabin pressure loss.
The Vision Jet’s AT and Safe Return features greatly enhance the effectiveness of EDM. The AT allows the thrust to be reduced, expediting the EDM’s descent to 14,000ft. Safe Return adds a new safety net. After levelling at 14,000ft, if there is no indication of pilot activity within 30s, Safe Return activates on the assumption that the pilot is incapacitated.
Before descending into San Jose I was able to explore the Vision Jet’s slow-speed handling characteristics. I accomplished two approach to stall manoeuvres; one clean and the other in a landing configuration, with gear down and flaps at 100%. In both manoeuvres I held aft sidestick until the stick shaker activated. Before shaker activation there were plenty of visual and aural cautions/warnings provided to alert the pilot of the slow speed condition.
At shaker activation, the Vision Jet was stable, with little if any wing rock. Additionally, the jet was responsive to small control inputs at this low-speed condition. The AT will prevent slowing to an unsafe speed, waking up if not engaged to keep the Vision Jet out of the shaker situation.
With the slow-speed manoeuvring complete, I started a descent for the ILS approach to runway 30L. During the descent I executed a number of 45° to 60° angle of bank (AoB) turns. The Vision Jet’s Electronic Stability and Protection (ESP) system kicked in as the AoB exceeded 45°. ESP is a great safety feature, helping to prevent an unusual attitude from upsetting the pilot’s day.
The final event of the preview flight was a hand-flown ILS approach to a full stop landing. During the approach to runway 30L, I found the FD provided intuitive guidance to help me keep the Vision Jet on course and on glide slope. Approximately 30% thrust held our target speed, again just 85kt. As was the case at Bishop, the touchdown was a smooth one, no doubt aided by the trailing link main landing gear. Moderate braking slowed the Vision Jet to taxi speed.
My flight in the upgraded Vision Jet G2+ revealed a single-engined jet with docile handling qualities and a remarkable number of safety features. Increased take-off thrust markedly increases the type’s capabilities in hot and high conditions.
The Perspective Touch+ avionics package is an extremely capable one, with safety features such as the blue LVL button and ESP, which in addition to its roll protections also offers low- and high-speed protections. CAPS is a proven safety system that has saved numerous lives. Finally, Safe Return adds an entire other layer of safety, virtually eliminating the risks posed by pilot incapacitation.
The Vision Jet G2+ offers marked performance improvements over the G2, along with in-flight broadband which is sure to please pilots and passengers alike. More capability in a safer package is a sure recipe for success, and Cirrus has cooked up another winner with its Vision Jet G2+.