top of page

Cirrus Aircraft is the Coolest Airplane Maker You Never Heard Of

Updated: May 3, 2022

The 2020 Cirrus SR22 Carbon
The 2020 Cirrus SR22 Carbon. (Image courtesy Cirrus Aircraft.)

This week the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) is hosting its AirVenture, the world-famous annual fly-in in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. (Like so many events, it was canceled last year, but in 2019 it had 642,000 attendees and featured more than 10,000 aircraft.)

So how about something about airplanes?

Here’s a recent news item that got surprisingly little media attention: this past May 12, two small aircraft collided in mid-air on landing approach to Denver Centennial Airport. It was miracle enough that one, a twin-engine Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner serving as a cargo plane for Key Lime Air with only the pilot on board, was able to land safely despite having its upper fuselage ripped wide open just aft of its wings.

The Cirrus Aircraft Parachute System (CAPS) in action
The Cirrus Aircraft Parachute Systems (CAPS) in action. IMAGE COURTESY CIRRUS AIRCRAFT

The other plane, a private single-engine Cirrus SR22 with two people on board, would not have been able to land normally because of the damage it sustained. But it was saved by a unique feature that all Cirrus airplanes are equipped with: the Cirrus Aircraft Parachute System (CAPSÒ), which employs a large chute to float the entire aircraft to the ground in the event of a catastrophic situation, which this certainly was.

Not only was nobody killed–there weren’t even any injuries. When emergency crews reached the Cirrus several miles from the airport, the pilot and his passenger were already out of the plane and walking about, and refused medical assistance.

CAPS has to be one of the best-kept secrets about a modern aircraft (outside of the aerospace industry, anyway). Another is that Cirrus is the worldwide market leader in private aircraft, with almost a 50% market share globally in competitive markets. Cirrus makes more than 600 planes a year, which is up about 15% over the past couple years. The company is headquartered in Duluth, Minnesota, and now employs over 1,700 people. It was founded in 1984 by brothers Dale and Alan Klapmeier in their family’s barn in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

“They learned to fly at an early age, influenced by their father, uncle and grandfather who were passionate aviators,” said Zean Nielsen, CEO of Cirrus. “While in high school, Alan joined the Civil Air Patrol and started learning to fly. Soon after that Dale got his start in flying, too, at age 15, after the brothers bought a 1947 Cessna 140.”

The Cirrus G6 SR20 3

Rebuilding that old Cessna got them started on the mechanical side of things, which eventually led them to start their company. Their original focus was kit planes. “Their first product was the VK-30,” said Nielsen. It was an all composite, pusher-propeller five-passenger kit that first flew in 1988. “But they quickly decided that was too complex, and moved on to the SR20.” That was an innovative single-piston engine composite production airplane that debuted in the late-1990s.

The strong focus on safety came in those early days as well. “Alan had a mid-air collision that he walked away from,” Nielsen explained. “They developed the parachute, which is standard on all our aircraft, including the Vision Jet. Our idea is that even in the unlikely event of an off-airport landing, you should never try to land in a field. Everything might look flat from the air, but it isn’t really. And there are trees and telephone poles to deal with too. The industry at the time frowned on the idea, because the chute weighs about 75 pounds, which means a sacrifice of fuel and cargo capacity. But it’s saved more than 200 people so far, and has worked even when deployed at just under 400 feet above the ground. That’s about a quarter of the height of the top of the Willis Tower.”

Cirrus has continued with the innovative ways the Klapmeier brothers set out with 37 years ago. In 2000 they unveiled the aforementioned SR22, a more powerful composite piston airplane with greater fuel capacity, which became the world’s best-selling general aviation airplane. In 2006 Cirrus added a turbocharged engine, later updating this configuration in 2010 becoming the SR22T. Along the way in 2008 Cirrus incorporated exclusive Garmin avionics improvements. And in 2016, Cirrus rolled out the Vision Jet, the world’s first personal jet. In 2017, Cirrus won the coveted Robert J. Collier Trophy, the world’s most prestigious aviation award, for its integration of CAPS into the V-tail single-engine Vision Jet.

The 2021 Cirrus Vision Jet G2+

The Vision Jet also offers yet another safety innovation, the Safe Return Emergency Autoland system. “Following activation in an emergency, in just an eighth of a second, the system will scan all suitable runways nearby,” said Nielsen. “Based on fuel, terrain, and weather, with full autonomy, it will notify FAA Air Traffic Control, fly to the best location, land the airplane, and come to a complete stop on the runway.”

In addition to its strong safety focus, the goal of Cirrus is to democratize private flight. “People have an idea that personal aviation is for the rich and famous,” Nielsen said. “But it’s not. If you learn to fly, you can use that to go see customers and visit other business locations. On the weekend, you can use it for personal travel–family, friends, or sports. We all have a travel problem. No one likes to go to O’Hare, take off their shoes, and not be allowed to carry their water bottle. If you’re an attorney billing $250, $500, $800 per hour, think of the lost earnings! It’s not hard to learn to fly–in 40 hours a 16-year-old can solo, when he can’t even borrow the car yet! People with access to an airplane have a better quality of family life, and they’re better in business. They’re not always rushing off to catch a plane.”

The Vision Jet interior

Cirrus offers a variety of services to make it all easier, including their Embark program, which provides three days of training for anyone who buys a used airplane, general pilot services (which can also become instruction time if a new owner wants to learn to fly), and Vision Air for owners of the Vision Jet, in which the company provides piloting, storage, and insurance.

Their ongoing focus is on bringing in the people they need to keep up with their growth. “We’re up over 50% in orders over the past two years,” said Nielsen. “We’re hiring over 400 people per year to keep up. Our biggest challenges are telling our story and getting people. But nobody works for the company who’s not completely passionate for our mission. We all just want to get more people into the love of flying–it’s safe, easy, accessible, affordable and fun.”

The SR 22T Carbon and the Vision Jet
The SR 22T Carbon and the Vision Jet. IMAGE COURTESY CIRRUS AIRCRAFT

15 views0 comments


bottom of page