Cirrus VisionJet SF50 … Delivery # 35!

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Author: Rick Urschel
This article was first published on the COPA website, March 2018

Bob and I took delivery of N64P, serial 35, on Monday, March 12th. (If you’re interested in my comparisons with this plane vs the TBM, scroll to the end. Otherwise, read on!) Due to a multitude of scheduling delays, it had been three and a half months since we got our type ratings. Needless to say, we were both quite rusty and not yet confident in our abilities to remember all the features of the Garmin G3000. But I digress…

As typical with Cirrus, the delivery experience is First Class all the way. We’re both typically low-key people, but sometimes getting treated like a rock star is pretty cool. After a few minutes of pinching ourselves and standing in awe of this sexy beast, we went over a detailed walkthrough with Cirrus. They went over all the documentation from log books to maintenance and support. In the mean time, Laura finalized our subscriptions with XM, Jeppesen, and Iridium. Cirrus even goes so far as to facilitate the Williams International TAP Blue coverage, so you ever really only have one point of contact, and that’s with Cirrus. Once we were done with cosmetic issues (only issue was an inop LED light strip on one side of the headliner which was so easily overlooked that it took about seven people poking their heads in the cabin to finally notice) it was time to go for a flight. The initial flight went smooth, and we found no issues. After lunch, it was time to start our mentorship.

Our mentor pilot was Joe Peterson, who is by far the most patient flight instructor I think we’ve ever had. Bob and I learn at completely different paces, and Joe was able to tailor the mentorship to our individual needs, pivoting teaching styles on the spot. We began by flying back to our home airport (VPZ). I wasn’t night current, and Bob was getting close, so we decided to grab dinner and then head back out for some night landing practice.

Tuesday morning, we headed out east. We had originally planned to do four legs returning back to VPZ (my seven-year-old had her first choir concert and I wasn’t about to miss it!) but due to some departure delays and our desire to find a good BBQ joint for lunch (because, let’s be honest, flying is 90% about the food), we ended up cutting out a leg. We went from VPZ to Rochester (ROC), then to Raleigh-Durham (RDH). Upon the wheels touching down at RDH, another pilot keys the mic and we hear, “Hey tower, that plane that just landed on 23 right, what is that?” After a good chuckle (and some not so good BBQ) we headed back to VPZ.

Wednesday morning, we headed out west. This is where the fun began. We started the day heading to Lincoln, NE (LNK), where we met a very inquisitive Air National Guardsman. He asked about a dozen questions before the pilot standing next to him had to start comparing his KingAir 100 to the VisionJet. When he asked me what I thought about only having one engine compared to his two, I told him the only thing the second engine is good for is getting you to the crash site quicker. That got a chuckle from the Guardsman, but the King Air pilot ignored it and continued his somewhat pointless comparison.

From LNK, we headed to Denver (APA) where we had lunch at The Perfect Landing (of course). After APA, we headed to Durango, CO (DRO) where we did some high altitude airport work along with high-key low-key single engine flameout procedures. Bob landed at DRO first, and he and I were going to swap seats and then I was going to do the SFO procedure. As we’re taxiing past the FBO, there were no fewer than six line guys standing there waiving us in, half of them with their phones out. They all looked dejected when Bob kept right on taxiing down to the runway.

When we returned to park for fuel, only one of them came out to park us lol. At DRO, we learned the importance of turning the engine to face the wind on startup. This was a procedure that I knew about but was unfamiliar with. I figured it would be a pain in the butt to always ask line guys to help move the plane and that we’d be met with blank stares or eye rolls, but actually the line guy asked us if we needed to swivel the plane before I got the words out of my mouth. I then learned that it’s pretty standard practice to do for jets. We also learned that, much to the joy of the line guys, they didn’t need to go get any equipment to swivel the plane. When I told him the max gross was 6,000, they eagerly jumped at the chance to just push on a wing. With the free castering nose wheel, it turns on a dime and we had the thing in position in no time.

From DRO, we flew to PHX. I’m going to be taking my family here for spring break in a few weeks and I wanted to have the chance to fly to this busy Class B with an instructor right seat before I did it with my five-year-old right seat. I filed for, and was given, the EAGUL SIX arrival. This is an RNAV arrival, and programming it in the G3000 is intuitive and easy. Upon reaching the first step-down fix, we were asked to “fly the published STAR”. This star has published speeds up to 270 kias, so I informed the controller that the best I could do was Mach .5 until 18,000, then the best I could do was 240 below 18.

He immediately vectored me off the STAR, and I essentially flew a parallel arrival with the same altitudes but at a slower pace. On the traffic display, you could see all the ADS-B airline guys lined up perfectly on the arrival, albeit moving a tad faster than we were. We were given a few speed restrictions, and then they started vectoring me back and forth across the arrival. At about 6,000′ I get handed to the final approach controller and I request 25L. (Keep in mind, we were landing at about 4pm on a Wednesday, so it was a constant stream of airplanes and radio traffic.) The controller keys the mic and says, “N64P, say approach speed.” We reply with, “On final, we’ll be slowing to 90 knots.” She keys the mic and there’s about two seconds of dead air before she says, incredulously, “… Did you say ninety knots? Nine zero knots??” I did all I could to remain composed, but I couldn’t help laughing when I told her, “Affirmative, nine zero knots.” Big over-the-air sigh followed by another vector and a request to keep “best forward speed”. We kept it at about 190, which must have made her happy because she came on a bit later and told us we could slow to 170. Landed on 25L behind a FedEx and pulled to parking (and another line guy marshaling us in with his camera out).

On Thursday, due to favorable winds, we decided to cut out a stop and get Joe back to Knoxville. First leg was from PHX to Riverside Airport in Tulsa, OK (CDT). We needed 90 gallons a side, and the line guys addressed my second biggest fear about ground ops, and that’s the 75-gallon per-side limitation. We told the line guy we needed 90 gallons a side, and he asked if there were any restrictions. Joe told the guy if they double hose it, then no. So, they double-hosed it. I didn’t even know that was a thing! Anyway, if you ever find yourself at CDT, do yourself a favor and go to Burn Co Barbecue. It’s 1.6 miles from the airport, and with CDT being a CAA airport, it’s worth the stop. After coming out of our meat-induced comas, we continued on to TYS. There is an unbelievable amount of construction at this airport. The delivery bay is gorgeous, the service center is huge, and there is plenty of room to grow. We debriefed with Joe, threw in some turbine oil, said our goodbyes, and we were on our way back home. Landed at VPZ about twenty minutes after sunset. It was a perfect end to a perfect week.

The only major squawk we had was a pressurization/bleed air issue. On only some of the flights, upon reaching a cabin altitude of 8,000′, the cabin would continue to pressurize at about 100 fpm. The cabin altitude turns yellow on the MFD, and in order to “fix” it we would turn on the defogger. Keeping the defog on kept the cabin altitude at 8,000, and then the next flight, the system would work fine. Otherwise, this cabin can get HOT and it can get COLD. The temp control is touchy, as it is in most planes, but the range of temperatures is great. Once we found the sweet spot, everyone was comfy.

It’s sad to say, but one of the most exciting features of the G3000 is the audio panel. The amount of control over who is listening to what and how loud it is in their headsets is the best I have ever seen in any aircraft. The pilot can be rocking out to XM while the back seat passengers and co-pilot are listening to the IFE (In Flight Entertainment) system, all while still being able to communicate with each other. You can shut off the radio coms to the back seat while still talking to them, etc, etc. It’s extremely powerful and flexible.

How does it compare to the TBM?

The SF is so smooth with the engine running. We have the five-bladed prop on the TBM, and even though  that has cut down on the vibration, the SF is practically vibration-free. Due to the trailing-link gear, every landing, even the crappy ones, feel smooth as silk. The TBM lands like a brick, and it can be somewhat jarring for first-time passengers. When it comes to flying, the SF is so quick off the blocks that busting airspeeds in Class D and C airspace is probably the number one “gotcha”. However, it will take some time for controllers to get used to how slow, compared to other jets, this plane flies. Bob and I can count on one hand how many times we’ve received speed instructions from ATC in the TBM, whereas in the SF-50, every Class C or B airport we flew in/out of, we were given speed instructions.

The TBM cruises at FL310, whereas the SF is at FL280. I don’t count this as a huge advantage, though, because I can’t ever recall a time when we were flying and I thought, “Wow, it’s a good thing we’re at FL310 because that thunderstorm at FL280 would be hell to fly through!” Our SOP is to go around the convective activity, regardless of its altitude, and if you’re encountering precipitation at those altitudes even if it’s not a thunderstorm, you should still probably be avoiding it. The cabin on this aircraft is awesome. The huge windows and well-appointed interior really makes you feel like you’re in a luxury SUV.

The TBM seats six adults compared to the SF’s five, but the riders in the back of the TBM are knee-to-knee, which makes long flights feel stuffy. The giant windows and ample legroom of the SF rear cabin make stretching out nice, and you don’t feel claustrophobic. The wing sits so far back on this airplane that from the front seats, you almost feel like you’re flying on a wingless plane. The environmental controls are also lightyears ahead of the TBM. Everyone in the rear cabin of the TBM needs a blanket while the pilot and co-pilot are in t-shirts (even with the rear controls enabled). In the SF, it just seemed like the degree of control for both front and rear was so much better (except during pattern work… I think the enviro system gets confused with the constant power changes. We had trouble finding the sweet spot while doing landing practice). It cruises a wee bit faster than the TBM, too.

The fastest we clocked in the SF was 314 true (although it was usually around 308-310), whereas in the TBM, it’s much closer to 300. On the other side of the coin, the TBM sips the gas at about 48-52 GPH (FL310) whereas the SF drinks around 70 GPH (FL280). The lower you go, the worse it gets. Sight-seeing in the SF is probably a bad idea unless you’re comfortable cruising around at Vref + 10. Otherwise, you’re sucking about 140 GPH at MCT (at Vref + 10 in clean configuration at about 3,000′ MSL, it’s a much more reasonable 35-40 GPH, but then you’re going reeeeeally slow). The TBM consumes about 70-75 GPH full throttle at sustained lower altitudes (but because the view out the TBM windows is horrid we didn’t do a lot of sight-seeing with it).

Compared to the TBM the SF useful load is laughable. It’s kinda depressing that you can’t have two grown adults in the plane and also take full fuel. Filling all seven seats and taking baggage, and you’re looking at less than two hours of flight time. My wife is petite, and my two kids are still small, so it fits my mission profile nicely. However, for “larger” families (in both number and size), the utility of this airplane quickly diminishes. The short-field performance of the SF is also worse (in some cases, much much worse) than the TBM. Although the landing speed of the SF is only about 80 kias, with so much potential weight it really takes a ton of energy to stop this thing. The TBM has a reversible pitch prop, which greatly aids in stopping distances.

All in all, this is a fantastic airplane. For those pilots transitioning from an SR, it handles very similar, just that everything happens faster. With bolster switches, flap handle, CAPS handle (among other things) all in the same spot, the intimidation factor of flying a jet is greatly diminished. The FADEC makes engine management a no-brainer, and gone will be the days of debating the Red Fin. If you want to use less gas, you’re going to go slower. The engine doesn’t care.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading my wall of text. It has been a whirlwind of awesomeness so far, and as I told Joe and Bob, I can’t remember having this much fun flying in over a decade.

Rick Urschel, March 2018

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1995-2002 Redakteur und Chefreporter bei fliegermagazin, 2004-2008 Chefredakteur des Airbus-Magazins "Planet Aerospace". Seit 2002 Buchautor und freiberuflicher Luftfahrtjournalist. Privatpilot mit IR Rating.

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