The Cirrus SR20 is a four or five-seat monoplane, built in 1999 by Duluth Aircraft of Minnesota.
It is best known for being the first general aviation aircraft to be equipped with a parachute, which was designed to lower the aircraft and occupants safely to the ground in the event of an accident or structural failure. The Cirrus SR20 was not in production long, for it was developed into the better-known Cirrus SR22 in 2001, and this became an extremely popular light aircraft.
However, although it might have been eclipsed to some extent by the later Cirrus SR22, the Cirrus SR20 is important for being the first small airplane with a parachute, which was unheard of at the time. Indeed, I remember when it was first produced. There was a lot of publicity at the time in the General Aviation world, most of it around the new parachute. It seemed like a great idea, and those of us in General Aviation, whether students, pilots, or even instructors, were excited by the idea. Just think, no more trying to do a successful forced landing after engine failure! No more loss-of-control disasters! No more certain death after mid-air collisions! Those were some of the thoughts in my head when I heard about it, and others felt the same. It seemed like an absolutely revolutionary innovation.
So what is the Cirrus SR20 like? Is it a good plane for private pilots? And particularly, is the parachute as good as it was cracked up to be in the early days?
These questions, and others, will hopefully be answered later on in this article.
Bottom Line Up Front
The Cirrus SR20 is a fast four or five-seat light aircraft, often popular with pilots moving on from more traditional Piper and Cessna light planes. However, it is much faster and more difficult to fly than the more traditional aircraft, and specialized training is strongly recommended for anyone new to it. It is also considerably more expensive to buy and maintain, although secondhand models are coming down in price. The Cirrus SR20 is best known for Cirrus’ innovative Cirrus Aircraft Parachute System, or CAPS, a special parachute that will safely lower the plane and pilot to the ground in the event of a mid-air collision or other accident. This has proved to work extremely well, and the Cirrus SR20 and its later successors such as the Cirrus SR22 continue to be popular.
- Length: 26 ft 0 in (7.92 m)
- Wingspan: 38 ft 4 in (11.68 m)
- Height: 8 ft 11 in (2.72 m)
- Empty weight: 2,126 lb (964 kg)
- Gross weight: 3,050 lb (1,383 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Continental IO-360-ES six-cylinder, horizontally-opposed piston aircraft engine, 200 hp (150 kW)
- Propellers: 3-bladed
- Cruise speed: 155 km (178 mph, 287 km/h) TAS
- Stall speed: 56 km (64 mph, 104 km/h) CAS
- Service ceiling: 17,500 ft (5,300 m)
- Rate of climb: 828 ft/min (4.21 m/s)
- Garmin Cirrus Perspective glass cockpit
- GMA 350 All-digital Audio Panel
- Dual WAAS GPS/Comm/Nav Radios
- Garmin GFC700 Autopilot with Electronic Stability and Protection
- Dual altitude and heading reference system
- 406 MHz ELT
- ADS-B transponder
The Cirrus website gives the basic price of a new Cirrus SR20 as $494,900, for the basic model, with extra for premium versions or any additions. So it is not a cheap aircraft, and in terms of cost, is much more expensive than the commoner Cessna and Piper light aircraft many pilots will be moving on from. But you do need to compare like with like, and the Cirrus SR20 is a far newer, faster, and more sophisticated aircraft. It is also possible to buy second-hand versions much more cheaply – see the Resale Value of this article for further details.
Performance and Handling
At first glance, the Cirrus SR20 is not all that different from some of the Piper and Cessna aircraft of a similar size. But it does differ substantially in terms of performance. It is much faster, for a start. The Piper Arrow has a 180 or 200-horsepower Lycoming Engine, the Cessna 182 has a 230-horsepower Lycoming, whereas the SR20 has a 310-horsepower Lycoming. This fairly obviously makes a difference to its speed.
As well as speed, the Cirrus SR20 differs from more traditional light airplanes in construction and design. Its airframe is made of fiberglass rather than the more traditional metal, and it has a curved vertical stabilizer and cuffed wings. These make the aircraft more difficult to stall and less likely to enter an inadvertent spin.
All of these things mean that the Cirrus SR20 is faster, more powerful, yet safer than more traditional aircraft. However, the extra speed means that it can be more difficult to handle, and specialized training is recommended for any pilot moving on to the Cirrus SR20 after having only flown Cessna, Piper, or similar aircraft.
So what of the famous parachute, the Cirrus’ main point of difference when it was introduced? A little history may be useful here. The manufacturer’s desire for an airframe parachute resulted primarily from a 1985 fatal mid-air collision. It was realized at the time that no matter how well trained or skilled a pilot might be, there were situations in which he or she simply could not save either themselves or the aircraft – without some kind of “whole-airplane” parachute.
With this in mind, Cirrus worked and developed their innovative Cirrus Airframe Parachute System, or CAPS. Reaction in the aviation world was mixed initially, with many saying the FAA would never sign off on something like this, and that in any case it would not work or save lives. Both of these were proved to be wrong, and the parachute system has been most successful.
The Cirrus Airframe Parachute System is now standard equipment in the Cirrus SR20, as well as in other Cirrus aircraft. It works by the pilot pulling a handle to activate a motor, that propels it and the parachute from the airplane, and lowers the airplane to the ground at about 1,800 feet per minute. According to Cirrus, successful deployments of the parachute system have saved 142 lives.
That all sounds pretty convincing to me! And despite research, I could not find any cases of the parachute system having caused accidents, although it could not prevent accidents in every single case. But it does seem to be a most convincingly useful safety feature.
Cirrus essentially achieved its stated goal of building a low-maintenance airplane with the Cirrus SR20. On the whole, owners who had had a couple of ‘Annuals’ rarely reported any problems surfacing, and maintenance seems to be fairly standard for this type of aircraft. There have been one or two issues with the parachute firing mechanism, and some of the early models had problems at start-up, and also issues with the landing lights. But all of these seem to have been resolved in later models.
Modifications and Variants
A number of variants of the SR20 were later produced, even after the Cirrus SR22 had come along.
- The Cirrus SR20 G2 was an improved variant introduced in 2004, which included upgraded avionics.
- The Cirrus SRV was a variant that was introduced at the 2003 EAA Air Venture Convention and brought to market in 2004. It was designed for the private pilot and flight-training market and omitted some standard equipment from the original Cirrus SR20, such as wheel fairings.
- The Cirrus SR20 G3 was introduced in 2007. With a lighter wing of a greater area, it increased the cruise speed and also the useful load.
- In 2011, the United States Air Force T-53A was produced, a version of the Cirrus SR20 for air force cadet flight training.
- In 2017, the Cirrus SR20 G6 was produced, with a faster engine and an enhanced flight deck.
- Finally, in 2019, the Cirrus TRAC came along – a flight-training version of the Cirrus SR20 with some simplifications and other changes.
So it definitely seems as though the Cirrus SR20, in some version or another, is here to stay.
Where To Find Replacement Parts
Although in the early days of Cirrus aircraft replacement parts were hard to find, this is no longer the case. The aircraft is now well-established and popular, and replacement parts are freely available. A quick search on the internet will reveal a large number of companies selling them, and even some are available on Ebay. So getting parts for your Cirrus SR20 should not be a problem.
On the whole, the Cirrus SR20 is a very safe airplane. Early accident records were not high, and have trended downwards in recent years. The parachute system has been responsible for a number of accidents being averted, and crashworthy seats and a stall-resistant wing have certainly helped as well.
So are there any problems at all? Landing accidents tend to be relatively common, and are thought to be caused by the fact that pilots are not used to the sight picture on final, and can tend to misjudge the flare. Better training should minimize this. The landing gear is said to be a little ‘springy’ and this can cause problems for the unwary.
Indeed, the major problem seems to be that pilots are too complacent when it comes to flying the Cirrus SR20. As various pilots have pointed out, it is not a Piper or a Cessna, and it requires some special training, as indeed does any unfamiliar aircraft. If that is born in mind, there should be no real problems.
Cirrus SR20 insurance, like all aviation insurance, is broken down into two parts. The first is Liability Coverage, which is standard on every aircraft insurance policy and is a legal requirement. The second is hull coverage, which covers damage to the aircraft itself, and is optional – although many people would say it is sensible to get it, particularly for an expensive aircraft like a Cirrus SR20.
According to one insurance expert, there are seven companies that quote for Cirrus SR20 insurance in the US. These companies quote between $550 and $950 for an annual policy with one million dollars in liability-only coverage. If you want hull coverage as well, it is likely to cost you from $4,100 to $7,850 per year.
It is also possible to buy more flexible insurance coverage. Called Pay as you Fly, it is at a fixed daily rate. This could be worth looking into, particularly if you tend to fly for very few hours. it could save you quite a lot of money.
Values of second-hand Cirrus SR20s are said to be beginning to stabilize, having decreased steadily over the past few years. It is now possible to buy an older version for as little as $75,000, or a more modern one for anything up to $330,000. when you consider that a new one will not give you much change from $500,000, this is good news for those looking for a cheaper version. But it is not so good for the owner hoping to re-sell his or her Cirrus SR20 of course. But it does look as though prices are unlikely to come down much further, at least not quickly
Owner, Pilot, and Instructor Reviews
Pilots like the Cirrus SR20…but with some reservations. In summary, most of them find that it is not as forgiving as the Cessnas and Pipers that most students still train on. A CFI (certificated flight instructor) said that a Cirrus is designed to be fast, and is trickier to handle in a stall than more traditional aircraft such as the Cessna 172 and some of the Piper aircraft of a similar type.
According to reports, the Cirrus SR20 is difficult to recover from a spin, although it is also reluctant to spin in the first place. A report from March 2004 describes some spin entries and recoveries done by a company expert test pilot. It states that, despite the fact that they always recovered within one turn, they lost a significant amount of altitude. They also needed a rather unusual spin recovery technique. It was concluded that spin recovery would be difficult for the average private pilot who had not trained on the Cirrus SR20, and they recommended extra training in such cases.
The existence of the Cirrus parachute did not help a great deal in all cases, as one pilot pointed out…
“ I have had some scary flights where I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to pick up ice or where I had to fly through mountain passes dotted with clouds and rain showers. In almost every case the existence of the parachute did not make the flight any safer or more comfortable.”
-(Long-time Cirrus SR20 owner)-
But some owners were very impressed with all aspects of the SR20. Here is an example.
“I have owned an SR20 since October 2002 and currently have 2042 hours on the original engine—with good compression and low oil consumption. It will come close to book speed, but I fly at 140 knots LOP at 9.8 GPH. At 49 inches wide, the cockpit is very roomy, a pleasure after years in a Cessna 172.
I constantly hear how difficult this plane is to land and that it’s impossible to fly slowly. It’s not true. It can be trimmed to fly hands off at Skyhawk speeds. Good landings are definitely speed sensitive, and new pilots to Cirrus are strongly advised to get some time with a Cirrus instructor.”
-(Cirrus SR20 Owner)-
Of course, the aircraft that comes immediately to mind as being similar to the Cirrus SR20 is the Cirrus SR22. Although when it was produced much was made of the differences, many people would say that the two types are very similar. Essentially the Cirrus SR22 has a larger wing, larger fuel tank, and substantially higher performance – but that’s about all. It is really not that dissimilar to fly. You can read more about it here. https://aviatorinsider.com/airplane-brands/cirrus-sr22/
Then, of course, there are the well-known and popular light aircraft produced by Piper and Cessna, such as the Cessna 172 and 182, and the Piper Cherokee and Arrow. Again, much is made of the differences, and it is true that the Cirrus SR20 is more modern, more sophisticated in design, and faster….for which read more slippery during some maneuvers! But the differences are not that huge.
And what of other aircraft? The Cessna Ttx is built of similar composite materials and is often said to be very similar. Other than that, there are not too many other competitors. And the Cirrus aircraft are still the only ones with the famous parachute.
Clubs You Can Join
The Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA), seems to be the main organization for Cirrus flyers. The organization maintains an excellent website, www.cirruspilots.org, and includes a members-only forum. It is a must for any Cirrus owner, or indeed any would-be owner.
There is also a Cirrus Aircraft Group on Facebook.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Is the Cirrus SR20 a high-performance aircraft?
Answer: Although it’s not considered a high-performance aircraft, most pilots will still need transition training to fly it safely. It is very different from older aircraft such as the Piper Warrior and Cessna 172, being faster and less forgiving of mistakes.
Question: Is the Cirrus SR20 hard to fly?
Answer: The Cirrus is actually a very easy aircraft to fly. But like many relatively high-performance aircraft it is much less forgiving of mistakes than an older aircraft such as a Cherokee or a Cessna 172. This is partly because it is very slippery, and it can also be difficult to land.
Question: There seem to be a lot of crashes of Cirrus aircraft. Why is this?
Answer: It is basically because they tend to be used in all weathers for cross-country flights, by pilots who haven’t been sufficiently well trained on the type. A lot of pilots also put too much faith in the existence of the famous parachute, which is useful but won’t deal with every problem. There is nothing inherently dangerous about them.
The Cirrus SR20 is a popular, fast, and exciting light aircraft, and could be a good choice for the private pilot looking to move on from the more common Cessna and Piper light aircraft. It is not difficult to fly, but having said that, it can bite the unwary, and getting specialized training before flying it is definitely recommended. The famous parachute is a useful safety feature, but don’t fall into the trap of expecting it to get you out of every difficulty. The Cirrus SR20 is a good airplane, but it is also quite expensive to buy and run. So it is well worth doing some research and thinking about it before you rush out and buy one!
- Cirrus Aircraft. https://cirrusaircraft.com/aircraft/sr20/
- Globalair. https://www.globalair.com/aircraft-for-sale/specifications?specid=837
- Aviation Consumer. https://www.aviationconsumer.com/aircraftreviews/cirrus-sr20-3/
- Avweb. https://www.avweb.com/ownership/cirrus-sr20-2/
- AOPA. https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2017/april/flight-training-magazine/moving-up
- AvBuyer. https://www.avbuyer.com/articles/ga-buyer-europe/cirrus-sr20-buyer-s-guide-111987
- bwi fly. https://bwifly.com/cirrus-sr20-insurance-cost/