Cirrus Plane Types and Models Guide

Cirrus Aircraft came to be in 1984 when the Klapmeier brothers launched the VK-30 kit aircraft. This small low-wing utility aircraft went against the grain in many ways, using a pusher configuration and sleek lines rarely seen among kit aircraft.

The taste for innovative solutions became a staple of Cirrus operations, and the VK-30 legacy lives on through the different prop and jet aircraft that comprise the Cirrus Aircraft family today.

Its commitment to flight safety has gotten Cirrus Aircraft into the aviation hall of fame, with the company pioneering a ballistic parachute system (branded CAPS, or Cirrus Airframe Parachute System) and joining Piper in fielding the Garmin Safe Return system, which allows for fully automated approaches and landings in case of emergencies.

Let’s ride aboard the Cirrus wings on this Cirrus plane types and models guide, from humble beginnings as a kit maker in Minnesota to becoming a market leader in high-end general aviation aircraft.

cirrus plane n317jt

Bottom Line Up Front

From the VK-30 kit pusher piston to the Vision SF50 light jet, Cirrus Aircraft experienced a meteoric rise since its founding in 1984. The company currently produces general aviation piston aircraft and a very light business jet. All aircraft in the Cirrus portfolio have a single engine and are known for their stress on safety and cutting-edge technology.

What Makes Cirrus Aircraft Special

The keyword in the Cirrus Aircraft family is innovation. There are very few companies in aviation that would take as many risks as it does. In 1987 Cirrus unveiled its first design to the world, the elegant VK-30 small pusher prop kit.

When the next design finally rolled out in 1999, it was revolutionary. The SR20 had a composite construction, modern avionics, and beautiful lines. This was also the debut of the famous Cirrus parachute recovery system.

The aviation world rewarded the boldness of the SR20 and its successor, the SR22, making it the best-selling piston prop model since the turn of the century.

This achievement would have made many leaders put great ideas aside to focus on safe options. That would not be a very ‘Cirrus’ approach. The company took a leap and started working on its first-ever jet aircraft. The result is a tidy business jet with respectable performance but friendly handling while retaining the clean design lines, modern avionics, and parachute system typically associated with Cirrus Aircraft.

The History of Cirrus Aircraft

dale Klapmeier cirrus planes

The Kit Years

Cirrus Aircraft grew out of a barn in rural Wisconsin. A small group of engineers, led by Alan and Dale Klapmeier, sat down to design a kit airplane. The project started in 1984, and by 1987 it had grown from an idea to a prototype.

The kit and experimental market had some creative freedom relative to classic general aviation designs. The first Cirrus, the VK-30, had a pusher prop configuration and room for five people aboard. The fuselage was streamlined, with the canopy blended in to avoid breaking the silhouette.

Cirrus Designs launched the VK-30 at the 1987 EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The project would eventually attract 40 sales, though most kits sold never saw action.

Serial Production

The VK-30 was a great start with limited room to grow. Cirrus moved its facilities from Baraboo to Duluth and began working on a new project. The SR20 general aviation aircraft debuted in 1994, a year after the last VK-30 kit delivery. The new project took off in 1995, but a lengthy certification process saw the first delivery in 1999.

Despite the delays, the composite SR20 was a hit, and there was enough demand to launch an improved version based on customer feedback. The SR22 began its career in 2001, and its popularity soared.

The two models stayed in production concurrently, and Cirrus continued to improve them. A breakthrough was the introduction of a glass cockpit as the default option, a first in general aviation. By this point, the Cirrus SR22 was outselling giants like the Cessna 172.

In Duluth, the news excited Cirrus executives enough to set a daunting goal: bringing Cirrus into the jet age.

Economic Turbulence

The financial instability of the late 2000s hit Cirrus hard as the company embarked on two ambitious projects: an in-house very light jet and an improved version of the small German Fk14 Polaris aerobatic aircraft as the Cirrus SRS.

The first clear signs of trouble came in late 2008, with slow sales pushing the directors to lay off hundreds of employees, implementing three-day work weeks, and reducing production output. The company eventually shut down for an entire month.

As far as aircraft go, the SRS was the hit hardest. Although its introduction date was initially pushed to 2009, new Cirrus CEO Brent Wourters announced the project was dead once the time came. Work on the SF50 Vision Jet continued on schedule, however.

Cirrus staff was around half the original 1230 cadre in 2009. The company spent most of 2009 and 2010 on the verge of bankruptcy.

Recovery and Resurgence

In February 2011, China Aviation Industry General Aircraft (CAIGA for short) acquired Cirrus for $210 million. The sale was complete by July of that year, with clauses that stipulated Cirrus operations would remain in the United States despite Chinese state ownership.

The takeover and following the merger with CAIGA saved Cirrus from what seemed like certain death. Multiple cash injections and loans from Chinese and American institutions helped keep the Cirrus Vision SF50 on track, and the company began growing again, with Brent Wourters still at the helm.

As global markets began to grow again, so did Cirrus Aircraft. In 2013, the company surpassed Cessna and its parent company, Textron Aviation, as the largest producer of piston-powered aircraft. The SR22 and SR22T established their dominance in the general aviation market.

The crown jewel of the Cirrus revival, the Vision Jet, received FAA certification in 2016 after two years of extensive testing. This aircraft was groundbreaking during its introduction and earned Cirrus Aircraft the 2017 Collier Trophy for the first single-engine private jet with a parachute recovery system.

Cirrus Today

As 2020 rolled in, Cirrus Aircraft had reached a level of stability. Despite the global health and economic crisis that engulfed aviation, orders for Cirrus models grew. The company opened new United States and Europe facilities to match the demand.

Not everything has been sunshine and rainbows. Many clients have become disgruntled with the Cirrus waiting times resulting from supply chain issues. The expected delivery wait for a Cirrus SR22 ordered in January 2023 was two years, resulting in a growing backlog.

In the summer of 2023, CAIGA filed for a Cirrus IPO on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, signaling even bigger plans for the company’s future.

Cirrus Aircraft Models


cirrus vk-30

The first member of the Cirrus family was the VK-30. A tight-knit group of engineers conceived the aircraft and put the prototype together in a bar in the Wisconsin countryside.

This single-engine kit build had futuristic lines and an unconventional pusher prop configuration. A retractable tricycle landing gear and low, long wings blended well with the fuselage, marked by an air intake on each side for the Continental IO-550-G engine.

Cirrus debuted its first design at the 1987 Oshkosh AirVenture on the company’s home turf in Wisconsin. The VK-30 had a top speed of 215 knots, with a range of up to 1100 nautical miles, and capacity for five occupants with the sole pilot.

Of 40 Cirrus VK-30 kits sold between 1988 and 1993, 13 were completed, and 12 were flying in the United States. The first Cirrus had a spotty safety record, with seven aircraft registered with the FAA crashing between 1990 and 2020.

Israviation joined Cirrus to propose a variant powered by the ubiquitous Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 turboprop. Despite promising results in flight testing, the project never made it to the market.

The modest sales performance, numerous accidents, and disparity between kits sold and aircraft flying were not the dream start. Cirrus was destined for much greater things.


cirrus sr20

Production of the VK-30 ended in 1993, and the aviation world would have to wait until 1999 to see a new Cirrus roll off the production line.

The SR20 single-engine general aviation aircraft was less adventurous than the VK-30, with a conventional propeller arrangement and fixed tricycle landing gear. Slender wings and elegant lines remained a feature of the new aircraft. The structure uses primarily composite materials.

Once the SR20 rolled out in 1999, it blew the competition out of the water. Cirrus had packed its new darling with a 10-inch multifunctional display but moved to an Avidyne Entegra glass cockpit in 2003. Pilots used a side stick instead of the yoke, a rarity in modern general aviation.

The top speed of 155 knots and range of 785 nautical miles with all four seats taken made the SR20 an elegant choice. However, its trump card was stowed away most of the time.

The Cirrus SR20 was the first aircraft in the family to incorporate the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS). The pilot can activate a parachute in the fuselage to help the plane glide down safely. All follow-up designs have kept this system.

Cirrus sold a whopping 1459 units of the SR20 between 1999 and 2019.


cirrus sr22

The innovations introduced with the Cirrus SR20 made it a crowd-pleaser, but it was not without faults. Many pilots and owners found the SR20 offer attractive but could not commit due to the range and speed limitations. In response, a mere two years into production, Cirrus introduced the SR22.

The SR22 and SR20 are almost identical externally, but the new model packs a long wing, more fuel, and an uprated engine. The result is a range of 1049 nautical miles and a cruise speed of 183 knots, considerably improving the SR20 design.

Cirrus and Garmin partnered to launch the Perspective avionics suite in the SR22, which was later introduced to new SR20 units.

Between 2001 and 2022, Cirrus sold 7240 SR22 units, corresponding to 30% of the global piston general aircraft market today. The SR22 remains in production with no plans to change this.


cirrus sr22t

In 2010 Cirrus launched an SR22 option with a Continental TSIO-550-K turbocharged engine. The change pushed the top speed up to 214 knots and expanded the service ceiling to 25000 ft. Although the SR22T is faster than the baseline model, it has a slightly lower range and more stringent payload limitations.

Vision Jet SF50

cirrus vision jet sf50

While Cirrus aircraft are all works of art, the Vision Jet is my favorite by a long shot. The spiritual successor of the VK-30 is the only mass-produced single-engine business jet in the world, with a sleek but adorable fuselage, a V-shaped tail, and a Williams FJ33-5A turbofan engine mounted on the hump.

The Cirrus SF50 had a lengthy development phase. It lasted from 2006 until late 2016 when the first unit left the line. To call this aircraft a gamble would be underselling things.

Creating the Vision Jet would have been a mammoth task for any established designer, but this is even more evident in the case of Cirrus, back then a relatively young company that had relied on the Continental IO-550 series of piston engines for all of its designs.

Cirrus survived multiple crises as the SF50 matured, but the wait was worth it. At the typical price point of $2.3 million, the Vision Jet outperforms all other executive aircraft in this category as they are all turboprops. To begin beating it, one must look at upwards of $5 million most of the time.

With a top speed of 311 knots, a ceiling of 31000 ft, and a range of 1200 nautical miles, the Vision Jet cannot outperform most competing offers. It delivers a comfortable and modern experience at much lower acquisition and operation costs to sell.

Top Product Recommendations

The Cirrus lineup is advanced but streamlined. Only the SR22 piston prop and the SF50 Vision Jet are in serial production. The main question you must ask yourself is whether you are in the market for a piston prop or a compact business jet. There is no overlap between the performance and mission profiles of these aircraft.

Tips for Prospective Cirrus Owners

Once you become familiar with it, flying a Cirrus is an ordinary affair. However, getting to that point has proven to be more than some pilots can handle alone. The low-speed performance of the SR20 and SR22 is notorious for catching greenhorns off guard. This has caused accidents in the past.

A recommendation among experienced Cirrus flyers is to book yourself some time with an instructor intimate with the Wisconsin machine. Having trained eyes watching over your first experiences, particularly landings, will avoid some hairy encounters later on.

Buying Guide

If buying a new Cirrus, there are not many choices. The SR22 comes in standard and turbocharged versions, with the turbo variant delivering better altitude and speed performance in exchange for some range. The Vision Jet simplifies things by offering only the latest production standard.

Make sure to place your order as early as possible because the delivery backlog for the SR22 can be years long.

Things become more complicated in the used market. Cirrus has taken an iterative approach to its aircraft, releasing new generations. Some are almost indistinguishable, while others bring changes that an owner must mind before buying.

In the SR20 and SR22 series, the main thing to watch out for is the cockpit. Aircraft built until around 2003 had a conventional dashboard augmented with one display until Cirrus made a Garmin glass pit the standard fit.

For a relatively small price difference, you can buy an all-glass model with all the capabilities associated. This is particularly important with the ever-tightening avionics requirements implemented by regulatory bodies worldwide.

Vision Jet generations also vary considerably. While the first and second generations of the SF50 are broadly similar, the newer G2+ has noticeably improved takeoff performance. The G2+ and late production G2 models also have the Garmin Safe Return fitted, allowing for fully automated emergency landings at any suitable airfield.


Question: How much does a Cirrus Vision Jet cost?

Answer: The Cirrus Vision Jet G2 sells for $3.6 million when new, compared to $2.95 million for a baseline variant. The Vision Jet does not depreciate significantly, with the average SF50 fetching an average of $2.5 million in the pre-owned market.

Question: Do all Cirrus Aircraft models have a ballistic parachute?

Answer: All Cirrus variants currently in production include the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) as standard equipment. This system is an evolution of the General Aviation Recovery Device (GARD) introduced with the Cessna 150.
The only Cirrus aircraft without the parachute is in the VK-30 family of homebuilt pusher props.

Question: Are Cirrus prop aircraft easy to fly?

Answer: For the most part, yes. While flying, the Cirrus SR20 and SR22 handle smoothly and do not feel much different from the Cessna 172 at the club that everyone rented at some point. You can trim the Cirrus hands-off without much effort.
The exception to the Cirrus handling characteristics is the low-speed envelope, particularly during landing. Putting the SR20 or SR22 down is not difficult per se, but these aircraft require finer speed management on final to give a good landing in return. Stalls are also less forgiving on the Cirrus than typical high-wing general aviation aircraft.
Many pilots, including our own Helen Krasner (, recommend getting time with an instructor with intimate knowledge of Cirrus planes to avoid surprises during training.


cirrus aircraft

Many great ideas were born in a barn. That is also true for Cirrus Aircraft. The company stayed true to its daring and innovative approach as it grew from a small kit builder to an empire specializing in composite airframes and glass cockpits.

The advanced avionics and added safety of the ballistic parachute system make Cirrus unique, and the continuous improvements on the SR22 and SF50 models indicate the progress will not stop any time soon.

Cirrus Aircraft survived major economic tests, and the perseverance paid off. This is a tale of not just any family of airplanes but the largest general aviation manufacturer worldwide. If you like performance, safety, and looking incredible while enjoying those, do not overthink – get a Cirrus.

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