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Cirrus on Monday reached a milestone with its Vision SF-50 personal jet program with the first successful test flight of a version of the jet built to production specifications. (Cirrus Aircraft photo)

Cirrus jet aces test flight

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With its distinctive V-shaped tail, the sight of Cirrus’ new Vision SF-50 light jet flying around Duluth in the past few years has caused many to stop and stare.

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But that was the prototype.

On Monday, the real McCoy — the first version of the jet built totally to design and production specifications — was flown for the first time, as Cirrus staff gathered outside the Duluth headquarters to watch.

For Cirrus — the world leader in its category of small, single-engine piston planes — it marked a major milestone in the development of its personal jet intended to fill the gap between high-performance propeller planes and light business jets.

“It was like the birth of a baby,” said Todd Simmons, the company’s executive vice president of marketing and sales. “It’s validation of so much hard work, so many weekends and nights to get the program to this point.”

The latest, “conforming” version of the Vision Jet, called C-Zero will be followed by two more.

“It’s the first of three airplanes that we will use for evaluation for the ones we build and deliver to customers,” Simmons explained. “By the end of the year, there will be four in the skies, including the prototype.”

The C-Zero was built with a carbon fiber composite, as Vision jets will be. Carbon fiber is much lighter and stronger than the prototype’s fiberglass, Simmons said.

“This is very much closing in on exactly what the production aircraft will be,” he said.

The high performance single engine jet will seat five adults comfortably, also with room for two children. With its advanced avionics, it’ll fly at 345 mph and cruise up to 1,200 miles between stops.

The test plane underwent intensive ground testing before taking off from the Duluth International Airport about 5 p.m. Monday. After chief test pilot Mike Stevens flew the jet for an hour, he reported the jet handled and performed very well with all systems functioning properly. The test included maneuverability, controls and speed.

In a statement, Dale Klapmeier, Cirrus’ CEO and co-founder, called it another “first” for Cirrus and another significant step toward elevating the personal flying experience.

The successful test flight kicks off the beginning of a rigorous 18-month Federal Aviation Administration certification process. And it keeps Cirrus on track for delivery of its first jet in late 2015.

Orders for the jet, which lists for $1.96 million, have increased to 550.

This week’s successful flight will be followed by more flight performance and systems testing that will culminate with FAA certification, shortly before the first plane is delivered to customers. The tests will include trying out the jet’s specially-designed airframe parachute system, which all Cirrus planes have.

So far, C-Zero is a bare-bones, flight-worthy version of the jet. Some systems still need to be installed, including luxury features.

Meanwhile, Cirrus is continuing to hire engineers, technicians and designers for its jet program. Of its 700 employees, 200 are with the jet program in Duluth. More will be needed as the production nears.

As with Cirrus’ SR series of propeller planes, production of the Vision jet will begin in Grand Forks with final assembly in Duluth, where Cirrus now employs about 600 people.

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