Dave Hirschman

Upside-down in a Cirrus

September 20, 2010 by Dave Hirschman, Senior Editor

My previous flights in Cirrus SR22s had all been for training or transportation – but this one was different.
The mission was to find out whether the “Straight & Level” button in Avidyne’s new DFC90 autopilot could really recover from unusual attitudes. Steve Jacobson, an Avidyne engineering executive and former U.S. Air Force test pilot, was so confident in the new technology that he gave me the keys to the Experimental-category Cirrus SR22TN-G3 the company uses for a test bed and urged me to put it in any attitude I wanted, push the S&L button, and see what happened. (Most autopilots are only tested to 30 degrees of pitch and 60 degrees of roll.)
The next 90 minutes of flying were a long series of rolling, looping, and spiraling maneuvers that stood in stark contrast to the my previous Cirrus hours in which I had stayed as close to the middle of the flight envelope as possible. The aerobatic flight also was challenging because it required letting go of the flight controls during aggressive maneuvering. The sights, sounds, and sensations of the aerobatic maneuvers themselves were thoroughly familiar, but the act of handing over control to a inanimate autopilot while the airplane was upside-down went against all of my instincts and training. In all cases, however, the Cirrus and the S&L button performed brilliantly and my confidence in them grew throughout this eye-opening flight.
Avidyne has said the combination of its attitude-based DFC90 autopilot and the air-data computer that powers its Entegra primary flight display will serve as the technology foundation for many future innovations. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next . . .
To watch the video:

28 Responses to “Upside-down in a Cirrus”

  1. Cesar Paredes Says:

    The autopilot feature is amazing, but is the cirrus rated for those maneuvers???

  2. Ryan Baker Says:

    The Cirrus that was used in this test flight is registered under the experimental category therefore making it legal for them to perform the maneuvers. I know that it is turbo normalized, but I wonder what other mods, if any, were done to this Cirrus. That autopilot is amazing!

  3. Kevin Wardlaw Says:

    All Aircraft Manufacturers should be mandated to incorporate such including the LSA companies.

  4. Bob Says:

    @Kevin: No, while this is a good thing to have, it should NOT be mandated. Let the consumer decide what extras to buy. Most pilots would prefer to actually fly the airplane.

  5. herman Says:

    i agree with bob we don’t need to have more government madantes that will just keep more people from being able to afford to fly. most of us would rather fly our plane but it’s a great feature to offer as an option.

  6. Carl Sanchez Says:

    Very interesting, and to a relatively new Cirrus owner, it is nice to know that an SR-22 can actually be recovered quite easily from an inverted attitude (although I hope to not have to on my own Cirrus).

  7. Dave Hirschman Says:

    In answer to your question, there were no additional modifications to the airframe of this particular SR22TN — but the stresses on the airplane during the DFC90 flight (+2.5Gs and -0.5) were well within Standard-category limits of +3.89 and -1.56). The maximum speed flown during the maneuvers was 185 KIAS, 16 knots below Vne.


  8. Jay Earnshaw Says:

    If Avidyne can do it, why can not every acft, that can be fitted with an A/P, have the S&L function? Seems like a simple enough sensing and reaction sequence. I’d like to see a rudder actuator added however. Too many of our ‘lost control’ incidents involve spins.

  9. Gonzo Says:

    I am confident that the pilots were wearing parachutes to comply with the FARs during these maneuvers.

  10. Marty Says:

    Oh, well i guess the Cirrus will finally be a safe airplane now that another candy-apple tech will allow the uniformed to text & fly at the same time….
    I would rather hunt with Cheney than fly a Cirrus….

  11. Dave Hirschman Says:

    Yes, Gonzo, you’re confidence is well placed! Both the airplane and the pilot were wearing parachutes. Also, the maneuvers also were done off airways, above 1,500 feet agl, and with more than three miles visibility.

  12. Da Yooper Says:

    Please wash the belly of that airplane!! And tell the video editor this is not MTV . . .

  13. Pilot Store Says:

    Truly Amazing!

  14. Scott Says:

    Are you really as dumb as you sound? Kind of ironic isn’t it?

  15. Mark Says:

    I wonder if Garmin has done this same thing in a Cirrus with their GFC700?

  16. Neirinck, Cam Says:

    Looking good, but will it be approved for a Beech Bonanza
    model S-35 (1964 model)

  17. Jim Byrne Says:

    I recently purchased part of a 2006 Columbia 400 which has a STEC 55 autopilot and Avidyne Entegra PFD. The control is very sloppy while tracking a localizer in wind and I would love to upgrade with a DFC90. Will it be certified for my plane? Can we get it certified?

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  26. Jim Wills Says:

    Looks really, really good. Might have saved JFK Jr’s life.

    I have a 182 with the 55X and have never been satisfied with it. Very sloppy tracking, even in GPSS mode, and if the intercept angle is acute, get ready for a real oscillating ride as it tries to track the new course. Now won’t track VOR at all. Lag inherent in a rate-based system is very unnerving in the clouds, and even scarier when you do it VFR and can see how much it wanders and hunts. I had a course in automatic control systems in engineering school; rate-based systems, especially analog, are very hard to get tuned.

    Saving up my pennies for this autopilot; I have a couple of friends with one and they say it tracks like it is on rails.

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