Tom Haines

Pretty enough to fly

May 30, 2008 by Thomas B. Haines, Editor in Chief

What’d you do over the Memorial Day weekend? I’ll bet you didn’t paint a one-of-a-kind airplane. But a group of Cirrus Design employees did. During my visit to the Cirrus factory a few weeks ago I had the chance to tour the mammoth facility where Cirrus is building what it calls the “V1 flight test vehicle.” V1 is the first flying example of “the jet,” the company’s single-engine jet. By the way, Cirrus promises it will have a “real” name sometime soon.

The development center is a former Northwest Airlines maintenance facility on the north side of Duluth International Airport. The 200,000 square foot building is eight stories tall. When I visited a dozen or more SR20s sat on the floor awaiting delivery–not even crowded. In one corner was Cirrus’ new L-39 jet trainer that it will use as a chase plane for the jet flight test program.

While the real jet will be mostly carbon fiber, V1 is mostly fiberglass because it’s cheaper and faster to build. V1′s V-tail is carbon fiber for the extra strength needed back there. When I saw it, V1 was assembled with the WIlliams FJ33-19 engine in place. A hole in the roof was being prepped to make way for the temporary parachute that will be used during flight test. That chute will be housed inside the fuselage. The production model’s Cirrus Airplane Parachute System will likely be housed in the nose. The L-3 SmartDeck panel was installed. A spin chute will be installed in the tail for test flights.

First flight is expected to occur within the next few weeks, but to look nice for those historic photos, a team of employees volunteered to spend their Memorial Day weekend painting it. Cirrus isn’t saying, but based on what I saw, I’m betting it will have a red tail, red over the nose and fuselage top, with a white empennage and wings–similar to the design currently in use on the piston fleet.

The unusually shaped and beefy trailing-link gear has been swung, much of the load testing is complete, and the ship is equipped with a plethora of strain gauges. A teletmetry system will datalink the test results to the ground so flight tests can be done as effeciently as possible.

Cirrus isn’t saying when it will fly, but given the timing, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it make a visit–at least a fly-by–to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in late July at a time when a few hundred thousand people might happen to be there.

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