Cirrus Impressions of a Tiger Pilot (long)

My prior plane was a 1976 Tiger. Great plane. As such, I’m still subscribed to the AYA list.

The Safety Director of the AYA, Ron Levy, was just exposed to a Cirrus SR20. His impressions:

Cirrus Impressions of a Tiger Pilot
Ron Levy, ATP, CFI
©2004, all rights reserved

In talking over lunch with Tiger owner Dennis Fico and Cirrus owner John Dolan, the natural Cirrus vs. Tiger discussion came up, and since I’d never flown a Cirrus, John kindly offered a hop in his – and I could hardly refuse. So, here’s what I think after a grand total of 25 minutes of SR-20 time.

First, there is no question that a whole lot more systems knowledge is required for this aircraft. There are a lot of things to learn. Someone transitioning from a C-172 to a Tiger need only learn how to physically fly a Grumman and some mechanical items for preflight and owner care – the two airplanes are equally dirt-simple and while things may be in slightly different places, they are pretty much all the same in terms of how each thing is read or operated. Moving from either a Tiger or a C-172 to a Cirrus would require a lot of training on all the systems, displays, and controls, because they are, as the FAA says, “technologically advanced.” Ain’t no way you do a Cirrus checkout with just two hours of ground and two hours of flying as we often do for non-Grumman pilots in a Tiger. After 25 minutes of flying the Cirrus, I felt that I’d have no problem flying the plane anywhere in any conditions I’d fly a Tiger – if it had standard instruments, controls and displays. However, I would not want to go even around the traffic pattern alone in a Cirrus without going to school on the systems.

When sitting down, the first thing I noticed is that the control stick falls right to hand. I had expected it to feel unnatural, but itÂ’s clear the Cirrus Design folks thought carefully about its location. However, movement of the stick feels very strange. Cirrus incorporated spring-centering, so even with no dynamic load on the control surfaces, the stick centers when no force is applied. Also, there is an aileron-rudder interconnect (ARI is what we called that in the F-4), so when you move the rudder pedals, the stick moves, too. This is rather strange in taxiing and creates some interesting effects in slow flight where you must hold positive left stick force to keep from rolling right due to the right aileron input from the right rudder input needed to counter the left-yaw tendencies of high power/low speed. (YÂ’all follow that?)

Taxiing the free-castering nosewheel Cirrus is very similar to taxiing a Tiger, with the rudder becoming effective at VERY low speed. However, when you push the rudder, the yoke and ailerons move the same way, which creates a bit of a strange feel (at least on oneÂ’s first flight in type).

On takeoff, there is a BIG right rudder input needed to counter the left-yawing tendencies, and there’s no rudder trim available, so your right leg gets a workout. Other than that, takeoff is just like a Grumman – smooth application of full power, rotate to the proper pitch angle at Vr, and the plane flies away when it gets to the right speed. You just have to ignore the odd RPM changes as you apply power and the automatic prop control decides what to do next.

What surprised me is the control response. Despite what I’ve heard before, pitch and roll responses were very nearly Tiger-like, and roll rate is very quick. However, the stick forces needed, especially breakout, and particularly in roll, are rather larger due the centering spring on the stick and, and (I would guess) in roll due to the ARI. The airplane was extremely stable yet responsive in medium and steep turns, although it was weird not having to use rudder – it took a conscious effort NOT to use rudder rolling in and out of the turns. While one could get used to this, and it makes the plane easier to fly cross-country and harder to spin, one would have trouble going back to a non-ARI plane. I see ARI as a negative feature for training, but Cirrus isn’t marketing these planes as primary trainers.

Based on the short cruise to the practice area, the plane is flat FAST, and the 6-cylinder Continental IO-360 is REAL smooth, and handles lean-of-peak operation very nicely. The Avidyne display provides an outstanding situational awareness capability, and as long as everythingÂ’s working, it shouldnÂ’t be possible to get lost, although the usual caveats about maintaining fundamental skills apply.

We tried slow flight in the clean, 50% flap, and 100% flap configurations. First of all, the single power lever control for throttle and prop produced some unusual and disconcerting effects. When reducing power, RPM reduced and then increased as MP came down. Maybe you get used to this, but it was distracting. In addition, thereÂ’s a power lever detent at about half power, which feels almost like the afterburner detent on an F-111, and which I also found annoying as you have to make a major change in force applied both increasing and decreasing power at that point. Clean, the first sign of stall was a slight buffet at 78 KIAS, with solid and positive control. A large pitch down change is required as you lower the flaps to 50% if you want to avoid ballooning, and again, the first sign of stall was a slight buffet at 72 KIAS. Application of full flaps required a significant power increase (annoyingly going back up over the detent), another large nose-down pitch change, and the stall horn came on before the buffet was felt.

In all slow flight cases, roll control was positive and the airplane stable in standard rate turns, although a LOT of right rudder force is needed. However, when applying that much right rudder, the ARI produces a significant right aileron input, and significant left stick input is needed to maintain desired bank angle and prevent the plane rolling further right. The result is that you FEEL as though you’re making a cross-control input even though you’re not – a glance out to the wing shows the ailerons are centered even if the stick feels deflected left. Power off full flap stall was a non-event – horn, buffet, gentle break. Power, pitch, and flaps 50% produces a smooth, positive recovery. However, as you fly out of the stall, retraction of the flaps from 50% to zero creates a big loss in lift coefficient even if you counter the incidence angle change with pitch, and the airplane sinks if you don’t accelerate to 85 KIAS before retracting the flaps from 50% to zero. And once again, the odd engine RPM changes were distracting.

Back in the landing pattern, the plane lands very much like a Tiger in terms of stick technique, but flies like a much higher performance airplane in terms of power control. ItÂ’s most definitely slicker than a Grumman, and you have to manage speed/altitude with even more care, especially since, unlike other 200 HP planes, you donÂ’t have retractable gear to help manage drag, and the max flap speed of 120 KIAS for even half flaps prevents using the flaps when you hit 150 KIAS on the descent (which we did). John said I should use the same technique and sight picture as a Tiger, but I discovered that the nose picture is a bit different, and the nose is best kept a bit lower in relation to the far end. As with slow flight, a very positive nose-down input is required on application of each increment of flaps to prevent ballooning, and also, for the final increment, to keep speed from decaying.

On the first landing, I flew a bit low glide path (about an instrument 3 degree instead of a typical visual 4 to 4-1/2 degree glide path) but still flared a little high, and got into a slight pitch PIO at about five feet AGL before stabilizing and achieving a mains-first landing under control. I was able to complete a main-wheels-only touch-and-go very easily. On the second landing, I flew a more typical glide path, but John said I still flared a bit high. However, I felt that it was a good, smooth touchdown on the mains only, holding the nose off until the stick hit the stop. Based on the amount of pitch change from mains touchdown to nosewheel touchdown, it felt like the nosewheel was about a foot off the runway during initial rollout.

All things considered, I think the Cirrus handles a lot better than I had expected based on the reports of others. It certainly isn’t Cessna-like – way more responsive, and way less stick force. It seems equally responsive in comparison with the Tiger, but stick force to break out of the detent is significant, and I found the ARI annoying as it made often made inputs I didn’t want when maneuvering, especially in slow flight. Although I prefer a stick to a yoke in formation flying, the Cirrus would definitely be less desirable than the Tiger for that due to the need for cross-controlling in formation (such being fought by the ARI) and the larger stick forces needed to break out of center and obtain small control deflections (such being fought by the spring-centering).

Bottom line: Slick XC machine, great displays, very nice interior, but IÂ’m sticking with Tigers for the flying I do.

Thanks again to John for letting me fly his plane.

Ron Levy is the Safety Director of the American Yankee Association (the Grumman owners group), an FAA Aviation Safety Counselor, and the Director of the Aviation Sciences Program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. He holds an engineering degree from the University of Michigan, a MasterÂ’s in Aviation Management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and FAA ATP and CFI certificates with single, multi, and instrument ratings. His 6500 flight hours include almost 1500 in Grumman AA-1/5 aircraft and 2000 in tactical jet aircraft including the A-6, RF-4, and F-111.

Somebody should give him another 25 minutes and see if his impressions change.

On the other hand, I’ve flown a Tiger for about the same amount of time and found it disconcertingly loose and sloppy. With another 25 minutes I probably would have gotten used to the differences…

My previous plane was a 79 Tiger which I thoroughly enjoyed as well. I think Ron’s comparisons were pretty much in line with my thoughts in transitioning. The Tiger is definitely lighter in feel beyond the 1000 lbs in weight difference. Sight lines, visibility are remarkably similar. Nice write up.

For an additional read about Tigers, Cirrii and Ron Levy, check out this post and the surrounding thread.[:)]

Marty is, as I noted on the Grumman Gang over a year ago, correct that I was suffering a senior moment and it wasn’t he who made the statement about the SR22 flying like a Cessna. It was a then-Tiger, now Glasair owner who had flown Marty’s plane.

Ron Levy

Hi, Ron!