I converted to the Cirrus just over three years ago. I use this wonderful plane for most of the trips on my blog GolfHotelWhiskey.com.
On one level, it’s an easy plane to fly and it has many safety systems. On another level, it is sophisticated and complicated with advanced systems. The secret to relaxed flying is preparation and training. This article contains a few tips for would-be Cirrus pilots.
- RTFM. Read the frakking manuals. It costs nothing but time and this is how I started. Both TAA and Freeflight have a full set of manuals on their websites but you’ll have to register online to access them. You really need to learn a lot of this and I found that writing key points on index cards helped this process.
- Get a good instructor. This is the most important thing, of course. I did my Cirrus conversion with John Page at TAA UK and he is an excellent instructor.
- Use simulators. Use Flight Simulator X, Eaglesoft’s SR22 model and Garmin’s 430 simulator to get familiar with the basic systems. TAA has a sophisticated Flight Sim setup where you can get used to the ‘buttonology’. Don’t worry so much about how to fly the plane, concentrate on learning how the systems interact and what different buttons do.
- Ground school. Do lots. Spend time with an instructor understanding how the plane works. I also spent a few hours at a maintenance company with a Cirrus engineer seeing how all the sytems are maintained and what the plane looks like with the skin off. This was invaluable.
- Start on an SR-20. The SR-20 shares the same basic flying characteristics and avionics with its more powerful sibling. I trained on an SR-20 and it’s a good intermediate step from entry-level Pipers and Cessnas.
- Engine management. It will pay you to learn how to operate the engine in an economic and safe way. Not only can you get more miles per gallon but you can extend the life of the engine. It’s a complex subject but learning when and how to lean the engine is essential.
- Get your priorities right. Aviate, communicate, navigate, Garminate. Set up as much of your route, SID, approach etc. on the ground before takeoff. It’s very easy to spend a lot of time in the Cirrus head down playing with the avionics.
- Join COPA. The Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association is a very active club dedicated to the Cirrus group. Their magazine is always interesting and the online forums are a great learning resource. Although correlation isn’t causation, COPA members are significantly less likely to be involved in a Cirrus crash. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
- Go solo slowly. Don’t finish your conversion and then fly three friends on a long trip. Build up your solo experience slowly. Consider flying with other Cirrus pilots before you start taking passengers. You want to appear (and be!) calm, efficient and in control when people trust their lives to you. Make your mistakes in private!
- Use enroute legs to practice. Long airways legs give you plenty of hours to experiment with the avionics. I use the second Garmin 430 in the planes I fly to practice various scenarios: checking airspace, calculating descent rates, finding the nearest airport etc. etc. Make a checklist of exercises before you go and practice each one until you are fluent in it.
- Aeronautical Decision Making. More systems mean more choices. It’s a good idea to think through various scenarios in advance. For example: when would I pull the chute? Would I use it over water? What would I do if ATC requested maximum speed on an approach? What would I do if my PFD failed at a critical point (this happened to me)? Etc. The FAA’s Risk Management Handbook (PDF) is a good place to start.
- Preflight planning. Besides planning my route carefully and all the usual stuff like NOTAMs and weather, I like to do a weight and balance calculation and risk assessment before I go. The workload in a Cirrus can be quite high so the more you can prepare in advance the easier it will be in the air.
- Treat the plane like a small airliner. The objective is to have standard, high-quality procedures for every step of the flight to achieve maximum consistency.
- Get an instrument rating. The Cirrus likes long-range, airways trips. In Europe, this means getting an instrument rating. It will also teach you better control and accuracy in your regular VFR flying. See my article: How to get an FAA Instrument Rating.
- Get a commercial licence. Getting my CPL helped me improve my core flying skills and it taught me a lot about flight planning and my responsibilities to my passengers. See my article: How to get an FAA CPL.
- Go to CPPP. The Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Program is essential post-graduate school for Cirrus pilots. It includes nine hours of ground instruction and about six hours of flight instruction. Do your conversion, get some hours and then take this weekend course. I’ve done it twice and I learned a huge amount every time.
- Ongoing training. I like to do a training session with an instructor every three months or so.