In February an Aces High customer purchased a Cirrus SR-20 that would be put on leaseback with us.  I was fortunate enough to be able to go and pick it up.  Matt Hiller, who had just recently finished his IFR rating with me and who was looking for flight time and experience was going me.

Weather during the spring in the Northeast and Midwest can be quite a challenge for a non de icing and non turbo equipped aircraft and we were going to have to plan our trip wisely and hope for a little luck along the way.

We got the green light for the flight on Tuesday February 22 and the long range forecast for the end of the week and weekend was looking to be in our favor.  The following Monday I had organized a fly in and tour of the Socal Tracon Facility for Aces High Aviation.  If all went well I wanted to be back in San Diego Monday morning for the tour and to introduce the plane to the group.   Matt and I had to buy tickets and get out there.  We departed 48 hours later and arrived early Thursday morning at the Lawrence Airport to pick up the plane.  We met Mark from Falcon Air and he had the plane ready to go for us.  Falcon in a nice facility and they took care of the small details which makes a difference when taking delivery of an aircraft.  The plane was nicely detailed, stored in a warm hangar, toped off with fuel and Mark even gave us a few spare quarts of oil.  In the big picture these were small expenses but it really helps make a difference and demonstrates a level of customer support after the sale is final.

Day One: Lawrence, New York, Frederick and Charleston West Virginia (Friday)

Despite a less then perfect forecast for the morning of departure we woke up to blue skies. However, the winds aloft were cranking out of the west at about 40kts.  We could work with that though, at least it wasn’t icing or low ceilings.  We’d see ground speeds in the low 100s which is a bummer but acceptable.  Our first leg would start with one turn around the pattern.  My original plan was to get a ‘check out’ with an instructor on field who has experience with the Cirrus but our schedules weren’t going to align.  Instead I did a lot of reading on the characteristics of the Cirrus and I’d have to wing it.  Turns out I adapted to the Cirrus and in a hot minute and felt right at home.  My first reaction was that the side stick was quite responsive and a real joy to fly. The view was outstanding and it was a very comfortable plane to be in.  Very similar to the Columbia 400 I’d flown.  After my pattern I turned it over to Matt.  We were going to depart towards Boston for a tour, then head south to Long Island and then New York.  The controllers took good care of us with class B clearances in both Boston and then New York.  We headed up the Hudson River, over the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and past Manhattan.  This was exactly where Cory Lidle and his instructor Tyler Stanger lost their lives in an SR-20 that was attributed to a tight turn to the east while being too low over the river with an easterly wind.  We had the same model plane and the easterly winds that day.  However, we chose to stay higher than the city buildings and turn towards the west to reverse course, away from Manhattan. It was easy to see though how they got themselves in that situation they did.  From Manhattan it was GPS direct to Fredrick Municipal to refuel us and the plane, and take a look at the AOPA headquarters.  There was a 18kt quartering headwind for Matt’s first landing but he put it down with ease.  It is amazing how quickly we could both become fairly comfortable with the airplane.  It made me wonder, are we missing something?  Lunch was the obligatory Maryland crab cakes.

From there it was off to Charleston West Virginia.  We still had the strong easterly wind that would make westward progress difficult.  The next day was calling for rain toward the south, but ice and snow  further north so we decided to spend day one working primarily to the southwest towards warmer air and further from the icing conditions. That way, if it was IFR in the morning we would still be able to continue on IFR. The leg from Fredericks to Charleston was uneventful albeit with 40kt headwinds.  We enjoyed the scenery as the farm land turned into low rolling hills.  Another landing in Charleston with strong winds, and again very comfortable with plenty of crosswind authority.  Time for dinner and rest.

Day Two Frederick to Dallas (Saturday)

The first leg of the day was from Charleston to Dewitt Spain in Memphis.  We departed into a few light cumulus clouds but it quickly turned to VFR.  Enroute we happened to notice Jackson County Airport (1A7) and couldn’t turn it down.  We canceled with Center and off we went.  The approach for this airport was around a hill and down a river valley.  The airport comes into view on the base to final turn.  We both had a go at a pattern there then we stopped for a few minutes to walk around.  The airport was meticulously maintained but not a soul was in sight except for a few fishing boats floating by on the Cumberland River.   We turned back on course and headed for Dewitt Spain in Memphis.  There was a high overcast so we picked up an IFR clearance but we broke out by about 1800′ on the approach.  Dewitt Spain sits just east of the Mississippi River.  We got hold of the crew car and headed to town for lunch at the Rendezvous Restaurant. Rendezvous is located in the basement of a building in downtown Memphis and entrance is in an a back ally.  It turned out to be quite an experience with authentic Memphis BBQ and lots of vintage airline memorialized adorning the walls.

Our second leg was to Dallas Executive airport.  There was a building overcast as we moved further west. About the last hour and a half of the trip turned into solid IMC.  Matt and I took turns hand flying it for some practice and experience even though we could have been using the S Tec autopilot.  It was in Texas that I realized my drivers license was back on the copier at Dewitt Spain. Bummer. It was in Dewitt Spain where I realized that Wells Fargo had deactivated my credit card because they had sent me a new one, or so they said. Bummer number two. Fortunately though, Wells Fargo had a solution;  just wait until Tuesday when I could go into an Wells Fargo and get cash. Fail. Anyway, a good reminder to carry multiple cards on trips.

Continued below…

Day Three, Dallas to Las Cruces New Mexico, or so we thought (Sunday)

We were going to make this one the longest leg of the trip.  After a less than stellar stay in Dallas we wanted to make it non stop to Las Cruces, New Mexico.  The winds that had been haunting us during this trip decided to greet us in full force.  We were able to stay reasonably low initially to duck some of the wind but as we got further west we were forced to seek out a smoother ride higher.  About 100nm from El Paso we started watching our ground speeds and fuel reserves on the engine monitor head in the same direction quickly.  It was going from Las Cruces being an easy run with a 45 minute reserve to squeaking into El Paso with 30 minutes.  We fought turbulence, and up and down drafts for the last hour or so of our flight.  At one point we had ground speeds around 70kts (meaning we had 80kt headwinds) and down drafts of 2000 feet per minute.  Oye.  We diverted to El Paso despite my burning desire to escape Texas.  This leg was 5.1 hours and the longest of our trip.  We landed with about a 45 minute fuel reserve. In smooth air the Cirrus could comfortably handle a 5.5 hour leg at economy cruise.  We had a good look at weather after lunch and decided to call it a day.  Severe turbulence, icing, and wind sheer just wasn’t in our future that night.  While walking out to get our things from the plane a Cessna 206 hobbled in with a blown main tire. I’m not sure what caused it but I’d suspect it had something to do with landing in a 45kt winds.

Another long day and we were still in Texas.

Day Four, El Paso, San Diego then home to Long Beach (Monday)

While sorting through the weather and the go/no go decision the day before we realized we’d have an hour advantage as we headed west into the Pacific time zone.  This was the deal sealer for us to stay in El Paso.  If we were wheels up at 6:30am we could make it comfortably into Montgomery at 10:30.  The Socal Tracon tour started at 11.  We departed El Paso just as the sun came over the horizon.  I love this time of day.  We sailed along at 145kts watching the long shadows of night slowly fade into desert heat as the sun rose across the barren landscape.  The ride was smooth which was was our bounty for waiting out the winds the day prior.

The desert is full of safe landing sites so we decided to fly this leg fairly low and explore the scenery.  We had spent the previous few legs flying IFR and taking advantage of the great equipment aboard the Cirrus but it was refreshing to just fly using not much more than a compass and our eye balls.  Of all the legs this was by far my favorite.  The view from the Cirrus is one of the best and it is quite a pleasure to handle so it is hard not to turn and bank constantly to look at the scenery.  We arrived into Montgomery at around 10:30.  Perfect timing for the Tracon tour.  We managed to beat everbody else there and reveal the new plane to the pilots as they filtered in one by one.  Success!

After the tour we completed our last leg home.  I’m always particularly vigilant on the last leg, as it seems to be the best way to beat complacency.  We checked in with Long Beach tower to find one of my students was working the tower frequency which was a nice welcome home.  Doug, the new was there before we had 883PJ parked in its spot see to his new baby and he seemed very pleased.  I’m still not sure though if he realizes how nice of a plane hes got hold of.

Final Thoughts

Since the Cirrus made its first introduction into the aviation world in the late 90′s it has been haunted by a bad reputation.  It seemed that it was commonly flown by pilots who’s bank accounts exceeded their piloting abilities.  After spending about 24  hours and 2489nm in one while going coast to coast I couldn’t be any more pleased with the aircraft.  It is the head of its class, able to fly at 145kts at 9.5gph while carrying about 900lbs of useful load.  It is designed for pilots with a wonderful, comfortable and modern cockpit layout.  However it is very easy to see how the plane can build excessive confidence in the pilot.  It is easy to fly and the equipment available rivals that of many jets.  At the end of the day though, the SR-20 is still a normally aspirated single engine piston aircraft with a decades old engine design.  It has no business being anywhere or in any environment that a Cessna 172 shouldn’t be in.  Taking this into consideration will yield a very safe aircraft that will make a pilot very happy.  Philip Greenspun, a Cirrus owner has a great article on many of the caveats and attributes of the Cirrus.  I consider it mandatory reading for any pilot transitioning into these planes.

Thanks to Matt Hiller for making the trip a lot of fun and keeping the laughs going non stop.  This trip really was enjoyable even though the conditions could have been better.  Matt also took the majority of the photos from this trip which really turned out great.