When Cirrus Aircraft co-founder Alan Klapmeier barely survived a midair collision in 1985, he vowed to put a parachute into all future Cirrus airplanes. By 1999, Alan and his brother, Cirrus co-founder Dale Klapmeier, had created the Cirrus SR20. With a parachute, better visibility, and an ergonomic interior design, it was safer and looked great. In 2001, Cirrus debuted the faster and improved SR22. In 2003, it added a full glass or computer-based Avidyne instrument panel to both designs. The Cirrus series was a “clean sheet” design— new inside and out—the first in 50 years.
In 2003, this Cirrus SR22, N266CD, became the first single-piston engine aircraft with a “glass panel”— fully integrated avionics via computer screens—to be FAA certified. The primary flight display showed basic instrument information like altitude and airspeed. Its multi-function display provided moving maps, communication, weather radar, and other data. Prior to the SR22’s full Avidyne panel, this technology had only been available in commercial and multi-engine aircraft, or as separate components. As an all-new design, the SR22 became the instant best seller of its class, energizing the general aviation market.
This Cirrus SR22, N266CD, is the first single-piston engine aircraft to be certified by the FAA with a “glass panel.” A “glass panel” is a computer-based and integrated avionics suite of flight instruments, consisting of a PFD (primary flight display) and an MFD (Multi-Function Display) and other precision vision, navigation, and communication technologies. A sophisticated Avidyne avionics display replaced legacy analog instruments and offered an array of aircraft and flight information and resources at the pilot’s fingertips. As such, N266CD marked a new era for general aviation aircraft capability, technology, and safety. Isabel Goyer, Editor-in-Chief of Flying magazine in 2012, wrote that the Cirrus SR22 “is the most sophisticated single-engine civilian airplane ever built and by a long shot." For several years, N266CD was Alan Klapmeier's personal plane.
The Cirrus SR20 and SR22 changed the face of general aviation when introduced in 1999 and 2001 respectively with completely new exterior designs of all-composite material, improved aerodynamics and expanded windows, ergonomically designed interior based on a side yoke control and new instrumentation, and, in the SR22, the integrated flight instrumentation/avionics systems. In addition, as an added safety feature, a ballistic parachute system was integral to the design. When Alan Klapmeier survived a mid air collision in 1985, he vowed any plane he and his brother Dale designed would have a parachute recovery system. The Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) has sinced saved many lives.
The Klapmeiers founded Cirrus Design (now known as Cirrus Aircraft) in the basement of their family's rural Wisconsin barn in 1984 to develop and sell their first design, the VK-30 kitplane, which was introduced to the market in 1987. The experimental plane with streamline design and composite materials looked decidedly different from the standard general aviation form but did not sell well. The follow up single turbine engine five-place ST50 was expensive; only two were made. The brothers regrouped with a less expensive and simpler piston, four-place idea - the SR20. The goal was to bring to market a new, safer, and sophisticated general aviation aircraft. After decades of the same old designs, a declining pilot population, and the hint of new technologies trickling down to personal aircraft, general aviation was on the cusp of a new era.
The Cirrus SR line represents the first comprehensive and transformational redesign of personal aircraft in over 50 years. The Cirrus SR22 has been the best-selling general aviation airplane every year since 2003 and is the recipient of many aerospace industry design and safety awards. In 2014, Alan and Dale Klapmeier were inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.