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Mon, Jul 23, 2007

Cirrus Unveils Light Sport Aircraft At Oshkosh

Say Hello To... The SkyCatcher-Catcher?

Security was tight around the green-tarped aircraft, with rumors abounding as to what was beneath. Was it an update on an existing Cirrus? Was it something new? Cirrus employees wearing T-shirts that loudly proclaimed "Security" had their arms crossed as they surveyed the crowd.

So when the tarp was pulled back -- following opening comments from Chairman and CEO Alan Klapmeier about the next step for Cirrus in continuing to make aviation more affordable, available, and fun for new pilots -- its bright yellow and white SR Sport (SRS) LSA shone brightly in the blue sky.

The SRS is based on the European Fk Polaris, which is lighter, faster, and not in alignment with the FAA's LSA specs - yet. After the craft's "Cirrus-ization," as Alan put it, it will confirm to LSA standards -- which include, ironically, slowing down the lightning quick European version.

Declared Klapmeier, "This is a great start and it's a great plane. It looks good and is a lot of fun to fly."

"It's a great trainer," he added, "and will be fun to fly even if you fly another craft."

Manufacturer Fk Lightplanes has a 17-year history in light plane manufacturing. With operations in Poland, the Klapmeiers foresee the manufacture of their plane remaining in Poland, with assembly in the US -- a model followed by other vendors of foreign-sourced planes.

For the past four years, Cirrus evaluated two-seat planes from European manufacturers -- the center of development for this type of aircraft.

"The relationship we have developed with Fk Lightplanes allows us to rapidly offer cost efficient, sporty, entry-level aircraft for sport and recreation enthusiasts and basic training," said Klapmeier. "And our worldwide service and support infrastructure will make the SRS even more appealing."

Cirrus has more than 170 Cirrus Authorized Service Centers worldwide; 142 domestic and 31 in 14 international countries.

Said Fk Lightplanes President Peter Funk, "We are excited to be working with Cirrus on this project ... and proud to be associated with the company."

The goal is to have the first planes off the production line in about a year. Although unable to offer specifics about the final price of its newest family member, brothers Dale and Alan Klapmeier anticipate it will be competitively priced, in the $100,000 range.

A composite construction low wing craft, the plane will include a Cirrus Airframe Parachute System sourced from BRS (the Fk14 already has this feature as standard) and will use a Rotax 912 engine -- allowing Cirrus to continue offering single-lever power control throughout its entire line (no mixture knob.) Preliminary specs also include electric flaps, removable wings, a large baggage compartment and one-piece cabin, a fuel tank system outside of the crumple zone, low stall speed, height of 6.9 feet, length of 18.7 feet, a wingspan of 29.8 feet, and interior width if 45 inches.

In terms of performance, it will have a fuel capacity of 18.6 gallons, a fuel burn of 3.8 gallons per hour, take 100 LL fuel, and have a useful load of a minimum of 400 pounds.

One of the changes will include adding a step to the plane for easy access (and, Alan noted only somewhat jokingly, adding drag to help slow the plane down to LSA speeds), and moving from finger brakes to toe brakes, which American pilots see as more highly desirable.

Alan Klapmeier spoke about significant issues facing aviation, particularly bringing more pilots to the arena, and how the SRS and all LSAs -- including Cessna's newly-announced SkyCatcher entrant, are all very good for the industry in expanding the market.

"For years we have talked about how we, as an industry, needed to introduce more people to flying," said Alan. "We believe Cirrus has been quite successful at opening the doors of aviation through our current SR product line. The SRS is yet another example of how seriously we take this responsibility, providing a high customer value product that is easier to fly, more comfortable, loaded with safety features - all at an extremely affordable cost."

Added Dale, "We are better off in this market to have lots of very healthy companies with very good designs out there... We want to bring back fun to flying. We want to bring kids back to the airports (watching planes)."

To that end, Cirrus also announced it will donate its first production SRS, arriving in about a year, to EAA for its Young Eagles Program.

EAA President and AirVenture Chairman Tom Poberezny, in his comments thanking Cirrus for its donation, innovation, and support of kids, called the company the "keeper of the flame." What better endorsement?

FMI: www.cirrusdesign.com, www.fk-lightplanes.com

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