Cirrus vs. Cessna: A student pilot’s comparative analysis by Patricio Puga

A few weeks ago I visited 8 flight training centers in San Diego Southern California (SoCal) area. I wanted to get my private pilot’s and IFR certification at a sound school and, at the same time, to have the opportunity to enjoy training in modern, safe and reasonably new aircraft. Unfortunately these requirements were hard to meet given the fact that most schools are equipped with 20 to 30 year old aircraft, mainly Cessnas 172.

Nevertheless in one of my visits, I had the opportunity to be at a training center whose fleet specializes in Cirrus. The time and effort dedicated to the previous visits was appropriately spent as I was able to quickly determine the structural differences. The next step was to ask myself the following questions:

  1. Why do most schools use only old Cessnas instead of newer, more sophisticated aircraft to train student pilots?
  2. Why is Cirrus utilized, as a training aircraft, in just one of many flight schools in SoCal?

The answers to these questions are depicted in the following paragraphs:

Cessna 172R Skyhawk, aircraft general characteristics:

Despite being a glass cockpit Garmin 1000 fully equipped airplane, the few available units in the schools I visited were 1982 to 1985 models with the previously equipment installed during the last few years. Maintenance was solidly reported to be up to date on these 122 Ktas maximum cruise speed aircraft. Their certified ceiling is 13,500 ft and have a take off and landing distance of 1,685 and 1,295 ft respectively.

Cirrus SR20  basic characteristics:

Its cockpit contains a factory assembled Garmin Perspective built in system. The training aircraft are mainly 2007 to 2009 models which have a 155 Ktas cruise speed. Their certified ceilings are 17,500 ft and allow for take off and landing distances of 1,478 and 853 ft respectively. Maintenance is accurately performed at a top tier center in Montgomery Field.

Once you sit in both aircraft you immediately notice that:

  1. Cirrus SR20 has a better visibility toward the front than the Cessnas 172R due to a lower panel.
  2. It comes with two side yokes instead of a center stick (Diamond) or center yoke (Cessna)
  3. Cirrus contains an airframe parachute called CAPS which in the event of a midair collision or other disaster, can float the plane and its passengers down for a 1,500 fpm landing on the ground and stands as instrumental safety difference.

Training costs, however are also marked by a difference. Cessnas’ flying time is usually 30 to 35% cheaper that Cirrus costs. Answer to question 1 above was obtained.

Given the aforementioned basic observations it was not difficult to make a decision predominantly weighing safety and technology, I chose to train with Cirrus and continue to enjoy the outcome of my decision. Fewer people weight safety on top of price. Answer to question 2 above was obtained.

Now that I am a student pilot I have discovered other features that make flying this aircraft a joyful and safe moment. Aside from the parachute, the Cirrus has a fair number of pro-safety features such as 1) angled firewall on the G2 models to encourage skidding rather than crunching on a nose-first landing, (2) four-point seatbelts (with airbags), (3) highly redundant electrical supply. Thanks to a “split-airfoil” wing design, in which the inner portion of the wing has a higher angle of attack than the outer portion, the Cirrus gives more of a stall buffet warning than many airplanes. The outer portion of the wings, which are in front of the ailerons, are still flying and permitting the pilot to control roll with the yoke, even as the inner sections of the wings may be stalled and creating a warning buffet. This is one of the advantages of composite construction.

Finally, the indispensable complement to the joy of flying these docile modern machines is a highly experienced and professional instructors team found and Coast Flight Training center who are guiding me to proficiently obtain my private pilot license shortly.

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