Review of Magellan 4040 and 4250

As I documented in my recent trip to Palo Alto, I had expected to use the Garmin 296 car kit to navigate my way through the silicon valley area. Unfortunately, the Garmin proved to be too smart for me. It also requires transferring map information of areas you expect to travel from a PC into the limited memory of the Garmin 296. After a few hours of unsuccessful attempts to get the Garmin 296 to work (I admit, I didn’t have a manual handy, but come on, I’m a software engineer!), I drove down to a local Costco and picked up a Magellan 4040.

Magellan 4040

My first impression was WOW. And this device only cost $299 (at Cotstco)? How can that be! The 4.3″ touch-screen slim Magellan 4040 is extremely easy to use. Entering addresses is a piece of cake and it provides voice-prompted turn-by-turn directions to anywhere. It also has millions of Points of Interest including the essential Starbucks in case you couldn’t spot one in the corner of the current road you’re on. It contains maps for US, Canada and Puerto Rico without the need to transfer anything from a PC (although this is common among all the portable car GPS systems, it was a pleasure to see when compared with the Aviation GPS systems).

Coming from airplane avionics and equipment pricing, the price of the Magellan is hard to believe. At $299 it’s less than 1/4th the price of a similar device for aviation. Even built-in car navigation systems are generally $1,500 – $2,000 and often provide less functionality. The Magellan kit includes a suction-cup based windshield mount. At first, I assumed the suction cup would be relatively weak and cumbersome to work with, but the device has a latch that when clipped hugs the windshield so tight it’s nearly impossible to pry off and it’s rock solid. The included car charger is also great and it senses when the charger is turned off (usually because the car is turned off) and will automatically turn the device off after 30 seconds to conserve battery when your car is off.

Although the built-in rechargeable battery should be good for about 2 hours of continuous operation, I rarely used it on battery power because most of the time it was in my rental car connected to the cigarette lighter.

Bluetooth and Speaker Phone Included

One of the major surprises was that the Magellan 4040 included bluetooth wireless and the ability to act as a speakerphone for any bluetooth enabled phone. That was a welcome surprise, but I figured there is little chance that this little unit could actually do a good job with sound quality and practicality of using it as a phone. I was dead wrong. Amazingly, the speakerphone was loud and clear on both ends of the conversation. Pairing my phone was relatively easy, although bluetooth in general is still a pain to synch.

Upgrading to the Magellan 4250

This past weekend, I noticed that Costco had put the Magellan 4250 on sale for just $349, so I promptly went back and upgraded my unit. The interface of the 4250 is nearly identical, however, it’s a slightly more attractive unit that is a little bit slimmer and provides built-in voice recognition capabilities. You start the voice recognition (which is impressively always on) by saying “Magellan”. It responds with “Say Command”. You can say things like “Nearby Restaurants” and a list of the nearby restaurants appears with assigned numbers. At that point you can say “one”, or “two” to make your selection. It works very well because of the limited vocabulary that it has to recognize.

Magellan 4250

Overall, I have been extremely impressed by the Magellan GPS systems and pleased with my purchase. Both devices seem to be solid and a great addition not just for a traveler, but also for the day-to-day use for any car that doesn’t have a built-in navigation system.

If there was one complaint I would say the system was a bit slow when using the touch screen to move the map. That was my experience with both the 4040 and the 4250 units. It just doesn’t seem to follow your finger as fast as one would expect when you want to move the map to look around an area. It would also be nice if you could choose the information that it displays on the main screen (such as your current speed, elevation, etc.). I was unable to find an option for that.

But if you want a nice portable GPS for your flight bag, this is the way to go. Don’t bother with the car kit upgrade of the Garmin 296.

Cessna Buys Columbia Aircrafts

As I had mentioned in an earlier article, a few months ago, Columbia aircraft declared bankruptcy.  It appears that last night at 8:30pm Cessna was awarded the winning bid for Columbia Aircraft’s assets.  Cessna plans to continue sales of the Columbia 350 and 400 under the Cessna brand (new names will be the Cessna 350 and Cessna 400). This is great news for the industry, for Columbia owners in particular and even for Cirrus owners.  Competition is a very good thing and it’s the main driving force that makes sure companies innovate, provide good service and continue to take care of their customers.

I am very surprised at the low winning bid of just $16.4 million for an asset purchase.  This is a huge win for Cessna too as it would be expected that they’ll sell at least 100+ planes per year.  Even if each plane provides a 20% margin, Cessna should be able to recover their purchase price within two years.  Not a bad deal all around.

I look forward to seeing Cessna improve the Columbia sales process and improve the service experience for Columbia owners. If pilots considering a new single-engine piston have good choices, we’re going to start seeing better innovation from the industry.

Review of Garmin 296: A Backup for my Glass Cockpit

Like many youngsters in the US (I’m not young, but I can dream), I’m extremely spoiled with techno gadgets.  I have 4 iPods.  Yeh, 4.  I have a Shuffle that’s used for decoration, a Nano for the occasional workouts (they happen once or twice a year), a Video which is now outdated and my new iPod Touch (it’s insanely great btw).  Even in both of my cars I have integrated GPS and laser-guided cruise.  Laser guided cruise is the best thing since sliced bread.  It’s the closest thing you can get to a car with auto-pilot.  You select your speed and the car maintains the speed by decelerating (braking) or accelerating as necessary to avoid obstacles.  And of course, in the SR22, the whole glass cockpit with dual GPS units and autopilot has me spoiled even when flying.

As I was marveling over all the electronics in the the SR22, I realized that my eyes don’t know where to look for the traditional instruments in case something went wrong.  If I had an electronics failure, not only would I have a hard time flying the plane, I’m almost certain I would struggle with airspaces and long-distance navigation.  It’s not that I don’t know how, but I’m sure the skill becomes rusty over time as the dependence on the glass cockpit increases ever more.

With all the redundancy in the Cirrus planes, I figured I still have to have a portable battery-based GPS as a backup system.  There are just too many pilot stories that start with “I lost my entire electrical system.”  So I decided on the Garmin 296.  The Garmin products seem to be extremely popular in aviation and were the most highly recommended systems by everyone I spoke with.

The Good

The Garmin 296 is a color GPS with a number of very attractive features including a movable map, terrain awareness, airspace information, airport information (including frequencies, runways and other info) and even an instruments page.

Garmin 296 Unit

The 296 gets some getting used to, but as you learn to navigate and input information into the device, it provides back a wealth of information.  This single device provides everything a lazy pilot (A.K.A. me) needs to get to his or her destination without the use of the plane’s GPS and MFD units.

 Garmin 296 Instruments

The instrument page recreates the essential instruments needed to fly the plane.  Although one must be reminded that the GPS can only provide ground tracking speed and the attitude indicator at best will be providing delayed information, the overall feeling of the Garmin 296 is that of comfort and safety, knowing that if all else fails, there is a good alternative way to track one’s position, even in the dark. 

 Garmin 296 Screenshot

Like the Garmin 430s, you can program your route of flight into the Garmin 296 with all the waypoints that you intend to use.  The movable map provides the familiar magenta-colored lines indicating your intended direction of flight, complete with airspaces, heading indicator, ground speed and distance and time to your next waypoint.

This unit has a TON of functionality.  You can save flight plans, checklists and all kinds of information I currently have no use for.  I found that most of the functionality that I regularly use in the Garmin 430s is also available in the Garmin 296.  That’s very comforting.

The Bad

The user interface of any product that has anything to do with the aviation industry is absolutely aweful.  The Garmin 296 is no exception.  It’s as if we are stuck in the 80s.  A collection of awekward buttons allow you to navigate the many screens and enter information into the system, but it’s painfully slow and unintuitive.

I purchased the car expansion kit for the Garmin 296, which is an additional $249 add-on kit.  Save Your Money!  Do not under any circumstances buy the car kit.  It’s a great idea: use one device in your plane and once you get to your destination, take it with you to your car and use it on the road.  Except the car kit comes with only a 128MB memory stick and software that needs to be installed on your computer to transfer a limited set of roads to that memory stick.  I couldn’t get the software to run successfully on my Vista laptop and eventually I gave up and bought myself a Magellan Maestro 4040 from Costco for just $299.  For the road, the Magellan is awesome!  It’s far superior to the Garmin and at $299, it’s a no-brainer.  I’ll do a separate review on that unit.

Price of the Garmin 296 is unexplainably high.  At $1,195, the Garmin 296 is the entry-level color GPS unit that Garmin offers.  The Garmin 396, which adds weather capability (requires a separate subscription) costs $1,795 and the Garmin 496 which adds a couple of other useless bells and whistles is over $2,000.  As a backup unit, the Garmin 296 is definitely the way to go as the extra bells and whisles will almost never be used, even in the case of an emergency.

Bottom Line

The Garmin 296 doesn’t meet my expectations of quality, ease of use and price.  It’s overly expensive, not very intuitive and way bigger than it needs to be.  But, it also has all the features necessary to give me the comfort I was looking for as a backup system.  I know I can rely on it to avoid airspaces and get me to my destination in case of a complete electrical failure in the SR22.  Since I haven’t used any other aviation GPS units, I’ll have to give the Garmin a thumbs up.  It provides everything you need in an ugly, unattractive and expensive package.  I will be keeping it in my flight bag.

Scottsdale to Palo Alto in the SR22

As the founder of a software company and a huge tech enthusiast, I’m always intrigued by the number of startups in the Silicon Valley area.  Every time I visit the area, I’m jealous of the environment and advantages that companies starting in Silicon Valley have over companies anywhere else in the world.  I decided to spend a week in Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley, to hang out and see what it’s like.

Being eager to try out my new Cirrus on a long-distance trip, I decided this would be a great solo trip to test out both the plane and my new piloting skills.  Planning for the trip, I realized Palo Alto’s airport has the smallest runway I’ve ever seen at 2400 feet.  Of course, with the SR22’s landing ground roll of about 1200′, that leaves plenty of space for an experienced pilot, but I’m not an experienced pilot, so the runway length was a definite concern.

Palo Alto Airport

I decided to practice short approaches at my home airport, Scottsdale (KSDL), noting the amount of runway space I use.  Since Scottsdale’s airport has an 8,200′ runway, I had never noticed how much of the runway I eat up on my landings.  The first time I took note, I realized I had used 3,000′.  Wholly smokes!  That would put me right into the bay at Palo Alto.  I definitely needed another try.  But as soon as I got serious about landing in a short distance, it seemed easy to get out at less than 2,000′, so I felt I was ready for my trip. 

I had my fantastic CSIP instructor (he’s reading this, so I have to be complimentary ;-) review my flight plan.  Once he gave the thumbs up, I felt good to go.

The 3-hour 15-minute trip itself was extremely smooth.  I obtained flight-following from ATC and listened to XM radio to pass the time.  One thing I realized is that for long trips, you definitely need sun-screen!  The sun can easily burn your skin and there’s not much you can do to avoid it.  I ended up using my Cirrus shades on the side window to avoid burning (I know, I know, that’s not a good idea when you’re flying VFR, but having traffic watch and flight-follow and peaking every now and then for traffic, I felt it was a safe decision).

The Approach into KPAO!

The airpsace around KPAO is a huge mess.  It’s surrounded by Class D, C and B airspace that makes it quite tricky to get in there.  But having done my homework, I was pretty confident that my route of going East of San Jose (Class C) and turning left into Palo Alto would be ideal (see the red lines in the image below).

Palo Alto airspace 

Unfortunately as soon as I had descended to 4,500′ near San Jose, ATC informed me that I needed to go West of San Jose, not East and that I should make an immediate turn to the West (see the green lines in the above image).  That through a big monkey wrench into my plans, especially since the terrain West of San Jose is quite mountainous.  I decided to climb to 5,500′ to avoid the terrain and slowed down to about 100 knots.  I then obtained clearance through Moffett Federal’s airspace, but the clearance was given at or below 1,500′.  Here I was at 5,000′ less than 3 miles from Moffett’s airspace and I needed to descend fast.  So I put on full flaps and slowed to 80 knots!  I dropped like a tank (thankfully!) and reached the desired altitude of 1,000′ as I finally spotted Palo Alto’s tiny runway.

I was cleared straight into Runway 31, so I enjoyed the scenery as I passed over Stanford’s campus and set myself up.  The approach couldn’t have been better.  I landed right on the numbers proud that I could easily make the 2nd turn off of the runway when all of a sudden my engine quit.  I had previously put the engine into idle as I had landed but in my haste of avoiding airspaces and the change of plans by the ATC, I had forgotten to turn on my fuel boost.  Turning on the fuel boost is part of the pre-landing descend checklist.  Why that would cause the engine to quit, I have no idea.  It seems that there should be more room for error, but I informed the tower that I’ll need more time on the runway as I have to restart my engine.  They were cool with it and fortunately, the engine started right up on the first try.  Lesson learned!

The trip was very enjoyable and a big confidence builder as it was the first time I had taken a long 3-hour solo trip, about 550 nautical miles.  One pleasant surprise was that my entire trip used only 57 Gallons of fuel, leaving me with 35 gallons (or about 2 hours worth) still on-board.  Not bad at all!

General Aviation Safety and the Cirrus SR22

Prior to the start of my flight training, I was clueless about general aviation safety. When I began researching the SR22, I was extremely surprised that in the short lifespan of the Cirrus planes, they have already been involved in 26 fatal accidents (with 52 deaths). That number still runs chills through my body. To put things in perspective, there are only about 3,400 Cirrus planes ever made. With 26 fatal accidents, that means 1 in approximately every 130 Cirrus planes have crashed killing at least 1 person on board. That’s a sobering statistic. 1 in 130.

Up until this point, I had operated under the assumption that “flying is safer than driving.” This is true when comparing Commercial Airliners against the general driving population, but it’s far from it when comparing General Aviation to car accidents. That was all news to me. I decided I needed to do a lot more research on General Aviation Safety and Cirrus planes before becoming an owner.

Pilot Safety Discussions

If you listen to or read any forum messages where pilots discuss fatal aviation accidents, inevitably someone will blame an incompetent and inexperienced new pilot for making fatal mistakes and they move on. With the Cirrus owners in particular, lots of people blame the “new, young, rich entrepreneur” who gets a plane for all the wrong reasons. They claim that the Cirrus airplanes have become the new “must-have toy” for these rich people who have no business flying and they end up killing themselves and their passengers. Some people even blame Cirrus marketing for going after new pilots.

Unfortunately, such pilot discussions are rarely supported by any studies, statistics or proof to support the case against new pilots. These type of posts appear to be a way to convince the writer him or herself that fatal crashes happen to “other people” who are not competent. Since much of the pilot discussions blamed pilots with my exact background, my research into this matter became even more intense. I was afraid that if the overall statistics are “bad”, then for me (new, rich entrepreneur) flying a high-performance plane such as the Cirrus might be much worse.

Reading the Accident Reports

I decided to dig up some accident reports to see for myself. The first place to get some factual information is the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The NTSB investigates every aviation accident and makes the reports publicly available and searchable on their web site. That’s very cool. Anybody can read the accident reports for themselves. Here’s how to find every Cirrus accident report the NTSB has in its database:

  1. Go to this page: http://www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/query.asp
  2. For the “Make/Model” field, type “cirrus”
  3. If you prefer to just see the fatal accident reports, you can choose “fatal” under the “Injury/Severity” field
  4. Click Submit Query and your search results will show

Reading the Cirrus accident reports, it becomes obvious that the problem is not just with new inexperienced pilots. There have been fatal accidents with nearly all kinds of pilots with the largest group of fatal accidents (16 of the 26) having greater than 400 total hours of flight experience. So Cirrus Marketing to new pilots and the new group of rich entrepreneurs who need to have the latest toys are not to blame.

Unfortunately, that still was not very comforting.

Statistics Don’t Lie

The next question I had was about how the Cirrus planes compare to the General Aviation average accident rates. Once again, the NTSB provides excellent statistics about General Aviation accidents. Here’s a summary of the number of fatal accidents per 100,000 hours of flight for the past 20 years:

General Aviation Fatal Accident Rates

The graph shows that in recent years fata accidents happen at a rate of 1.3 for every 100,000 hours of flight. The NTSB also puts out an Annual Review of Aircraft Accident Data. The latest copy of this report is for calendar year 2003 (where are the newer ones!?!). This is a very well-prepared document with more statistics than you ever cared to know about General Aviation. It’s an excellent source of information and I highly recommend that every pilot, new or veteran, at least review this information:

NTSB’s Annual Review of Aircraft Accident Data for 2003

I’ve gone ahead and summerized some of the highlights of the report here.

1 in 2,000 Pilots Die Every Year

One of the first graphs you’ll find in the NTSB Annual Review of Aircraft Accident Data is this one:

General Aviation Accidents per 1,000 Pilots

There’s no good story to tell here. According to this graph, approximately 1 in every 2,000 pilots die every year due to a fatal aviation accident. If you plan to be a pilot for 40 years of your life, the chances during your lifetime (assuming the stats don’t improve) is about 1 in 50! Ouch. That hurts.

It might be comforting to know that according to the National Safety Council’s general population Odds of Dying by any accident during the average lifetime, is about 1 in 22. As a pilot, you’re barely nudging your overall chances in the wrong direction. So don’t worry, you’re in good company. Even if you weren’t a pilot, your overall chances of dying from an accident is 1 in 22.

Fatal Accidents by Type of Operation

Unfortunately, it doesn’t get much better for us casual personal & business pilots. Since the overall GA accident statistics also includes corporate jets, which have a signficantly lower accident rate, breaking it down by type of operation brings the casual pilot accident rate closer to 2 fatal accidents per 100,000 hours of flight:

GA Accidents by Type of Operation

Notice how low the grey bars are. It appears that Corporate/Executive fatal accidents are closer to .1-.2 per 100,000 flight hours making corporate/executive traveling significantly safer than cars. So if you can afford it and you don’t enjoy the flying aspect of being a pilot, hiring a professional pilot for your corporate plane might be a better way to go.

Accidents by Type of Aircraft

One additional set of statistics worth examining is the rate of accidents based on the type of aircraft:

GA Accidents by Type of Aircraft

As you can see from the chart above, Amateur-Built experimental planes have the worst safety record, with nearly 4 times as many fatal accidents as a single-engine piston airplane.

Back to Cirrus Planes

With all the General Aviation safety statistics in hand, you’re probably still wondering as I was how the Cirrus stacks up to the GA average accident rates. Fortunately, or unforutnately, depending on how you look at it, the Cirrus planes don’t stand out in either direction. With about 1.44 fatal accidents per 100,000 flight hours during their lifetime, the Cirrus planes are slightly higher (but statistically insignificant) than the average Single-Engine piston, which stands at 1.41. The big problem is that you’d expect that Cirrus planes would definitely stand out and have a signifcantly lower fatal accident rate. After all, the Cirrus planes have a lot going for them:

  • Significantly newer fleet compared to average age of GA planes
  • CAPS Safety System (parachute)
  • Modern Design for Safety and Control
  • State of the Art Avionics

Yet, with all the advantages that Cirrus planes should have, the fatal accident rates so far have not been better than average. There is a lot more Cirrus-specific accident information and statistics on COPA. There’s also an excellent presentation that was given by Rick Beach which is available on COPAPedia. COPAPedia is a Wiki for COPA members with information about everything from maintenance to safety to operations and even accessories. If you aren’t a COPA member and you’re considering a Cirrus plane, it’s a great place to do extensive research and meet other Cirrus pilots.

In Rick’s presentation, he also points out that the CAPS system was activated 13 times with 10 saves (saving 22 lives) and 3 CAPS activations being counted as failures (2 fatalities). However, the overwhelming evidence points to the CAPS system working well in emergency scenarios where the pilot loses control of the aircraft. So when in doubt, pull the chute, ask questions later when you live.

Conclusion

It was disapointing to find that Cirrus planes don’t appear to be any safer than the general single-engine fleet of planes. That brings the safety responsibility back to the pilot. The bad news here is that a lot of pilots don’t think it can happen to them and they blame fatal accidents on stupid pilots. The problem is that we’re all stupid pilots every now and then. The key is to not be in denial. General Aviation is not as safe as driving. Period. It’s about 7 times more fatal (about the same risk as motorcycles). But the risks are significantly less when flying in good weather during the day, in VFR conditions and in familiar territory. Night accidents are almost twice as likely to result in fatalities and forget about it if the weather is bad. Overconfidence contributes to the bad statistics. The plane is a small part of the accident story, which is why the Cirrus planes have not been able to save the pilots who make bad decisions. That’s too bad. I think more can be done.

The thing to remember is that it can happen to you. Make good decisions and when in doubt, pull the chute!

More Research

If you’re looking for additional information on aviation safety, here are some great sources:

Tax Benefits of a Business Airplane

It’s nearly impossible to get quick answers when it comes to aviation tax questions.  Everybody seems to be afraid of providing “generic” tax information since it might not apply in all cases.  So I’ll try to share what I’ve found.  Keep in mind, I’m not a tax expert, so use this information with a grain of salt (and consult an aviation tax expert):

  • If you plan to use your airplane mostly for business (> 50%), you can buy it in a wholly owned subsidiary for your business to maximize tax benefits.  This new business would essentially be in the business of “renting” its only aircraft to you or your business.
  • Once you have the airplane under the business, each hour the plane is used must be “rented” from your new entity.  Generally, the rental is either by your business (for business use) or by you (for personal use).  Your aviation tax expert can prepare the rental agreements and rates for you.  In this arrangement, your new business would have a small amount of revenue.
  • While airplanes are frequently financed on 20-year terms, they can be depreciated on a 5-year schedule and each depreciation dollar would essentially be an expense of this new entity.
  • Additionally, the finance charges of the loan as well as maintenance costs of the plane are all expenses to the business entity. 
  • The expected outcome is that the new entity would have a substantial operating loss (mostly due to depreciation in the first 5 years).  Since these losses would negatively impact your income, you wouldn’t pay income taxes on the depreciation of the aircraft and other expenses (although you do pay taxes on the rental revenue, which is substantially less).   Depending on your tax bracket and income, you could save X% of the purchase price of the airplane in a 5-year period, where X = [Your Top Tax Rate].  In some cases, this could be as high as 40%!  That’s pretty incredible savings.  In fact, if you finance your plane on a 20-year loan, and you are in the 40% tax bracket, it’s possible to be upside down in the first 5 years (meaning you save enough money on taxes to make all the payments and then some).  After 5 years though, you’re on your own, so plan ahead for the following 15 years too.  Nobody said this was going to be cheap!  Also, keep in mind that if you don’t make more money than the depreciation expense of your plane, your tax benefit will be limited.
  • Section 179 depreciation guides for small businesses with less than $500,000 in assets also allow for even faster depreciation of the plane.  Up to an additional $125,000 of depreciation, although this is combined with any other assets the company has.  Also, this depreciation expense starts to go away after a business has $500,000 in combined assets, making the purchase price of an airplane relatively important if you want to take advantage of this additional benefit.
  • There are State-Specific Aviation tax guidelines that can greatly impact your purchase.  I don’t know any of them, so do your own research.

There is a significant tax benefit of owning a plane for business.  The savings are driving more and more businesses to own aircrafts.  It was the final straw to convince me to go ahead and make the plunge for my business.

One additional tax issue to consider is the timing of your purchase.  If you purchase an aircraft prior to September 30th of a given year, the depreciation schedule is more favorable than if you make your purchase after September 30th.  It’s something along the lines of 20% instead of 5%.  Although that’s partially offset by the depreciation in subsequent years for those who purchase after September 30th, so keep the September 30th time in mind when making a purchase.

A great source of information and a potential tax advisor is a company called Aviation Tax Consultants.

Cirrus SR22 Doors – Are you Kidding me with This?

During my research of the SR22, one of the recurring complaints I had read about is that the doors are hard to close.  In fact, if you do any level of research, you’ll find that the SR22 door latches have been a common complaint since the first generation of the SR22.  With the SR22 Generation 3 having just been released in May of ’07, I was confident that I wouldn’t have to worry about this 6-year old problem.  After all, the G3 contains “over 700 improvements” and one of the 700 improvements is about the door!

To my surprise, doors are still a problem in the G3.  A very serious problem!  From the first day I started my training, the passenger door latches gave us problems, often requiring 3 or 4 attempts for them to latch properly.  I know many SR22 owners who are reading this will dismiss this complaint as “lack of experience with the SR22 doors,” but keep in mind, during my training, a Cirrus Certified instructor was sitting in the passenger seat and he has over 400 hours of instruction in the Cirrus, probably in 30 different SR22s!  Plus, how much experience should be required to simply close a door?  My own door was not nearly as problematic, usually closing on the first try, but still requiring a second attempt to close every 4th or 5th time I flew.  Even that is unacceptable if you ask me (I know, I know – nobody asked me).

One of the biggest problems with the doors is that there is no easy way to tell if the door is properly shut until the engine is revving > 1500 RPM.  At that point, you hear an obvious whistling sound from the wind generated by the propeller.  This sound is the alarm bell that the door was not shut properly.  Unfortunately, often times at 1500 RPM, you hear this sound during takeoff while you’re on the runway.  It happened to us three times during training.  We had to abort the takeoff, shut the door then continue.  For readers who are thinking you should have caught the door issue during runup, I have this to add: a) during training, runup was usually done once in a 3 or 4 hour session, but we’d often open the door after landing for some fresh air and b) we caught the door issue nearly a half dozen times during runup.

It gets worse.  Even when the door is shut and appears to be latched properly, the door can still unlatch during flight.  That too happened to us twice during training!  Both times with the passenger door and the transition trainer seated in the passenger seat.  The first time it happened during climb.  We were 10 minutes into a 2-hour trip when all of a sudden there was a loud bang and you could hear the gushing air coming in.  We had to to immediately slow down (the Emergency procedures call for a speed under 90 knots), then scramble to find a nearby airport to land.  The diversion easily cost us 30 minutes and almost a heart attack for a rear-seat passenger.  The second time, it happened on descend, in the last 10 miles of another two hour trip.  It doesn’t make much sense for the door to unlatch during descend since the outside pressure becomes higher than inside pressure, so if anything, it should shut the doors more tightly.  But there we were, 10 miles from our destination, flying smoothly for nearly two hours when both the trainer and I jumped out of our seats from the loud sound.

So what’s the deal?  With more than 3,000 aircraft built and being on the 3rd generation of the SR22 with over 700 improvements, why does this problem still persist?  It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.  How hard could it be to get the doors right?  I’ve never heard of a car door that doesn’t shut right (unless it’s been in an accident).  Even Columbia seems to have figured out how to close a door properly on the first try and they’ve built fewer than 600 planes and are still in their “first generation.”  With the average new SR22 costing nearly a half million dollars, you’d think there’s enough money in there to build doors that shut on the first try.

I should add that even with all the door problems,  I never felt in any kind of danger.  The doors never sprung completely open.  Mostly, the bottom latch would come undone, which caused a half-inch gap to open at the bottom of the door.  But when it did happen, it was extremely annoying and it could be very traumatizing to any passengers.  I’ve decided to modify my passenger briefing to include the following additional statement: if the doors unlatch during flight, don’t panic, that’s part of an advanced new system design by Cirrus Research to demonstrate the plane’s ability to function with open doors.  It’s part of the CRAPS system (as in “craps!  my door just popped open”).