By Hank Gibson, Gold Seal, CFI, CFII, MEI
The Cirrus factory, a mythical kingdom that a lucky few are able to enter and partake. Lo, I am here to say that, contrary to some, it is not a fairy tail conjured up by some rather imaginative pilots. No, it does exist in the bustling metropolis of Duluth, Minnesota. I was there recently for the Cirrus Standardized Instructor Program, training to become a CSIP. It was an exhilarating and exhausting experience, but I came out with everything in tact, thus able to be known from henceforth as an official CSIP. Here’s a little bit about my experience.
You have a few options on how to get to Duluth. The cheapest and possibly easiest would be flying into Minneapolis, renting a car, and driving two and a half hours to the shores of Lake Superior. I elected to fly into Duluth proper. You have two airlines that provide service to Duluth, Delta (which I recommend) and United. You have to go through Chicago with United and I believe Detroit if you are on Delta.
As far as where to stay, if you don’t plan on going many places besides the hotel and the airport, look for a hotel that offers an airport shuttle. You really don’t need a rental car. If you stay downtown, everything is within walking distance and the shuttles can take you to the airport and back. I stayed at the Radisson downtown, which I was very pleased with. They were very accommodating and my room offered great views of Lake Superior. They have a rotating restaurant on the top floor with tasty, but pricey, cuisine. There is also a business center on the first floor, plus a Pub at street level.
Downtown Duluth is pretty cool. It has what’s called a Sky Walk that connects a lot of the buildings to allow people to walk during the winter without getting frostbite. This opens up many restaurant options and some nifty little local coffee shops.
I spent a good amount of time studying the SR22 manual along with whatever information about the Garmin Perspective I could find. I feel the preparation I did beforehand made the training go much smoother than if I had just gone in cold turkey. So, I was ready for my first morning.
I took the hotel shuttle to the factory for my training. First walking into Cirrus, you are greeted by Mike, the very jovial and helpful front desk guy. He handed me a very official looking Cirrus badge and gave me the low down of the place. He answered any and all logistical questions I had, then promptly handed me a menu and asked what I wanted for lunch. Mmm, pizza. I was settling in already.
The training began at shortly after 8 each day. My instructor, Mark Egan, was fantastic. If you decide to go up to Cirrus for some factory training, request Mark if you can. He was extremely knowledgeable and was a fantastic teacher. The great thing about the ground training was that it was very much like a conversation between two pilots, not an instructor grilling a student. He was very thorough in his teaching and answered all my questions, clearing up some confusion I had about the Perspective system.
The overall feeling I got about Cirrus was mostly from Mark. His friendly personality and excellent teaching made me feel very comfortable and not nervous at all. He also showed me around the facility a little bit. On my tour, I was able to see a mockup of the Cirrus Vision Jet (anticipated release date: 3 years, I was informed). I was impressed with the VLJ. Unfortunately, I was unable to go over to the actual assembly building and tour it.
After some extensive ground discussions covering a lot of information on the Perspective, the performance charts, electrical systems and many other details, it was time to go fly.
Though I had read extensively about the Garmin Perspective (and flown a Garmin 1000 a lot), this was my first actual Perspective experience. My assumptions about it were correct. It is awesome. The Garmin Control Unit streamlines everything about the system, saving time and many turns of a knob. Not being used to it, I found myself at first wanting to use the FMS knob to input information into the system. After Mark corrected me a few times, I fell into the groove of using the GCU.
The flying consisted of a lot of instrument work, approaches, and failures. Having two AHRS and two ADC computers makes simulating failures a little bit more difficult. If you fail one of the computers, the system is so smart, it automatically reverts back to the second computer. This causes the instructor to have to go in and physically tell the system to use the failed computer.
The GFC 700 autopilot is worth every penny. By far, in GA aircraft, it is the best autopilot I have ever used. The way Garmin integrated it with the Perspective system is ingenious. Needless to say, I’m a fan.
My Cirrus factory experience was top notch, overall. The best time to go would probably be sometime after March and before late September. I got lucky and we had very mild weather, but I don’t expect that to continue every year. I came for training and left feeling like a new member of the family. Here’s to you, Cirrus, for being great at what you do.
How it Started
One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.
It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.
The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.
First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).
At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.
Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.
Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.
In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.
More about Randy here: https://www.flyhpa.com/team/randy-delong/
Would you like more information?
Send us a message below.