Interested in owning one of the world’s smallest jet airplanes? Take a look at the Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet and see what makes it special.
A new Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet costs $2.85 million (or $3.6 million for the latest G2). Pre-owned examples fetch $2.5 million on average, and as little as $1.9 million. The single Williams FJ33 turbofan gives a max cruise speed of 358 mph (311 kn) and an average fuel burn of 50 gph.
As an avgeek and corporate pilot, I remember when Cirrus announced the development of their very own personal jet, one they simply dubbed “The Jet”. Now known as the SF50 , the jet is famous for its high performance and ability to carry four adults, two children, the pilot, and all their luggage whilst having operational costs similar to a turboprop!
Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet Overview
The Vision Jet is a v-tailed, single-engine, low-wing VLJ (Very Light Jet) made by US manufacturer Cirrus Aircraft. The SF50 was announced in 2006 during the famed Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association meeting in a rather unique way: they announced a new jet and that was it.
Indeed, potential customers had no idea what the plane would even look like. No mockup or concept design was ever shown to them by the company and deposit holders were mailed small bits of an aircraft drawing as a sort of jigsaw puzzle designed to pique their curiosity and generate considerable news coverage (including by the likes of Flying Magazine, Aviation International News and Aero News Network).
The whole thing came together in June 2007.
Cirrus Aircraft rented out a hangar at Duluth International Airport to begin developing a prototype. However, development ran into funding issues and the SF50 was quite nearly never born.
Determined to see their aircraft enter service, Cirrus first attempted to raise finance at the NBAA, before contracting Merill Lynch later the same year to help them create a new company, which would raise finance for the continued development of Cirrus’ personal jet. This pushed back the prototype roll out date back until this was sorted.
Funding was secured but initial flight tests revealed major aerodynamic flaws that needed to be rectified. These were eventually fixed and the aerodynamically-improved prototype made its first successful test flight on March 24 2014. Two subsequent prototypes also made their first successful flight the same year.
The plane received its type certification in October 2016 and its first deliveries were made before the year was out. Mass production to meet the SF50’s near-300 orders began shortly thereafter
Since then, further variants of the plane have been developed. Cirrus announced the G2 version (which can carry more payload) back in 2019 and the G2+ (which has an extended range, more payload and better takeoff performance) in 2021. The plane’s construction is mostly carbon-fiber, with seamless wings and aluminum control surfaces.
The V for Vision in the airplane’s name comes from its v-tail configuration. SF stands for ‘single fan’, having been changed from the previous designation ‘SJ’ (‘single jet). Interestingly, it is the world's only civilian single engine jet.
The Vision SF50 is designed to be flown by a single pilot, and has space for six passengers. With a maximum range of 1,275 nm (1,467 miles), it is designed for short trips rather than transatlantic flights.
Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet Specifications
The Vision Jet is a family of small business aircraft, and is one of the smallest personal jet aircraft to be FAA type certified and in mass production. The plane won the Collier Trophy in 2018 for just this fact.
How Much Does a Cirrus Vision Jet Cost?
Flying and maintaining an aircraft is one of life’s heaviest expenses. For the budget-minded, the SF50 is a compact personal jet ideal for business and/or family trips.
If you are in the market for a new G2 variant, expect to part with $3.6 million. Used examples of the older SF50 start at around $1.9 million, with an average price tag of $2.5 million. Remember to add interest costs if you require finance.
After that, there are the annual operating costs to take into account. Some of the expenses involved in running an airplane depend on the number of hours flown, such as fuel, crew salary, aircraft storage, maintenance and overhaul, and insurance.
According to aircraftcostcalculator.com, the cost per year if your Cirrus Vision Jet flies for 450 hours annually comes to $744,326, which is very frugal indeed for a jet airplane.
In both cases, the Vision SF50 is the cheapest jet in its class, something aviation publications like Flying Magazine, Airport Journals and Business Jet Traveler tout as the number one reason to buy the aircraft.
Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet Performance
Does the Cirrus Vision Jet have what it takes, to deliver you to your business appointments or whisk your family away on that well-earned holiday?
Let’s have a look at the Vision Jet’s engine, cruising altitude, cruising speed, fuel burn, range and cabin accommodation, as well as her unique features, to find out.
What Engine Does The Cirrus Vision Jet have?
When someone says ‘single-engine jet’, we may think of a military fighter. Single-engine civil jets are not all that common, but the Cirrus Vision Jet is just such an animal. Its power plant is a single, aft-mounted Williams FJ33-5A turbofan, atop the rear fuselage.
US jet engine manufacturer Williams International, which started out as Williams Research Corporation in 1955, announced a mission to widen the use of turbine engines by making them smaller and more accessible. They have certainly done that with the engine that powers the Cirrus Vision Jet.
The FJ33 is a smaller version of the earlier Williams FJ44 variant. The dry weight of the FJ33 is under 300 pounds. Its overall diameter is just 18.36 inches; its length 38.43 inches. It can produce a maximum of 1,846 lbf static thrust.
The SF50’s engine is controlled by a FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control) which monitors and manages engine start, and ensures the best possible fuel efficiency in flight. The FADEC also manages engine load and performance, to give the longest possible period between overhauls.
To accommodate the single engine, the Vision Jet has a v-tail configuration, with the exhaust from engine discharging between the two fins of the v-tail.
If the SF50 were to have a conventional tail configuration with horizontal elevators and a vertical rudder, the engine exhaust would aim directly at the vertical stabilizer. Instead, the Cirrus Vision Jet has two ruddervators, one on each fin.
The ruddervators - the concept was designed by Polish engineer Jerzy Rudlicki, in 1930 - combine the functions of elevator and rudder. To get to grips with how the ruddervators work together to command pitch and yaw, we must first think about how conventional control surfaces do their jobs.
Yaw & Pitch
To yaw a conventional-tailed airplane to the left, the pilot depresses the left rudder pedal, which moves the vertical rudder to the left, causing the airplane’s nose to swing to the left. Pilots do this to maintain coordination in a turn, so passengers do not feel any sideways force.
To pitch up the nose of a conventionally-configured airplane, the pilot pulls back on the control column or sidestick, causing the left and right elevators to deflect upward, pushing the tail downward and thereby raising the nose as the airplane rotates about its center of mass.
With a v tail configuration, each of the two ruddervators works partly as a rudder and partly as an elevator. Keep in mind that, if the left ruddervator hinges down, it must also move left. If it hinges up, it must also move right.
To yaw the airplane to the left, the left ruddervator moves down and left, and at the same time the right ruddervator moves up and left. Thus, the up and down forces are equal and opposite, so the pitch remains unchanged and the airplane yaws to the left.
To change pitch, both ruddervators move upward (to pitch the nose down) or downward (to pitch up). Remember, if the left ruddervator moves up, it must also move right. Moving the right ruddervator up also moves it left, so the two lateral forces cancel, and only the pitch changes.
How Fast Is The Vision SF50?
The single FJ33-5A turbofan can power the SF50 up to cruise in around twenty-eight minutes from take-off. Once at cruise level, the maximum cruise speed available is 311 knots (358 mph), although a more economical 300 knots is generally preferred.
In good conditions, the Vision Jet returns a fuel burn of 50 gallons per hour, which is extremely low for a jet aircraft, and only around double the hourly fuel consumption of a large family road vehicle.
Given the much greater distance the Cirrus Vision Jet can carry you than your car can cover in the same time, this airplane is a pretty economical and environment-friendly way of transporting people from place to place, as far as fuel consumption is concerned.
Interestingly, the SF50 is one of the few jet aircraft currently in production that doesn’t have a speed brake. This is done deliberately as both the landing gear and flaps work in tandem to slow the aircraft down in flight and when landing.
The CAPS system (more on that in a minute) also helps with redundancy too.
How High Does The Cirrus Vision Jet Fly?
The cruise ceiling for the Cirrus Vision Jet is FL310, or approximately 31,000 feet depending on local pressure variations. In the flight levels, about transition altitude (18,000 feet in the US) everyone flies on the same altimeter setting, 29.92 inHg.
The automated air conditioning and pressurization system will maintain the cabin pressure altitude at 8,000 feet in the cruise, making conditions comfortable for passengers and providing the pilot with sufficient oxygen to maintain good cognitive function.
How Far Can The Cirrus Vision Jet Fly?
In calm winds with a full fuel load, the maximum range of the Vision Jet is 1,467 miles. With passengers and baggage, the range is reduced to around 1,100 miles. Tailwinds in the cruise can increase range, so time spent planning the cruise altitude can pay dividends.
The range of the Vision Jet SF50 is more than sufficient to get you from New York to Des Moines, Iowa, or Tampa, Florida.
Safety and the Cirrus Vision Jet SF50
Safety is clearly the number-one priority for Cirrus. Like the SP22 before it, the Vision Jet features some truly remarkable, pioneering safety systems that set a high bar and a challenge to other manufacturers.
Single-engine airplanes make us think of safety because, if you lose an engine, you don’t have any other engines left. In the early days of commercial jet travel, airliners had to have at least three engines to be certified to cross oceans, in case of engine failure in flight.
Aside from the reliability of modern jet power plants such as the Williams FJ33-5A turbofan, the Vision Jet has two very reassuring safety features up its sleeve. The first of these is the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System also known by the acronym “CAPS”.
Cirrus Airframe Parachute System
In its upper fuselage, above the cabin ceiling, the SF50 has a parachute capable of supporting the weight of the entire airframe, passengers and payload. In an emergency, the parachute can be deployed using a red overhead handle.
When the handle is pulled, a compact solid-fuel rocket fires and the whole canopy deploys within a few seconds. Here is a video showing CAPS deployment during flight testing of the Vision Jet.
The idea of the CAPS system began in 1985, when Alan Klapmeier, co-founder of Cirrus, was involved in a mid-air collision that caused severe damage to his airplane. Klapmeier lost three feet of wing, including half an aileron.
Amazingly, he managed to land his aircraft safely. Sadly, the other aircraft crashed and the pilot was killed.
Klapmeier set about developing CAPS, originally for Cirrus’ propeller-driven airplanes. Since then, CAPS has been deployed over 120 times, saving a number of lives.
It was found that safe use of CAPS depended on proper pilot training on when to deploy the parachute, and when not to. Such training is now an integral part of pilot preparation for flying the Vision Jet.
At the time of writing, the most recent CAPS deployment was the first actual emergency use on an SF50, and occurred near Kissimmee, Florida in 2022. The aircraft landed in a heavily wooded area and, although one unfortunately sustained serious injuries, all three occupants survived.
Safe Return Emergency Autoland System
The second of the Vision Jet’s notable safety features, available on the G2 version, is the Safe Return Emergency Autoland system. Imagine an airplane that can land itself, without any human input at all - just push a button, and the aircraft does the rest.
The Safe Return Emergency Autoland system is exactly that. Like something from a children’s story book, this really is a ‘land’ button you can press, and the airplane will safely land itself, choosing the best landing airfield and navigating its own way there.
The system is activated by a single, prominent red button in the cabin ceiling, accessible to passengers. Should the pilot become incapacitated, a passenger can activate the system. A voice synthesizer announces that the safe return autoland system has been activated, along with messages on the cockpit’s glass panels.
Should a passenger activate the system inadvertently, the pilot can easily take back control by disengaging the autopilot, then re-engaging it in whatever mode is required.
With the Safe Return system activated, the GPS system uses the airplane’s precise location to identify nearby terrain, and plots the best path to avoid high ground. The system also uses satellite weather data to navigate around potentially hazardous storm clouds.
Having considered terrain and weather, the system then takes into account fuel remaining, winds aloft and winds on the ground to select a suitable airfield for landing. The system keeps passengers informed of how many minutes remain until landing.
The safe return system automatically sets the transponder to the emergency code of 7700, so emergency services can be ready for arrival, and ATC can clear conflicting traffic. The airplane establishes itself on final approach, extending flaps and gear by itself, controlling descent rate and speed via the auto throttle.
On short final, the Vision Jet compares its radio altimeter reading to GPS information, to get a precise altitude for flare throttle retard just before touchdown. The system applies braking after touchdown, bringing the airplane to a complete stop, allowing passengers to exit.
Cirrus sees the Safe Return Emergency Autoland system as a first step toward fully automated flight, indicating full flight autonomy is a future goal that they are pursuing.
Cirrus Aircraft Safety Precautions
Many SF50s are piloted by their owners. In order to get type-rated on the SF50, an instrument-rated private pilot will take a flight with an instructor, who will gauge the pilot’s instrument skills and design a student-tailored training program.
This consists of an at-home course that the student can complete at their own pace, followed by five sessions in the SF50 simulator as part of a two-week, on-campus course which ends with a final check ride. There is also an optional course in jet-readiness.
85% of pilots pass the course at the first try, and are then cleared to fly 25 hours on the SF50 with an instructor beside them. Every instructor in the Vision Jet project maintains up-to-date, real-world flying experience on the type.
SP50 pilots are encouraged to undertake recurrent training, which is included in the aircraft service contract. Even though the aircraft has such a high level of automation that it can be hard to see the need for recurrent training, Cirrus Aircraft urges pilots to keep their skills fresh.
The Cirrus Vision Jet SF50 Experience
The cabin of the Vision Jet is the most spacious among VLJs. In fact, it has the largest cabin in its class and can seat six passengers plus a single pilot, by using the right-hand pilot’s seat for one passenger.
Access to the cabin is via a clamshell door on the left side of the fuselage. There is an emergency exit on the right side.
With a cabin width of 5.1 feet and height of 4.1 feet, cabin space may seem limited. However, the jet has a deceptively spacious cabin thanks to a range of seating configurations that are available which help make the best use of space. The seating is modular, so the configuration can easily be changed as required. Configured for maximum seating, the rear row comprises three seats.
The next row has two seats with a gap between, and then there are the two pilot seats. Unsurprisingly, the airplane has neither a lavatory nor a galley (although some VLJs, such as the HondaJet HA-420, do have a toilet compartment).
For business use, the 4-seat configuration gives a greater sense of space. That’s the two pilot seats, then two side-by-side, forward facing seats in the second-row position. The cabin appears surprisingly roomy in this configuration.
Proceeding around the exterior of the aircraft, you will see the external baggage compartment door on the left side; seeing that it is properly closed is part of the walk-around check. You will also notice the two carbon-fiber ventral fins below the ruddervators, almost like a smaller, inverted v-tail.
The ventral fins are linked to the yaw stability augmentation system. Like the yaw damper fitted to passenger airliners such as the Boeing 737, this system automatically reduces yaw to enhance passenger comfort.
In the cockpit, pilots will find a state-of-the-art, 5-display touchscreen Garmin G1000 avionics suite, which of course makes the Safe Return Emergency Autoland possible, as well as providing large, clear primary flight displays and navigational information. The SF50 has auto throttle as standard.
The primary flight display shows a computer-generated landscape rather than conventional brown below the artificial horizon. The enhanced vision system, complete with infra-red camera for use at night, has its display on the same panel, to the right of the PFD.
Single-pilot operation can involve some pretty stressful phases of flight with high pilot workload. The Cirrus Vision Jet has a useful feature allowing air traffic control clearances to be played back, in case you miss something the first time around, such as a squawk code or radio frequency.
Instead of control columns, the Cirrus Vision Jet has sidesticks. Unlike Airbus airliners, however, the SF50 is not a fly-by-wire aircraft. The sidesticks are linked mechanically to the control surfaces - the ailerons, and the ruddervators at the rear.
One advantage of mechanically linking the sidesticks is that, if there are two pilots flying the airplane, each will feel the other’s sidestick inputs directly, so they are never in any doubt as to what control inputs are being made by the other pilot. That enhances crew awareness and improves safety.
Forward visibility for the pilot is excellent, with a wide field of view, both side-to-side and up-and-down, afforded by the sizable windshield. Lateral view is at least 200 degrees, according to pilots who have experienced flying the airplane.
The windshield is not heated, but can be de-iced from a nozzle near the nose. In icing conditions, the engine anti-ice system can be activated. Similarly, the jet uses pneumatic boots to remove any ice that may build up on the wings or tail.
The NEXRAD composite radar gives the pilot a clear display of weather conditions for approach and landing.
Cirrus SF50 Passenger Experience
From a non-pilot perspective, the SF50 is one of the few production aircraft of its size I’ve ever seen to have inflight wifi, which is controlled by a center console (that also helps with things like inflight entertainment, cabin lighting etc.)
The Cirrus Vision Jet’s seats are leather upholstered and the cabin offers four USB ports, allowing you to charge your phone, laptop or whatever. This allows, as Business Jet Traveler, to make business travelers much more productive whilst traveling. Multiple climate zones also help to do the same.
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood