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Cirrus SR22 vs Columbia 400

posted Apr 17, 2011, 2:45 PM by George Finlay   [ updated Oct 8, 2011, 11:03 AM by Nathaniel Cauldwell ]

Fly a turbocharged Cirrus SR22, as we did last month, and you will see Cessna now has real competition for the turbocharged 400, formerly the Columbia 400. The model dubbed G3 (third generation) is available with factory-installed Tornado Alley twin turbonormalizers with published critical altitudes of 25,000 feet. Sure enough we saw absolutely no drop in the 29.1 inches of manifold pressure (mp) showing at sea level all through our climb to FL230. Furthermore, it was very nice to be able to switch on the factory-installed TKS anti-ice system ahead of a climb through a cloud deck with potential for ice. Cessna does also offer TKS as well as the Kelly electric anti-ice solutions, but only as after-market options, and few C400s have ice protection installed so far.

This was only about a two hour flight in close to ideal conditions, compared to many hours I have spent in C400s all over the country in all kinds of weather. But it was enough to whet my appetite for more, and I look forward to getting requests for advanced training from new owners of these swift little birds. Watch your back, Cessna!

Climbing

We were a little below maximum gross weight of 3400 lbs, the day was a little colder than standard, and we maintained 120 KIAS and 1000 ft. per minute or better all the way up at full power, full rich mixture. Fuel burn was about 34 gallons per hour. We cannot say for sure, but it is reasonable to estimate that we were down about 15 gallons by the time we reached cruise. Of course this was a higher altitude than what would be typical for these airplanes on cross-country trips. According to the Tornado Alley supplement (ref#1), at maximum gross weight on a standard day a full rich climb from sea level to FL230 should take 28.3 minutes, burn 16.8 gallons, and take you 74.8 nautical miles from home. The supplement provides guidance for a slower more economical lean-of-peak climb to 18,000 feet, with full rich mixture settings above that altitude. Those figures say a fuel flow of about 17 gallon per hour will result in 600 feet per minute climb at 130 KIAS, which will take 38 minutes, burn 13.5 gallons, and take you 101 miles from your departure point.

Cruising

The G3 has 92 gallons of useable fuel aboard, and at a typical lean-of-peak cruise setting of 17.6 gallons per hour at a more typical cruise altitude of 12,000 feet on a standard day gets you 186 KTAS, according to the book. Put aside 10 gallons for takeoff and climb, reserve a conservative 18 gallons, that leaves you with a cruise endurance time of 3.5 hours, which gets you a good solid 600 nautical mile range in zero wind. That means lunch in Myrtle Beach on the way to Florida should be possible, which is really all anybody wants from these traveling machines here on the East Coast.

How do those figures stack up against the 400? Pretty well. The TCM TSIO 550-C engine in the 400 is designed to be turbocharged, so it regularly carries manifold pressures above 29 inches, typically 35.5 inches in the climb, so it can reach 12,000 ft a little sooner, burning about the same 34 gallons per hour at a full rich climb setting. A typical cruise setting would be 32 inches of manifold pressure at 2500 rpm for a fuel burn of about 18 gallon per hour which gets you about 195 KTAS at 12,000 feet. Allowing 8 gallons for the faster climb, putting aside the same conservative 18 gallons reserve, the 98 gallons of useable fuel in a 400 gets you a cruise endurance of 4.0 hours and a zero wind range of about 750 nm.

We are using 12,000 feet for the comparison in cruise, although they both have built-in oxygen. It has been our experience that whenever conditions permit, most pilots avoid altitudes that require oxygen, especially when there are passengers aboard. Most people do not like stuff on their face or up their noses. If either manufacturer manages to produce a pressurized model, that will be a marketing advantage.

Best of breed?

They both offer, either as standard or optional equipment, all the amenities you expect in a high-end piston single these days: weather datalink, stormscope, traffic, TAWS, approach plates, airways, flight director, platinum engine, WAAS, air conditioning, electronic checklists.

So what distinguishes one from the other?

The airframe parachute. There is no question this was brilliant marketing and it will be a necessity if Cirrus brings a single-engine jet to market. Score one for the SR22.

Doors. Cirrus has stayed with a slam-to-close design with no positive latch or door closed annunciation. Score one for the 400.

Electrical system. The 400 has two equally robust electrical systems, either of which can handle the full load. This is important on an all-electric airplane. Score one for the 400.

Integrated panel. The SR22 was on the leading edge when it first went to the Avidyne PFD and MFD with the Garmin 430 GPS and the Stec 55X. But it has been superseded by the integrated Gamin G1000 including the superior GFC700 autopilot. Score one for the 400.

Solid construction and fine finish details. Cirrus has improved over the years, but if the G3 were a refrigerator, it would still be a Kenmore compared to the 400 asViking. Score one for the 400.

Columbia cut a corner and installed only one GDU 1042 in the 400. Reversionary mode combines all necessary flight information on one display if you lose either the PFD or MFD. But you are hand flying in the event of such an emergency in the 400, since the displays do not include redundant autopilots. In the SR22 the independent Stec 55X is still available for GPS approaches in the event either Avidyne display fails. Hopefully Cessna will put this high on their fix list, but for now, score one for the SR22.

Factory installed TKS anti-ice. Score one for the SR22.

Engine and track data download. This has been available almost since the very beginning from Cirrus and you know it could be logged in the G1000, but is not yet available. Engine data is useful for diagnosis, and tracking data is useful for training. Score one for the SR22.

Speedbrakes. Both are slippery little birds and there will frequently be times in the SR22 when you will wish you could slow down while you go down. Score one for the 400.

Single power lever. There is a link between the throttle and prop controls that automatically increases RPM with MP. There are many who like this convenience and argue that it is safer in case of a go-around or missed approach, which would require the additional step of moving the prop control full forward in the C400, along with the throttle and mixture controls. Others, like me, miss the extra fine control over engine settings that the blue knob permits. So we will score a tie on this feature.

Features that need improvement in both airplanes. In an effort to clean up the cockpit, both manufacturers have buried their breaker panels, alternate air controls, alternate static controls and parking brakes deep in the pilot side foot well, where they are difficult to use and impossible to reach from the right seat. This is dangerous, and the first one to correct this design flaw will have an advantage.

Follow-up article. Cessna claims their C400 is superior to the SR22 turbo because the turbocharger is more robust than the added-on turbonormalizer on the SR22, and because their airplane carries a type certificate. We may look at those claims in the future. In the meantime, as the turbo SR22s fly more hours, we may see more evidence to prove or disprove that claim.

Links:

Cessna 400 PIM

Cirrus SR22 TN PIM

Cirrus SR22 turbo supplement

Cirrus SR22 G3 wing supplement