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Clash of the Commuters

How easily influenced are your preferences? And what does it take to make you change your mind? 

After a recent flight I was questioning my own biases and decided finally, to weigh up each contender. To see if my favourite light aircraft had in fact changed after only one flight.

An experienced pilot named Jeff, recently said something that made me reconsider the dream I had forever envisioned – to own a Carbon Cub.

We’ve all heard the saying that if it flies, floats or fucks, you should rent it. That was not his advice. People who say these words lack the sense of passion and adventure that come with all three of the above mentioned extra mural activities. 

Jeff had recently purchased an immaculate Beechcraft Bonanza. Something that put a gleeful grin on his face every time the conversation topic came up. He mentioned one day the advice that he was offered, back when he was still a dreamer like me.

“Make sure the first plane you buy is the last,” he said. You must understand, Jeff is a very practical and prorate man, whereas I’m still young and restless. Nevertheless, I was racking my brain all day. Weighing up the options of a practical 4-6 seater versus the tiny 2-seater cub. I finally decided the problem incomparable. 

Still, Jeff got me thinking, if I did have to pick a 4-6 seater, what would it be?

There are a few obvious contenders between Piper, Cessna, Cirrus and Beech Craft. For the sake of this argument, I’ll stick to what I know. That unfortunately excludes the Pipers.

Still it remains a tough decision to make. Up until a few weeks ago, I had not flown in a Bonanza. I had however heard a lot about it from it’s cult like following. As with any product, the good ones have devoted consumers.

My most recent logbook summary shows that over 900 of my thousand odd hours are on the SR, Cirrus series. The majority of which tallies toward instruction. Although I’m still learning every day, I think it’s fair to say that I have a reasonably good understanding and feel for these aircraft.

The difference in hours goes toward the Barron and the smaller Cessna family of aircraft. Admittedly, those that I had flown, were well used and a little tired at best. You must therefore forgive my incessant bias towards what I view as the Lamborghini of light aircraft, the Cirrus. 

The Cirrus Approach is pretty much all I have exclusively known for the longest time. The all-inclusive service provider that goes above and beyond for its clients. Focused and designed around safety and convenience. 

The first company to place bets on a plan B – the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS). Proven an effective companion to the pilot in a predicament. The BRS Aerospace parachute saving over 400 lives to date.

Each Generation of Cirrus aircraft improving significantly on the last. Incorporating only the best in navigation and technology through a successful collaboration with Garmin. 

The Cirrus is a highly capable machine, a joy to fly and a piece of art in both the hangar and the skies.

This is real life though, and nothing is flawless. Although Cirrus seems to be striving toward perfection, it still has a fair way to go. Starting with something we all love, are the limitations in the bush.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the landing gear is solid enough to take any students’ slam. We’ve managed to put this thing down in some hairy dirt, sand and grass strips too.

The problem comes on the post-flight walkaround inspection. With a low wing profile the leading edges are prone to low shrubbery. The horizontal stabilizer is right in the way of any sizeable pebbles you might pick up on the take-off or landing roll. 

Don’t forget the wheel fairings. Even experienced pilots manage to damage these coverings on the tarmac. Be sure to pick your paint scheme wisely.

Now that’s just the opinion of an adventurous boy from Africa. I’m sure the majority of Cirrus owners aren’t looking for thrills in the bush. Instead, commuting for business or pleasure in places far from remote. And besides, if you can afford the repairs, you seriously have nothing else to worry about in this department.

Next is the glass cockpit argument we hear fairly often. 

“Isn’t it better to learn on steam gauges?”

Sure, The old steam gauges help students grasp a clearer understanding of the mechanics behind each instrument. Learning the fundamentals is something we should all appreciate. But that doesn’t mean you’re learning curve is limited in a glass cockpit.

It just means that should you need to regress to this older technology in your career, you may take some time to adjust. It’s not like transitioning from English to Hieroglyphics though. The same principles apply.

And besides, with technology advancing the way it is, glass cockpits are slowly becoming the standard in aviation. This has more to do with preference than with any substantial argument for or against anything.

You may hear people saying these type of aircraft were developed for the iPad Generation. Big touch screens and dramatically simplified cockpits. Now, this is a topic worth discussing. The next stereotypical argument against Cirrus.

It’s not the first and it won’t be the last. An aircraft designed to get the wealthy commuter flying as quick as possible. Veering further away from the roots of aviation where pilots used paper maps and flew by the seat of their pants.

The argument here comes in the form of safety. How wise is it to promote the gift of flight to those who don’t fully appreciate the responsibility that comes along with it.

Much like the V-Tail ‘Windowmaker’ Bonanza, who promised businessmen can “just step in and fly,” Cirrus too faced an unusual spike in accidents. Again this doesn’t speak to the aircrafts capability as much as it does to the pilots inability. 

In Cirrus’ defence, they have taken the challenge head on, unlike any other manufacturer. Innovating in ways to educate their clients in safer operations of flight, with much success I might add. 

This article started with the problematic decision of one incredible machine over the other. A few weeks ago I wouldn’t hesitate to boldly proclaim my favour of the Cirrus. That was however, prior to stepping into one beautifully kept Bonanza A36TC. 

Looking at the way the engine instruments had been stacked to replicate that of the well know King Air series was the first win in my book for the Bonny.

Mentioning it to Jeff, he pointed out that Beechcraft had designed all of their flagship aircraft that way. To help the development and transition of it’s pilots from the Bonny to the Barron and finally into the King Air. 

Another similarity we discussed was that the Bonny had exactly the same wing as the Barron. This came after noticing the oversized wedge on the leading edge of the wing tip. An aerodynamic addition as a result of the change from a twin engine Barron to the single Bonanza. A large wedge in the leading edge helps compensate for the loss of lift and keep the wing tips flying into the stall. 

Also a low wing design the Bonny is very attractive. It doesn’t store a parachute much to the delight of the older generation of pilots, who believe they don’t need one. To be fair, it also saves on maintenance costs as the chute and ballistics need to be replaced every 10 years. 

This could be countered by the fact that the Bonny has a retractable undercarriage. I’m not too sure how the gear maintenance equates in the greater scheme of things. It could be another factor playing in Beech’s favour. I’ve often wondered what a cirrus might be like with the gear up. Due to added weight issues it has remained fixed. 

So how does Beech get an extra two seats in the back of the Bonny?

The club configuration adds to the comfort of both the passengers and pilot. There is a gratifying feeling of importance for those in the secluded cockpit and a sense of privacy in the noticeably quiet cabin.

I’m not keeping score here but after all those points above, it seems Beech Craft might have the advantage. And we haven’t even got to the point of how she handles off the ground. Flawlessly.

Bear in mind this was my first flight after 3 months. I think you could have put me in a Ferris wheel for the same reaction. Okay, probably not, but hand flying the Bonny for 2 straight hours was the greatest pleasure. 

Going back to Jeff’s point of buying both your first and last plane at once, I say fuckit. I’m too optimistic to think of it as an ultimatum of one or the other. There’s no way a Super Cub won’t be my first aircraft. There’s also the highest possibility that if I ever start a family, the Cubby just won’t cut it. Now that’s a problem for another day. 

As for the battle of the light commuter birds, my mind has in fact changed. Something so concrete, flipped on its head. Beech Craft, I’m a fan. Only until I get the chance to fly something better I suppose. 

Cirrus will always have a place in my heart, but I’m just not a Lambo kind of guy!

Guess you could call me a turncoat. Not a bad prospect if it means I’ll forever be searching the hangars for something new to can get my hands on. 

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