The Cirrus Vision Jet is among the newest personal private jets flying, and requires only one pilot to fly it.
The $2 million plane allows pilots to fly farther and faster with minimal additional training.
Proponents say it's the perfect alternative to the airlines because of jet's low operating costs, ease of use, and versatility.
Most perceptions of private aviation include chartering an expensive plane and spending thousands of dollars for just an hour of flight time. But a growing market in aviation is for personal private jets, planes that are small and simple enough that they can be flown by one person while being cheaper to operate than traditional jet aircraft.
One of the newest personal private jets on the market is the Cirrus Vision Jet. Having debuted in 2016, the aircraft comes in at a mere 30.7 feet long and 5.1 feet wide, making it one of the world's smallest and cheapest private jets.
The base model of a first-generation Vision Jet costs just under $2 million with direct operating costs under $1,000 an hour. And that includes fuel and maintenance costs, according to Nassau Flyers, a Vision Jet operator based on Long Island, New York.
The entry-level aircraft is a jack-of-all-trades. The aerial equivalent of a luxury SUV, it's ideal for loading up the family and flying down to Florida for the weekend, while a road warrior can use it to reach remote destinations and be home before the end of business.
The pandemic has only strengthened the case for aircraft like the single-engine Vision Jet with 73 models delivered in 2020 alone, the most of any business jet in its class, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.
I went for a ride in and saw why it's the perfect plane for the post-pandemic world.
Nassau Flyers, a high-end flight school at Long Island's Republic Airport, operates a Cirrus Vision Jet for a local businessman.
It's the flagship of the flight school, which prides itself on an all-Cirrus fleet on training aircraft for its clients as a Cirrus Training Center. Cirrus' propeller aircraft are widely considered to be among Cadillacs of piston aircraft for their speed, comfort, and safety.
Source: Nassau Flyers
The tiny jet just barely stands out amid the school's fleet of Cirrus aircraft, and that's part of its appeal. The Vision Jet doesn't require a large hangar to be stored in and can easily fit in the individual hangars used by Cessnas, Pipers, and other small aircraft.
Cirrus built the Vision Jet as the next step up for flyers of its piston aircraft. There are numerous similarities between the two types, including the cockpit configuration and the aircraft's wings.
Most pilots at Nassau Flyers who set their sights on the Vision Jet often start off on the Cirrus training aircraft before making their way to the jet. The owner of this one uses it for business, visiting multiple remote cities in a single day.
The Vision Jet is unique since it's a single-engine aircraft. Most jet aircraft have two engines, one on each side, but the Vision Jet only has one engine, on top of the fuselage, which lowers operating and maintenance costs.
Our pilot for the day, Sean, normally files the jet by himself, as the owner is still in training.
The owner previously used an SR-20 series aircraft to fly around the region for business but was able to expand his business up and down the Eastern Seaboard and beyond once he acquired the Vision Jet.
In addition to the pilot, the jet seats three people in this configuration, with two passenger seats in the back and one in the cockpit next to the pilot. Three more seats can be added in the back, bringing the total to six (not including the pilot).
With only two seats in the back, there's plenty of legroom and room for luggage, golf clubs, or a pair of skis to fit in the cabin. This is with the copilot's seat all the way back.
There's even enough room for a makeshift bed on longer trips.
The cabin is 4.1 feet tall so there's not much room to stand up but the curvature of the fuselage makes the cabin feel larger when sitting as a passenger.
An exterior-accessible storage compartment can also be found in the back of the aircraft.
A carry-on bag can fit back here or a few smaller bags.
Powering the aircraft is a Williams International FJ33-5A engine, offering 1,846 pounds of thrust. It's not a lot compared to an airliner but will get the jet to a top speed of around 300 knots with a range of about 800 miles.
Unlike traditional two-engine jet aircraft, pilots flying the vision jet need only a private pilot's license and an add-on instrument rating. To fly a twin-engine aircraft, a multi-engine rating would be required.
Once pilots earn their private pilot license and instrument add-on rating, training on the jet is quick and can be done at one of Cirrus' facilities, where it's about a two-and-a-half-week process to get a type rating. Some choose to build more hours in the piston before moving to the Vision Jet.
And like all Cirrus aircraft, the Vision Jet is equipped with a parachute to be deployed in case of an engine failure or other extreme circumstances where the aircraft cannot land safely. The chute is in the nose and totals the plane when deployed.
Newer models also offer a "Safe Return" add-on wherein the autopilot will land the plane if the pilot is unable.
I hopped in the copilot seat for the short hop north since the best views are from the front. There are two seats in the cockpit, but the plane needs only one pilot, so anybody can sit up there.
Our initial flight plan was to go from Long Island to Martha's Vineyard, but shortly before the flight our pilot noticed that there was bad weather and we changed our destination to Glens Falls, New York, near Lake George, at the last minute.
The speed at which we were able to change our entire plan for the day without delay was a testament to how versatile the aircraft is. With the possibility of a second wave to this pandemic, some states may go back into lockdown and travel plans may need to change at a moment's notice.
Sean would be doing all the work this flight including flying and talking to air-traffic control. The plane is designed with this kind of flying in mind, evident in the fact that starting the engine on this $2 million plane is as easy as starting a car, with just the press of a button.
Nearly everything in the cockpit is controlled by touchscreen, and all checklists, charts, and airplane systems can be displayed on the two high-definition screens. There's also a full autopilot system with everything except auto-throttle, which is available on newer Vision Jets.
Unlike commercial airliners, the overhead is rarely used on the Vision Jet.
The jet is flown using a side stick, a popular Cirrus feature. Buttons on the stick can disengage the autopilot, control the trim, and activate the radio when it's time to talk to air-traffic control.
It took less than five minutes from hoping in the plane to taxing out to the runway.
It was a rainy day on Long Island, so we filed an instrument flight plan to head north. The Vision Jet doesn't have windshield wipers but any rain quickly flew off as we accelerated forward.
Take-off speed was 100 knots, and then we climbed at a rate of 1,500 feet per minute. It wasn't before long that we were above the clouds on our way to 19,000.
The flight time to Glens Falls was only 45 minutes. By car it would take four hours.
The display screens showed our elapsed flying time, estimated time to the destination, and how much fuel we were burning per hour. For this flight, it was 90 gallons an hour with the Vision Jet holding just under 300 gallons.
As the Vision Jet climbed into the upper altitudes, we encountered some icing on the wings but the aircraft's boot system quickly got rid of it.
The skies were empty for our flight, a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic, so we were given clearance to head straight to Glens Falls. After 20 minutes in cruise, it was already time to descend.
There's Lake George just off of the wing.
Glens Falls doesn't see commercial service, so the only option for a business traveler heading there would be to drive or take an Amtrak train. The closest commercial airports were an hour away in Albany, New York, or Rutland, Vermont.
Commercial airports account for only a fraction of the total number of public airports in the US. According to Don Vogel, the owner of Nassau Flyers, there are about 500 commercial airports compared to 5,000 public-use airports, and all the Vision Jet needs is jet fuel and a few thousand feet of runway.
The low speeds that the Vision Jet is capable of meant we could make a close-in approach, about two miles from the runway. Whenever Sean turned the plane, a blue curved line would show the new direction of flight.
And just like that, 45 minutes after we left Long Island we were a world away. Case in point, Upstate New York had begun opening weeks prior while Long Island was only a week into the first phase.
Another perk of flying private is getting to use the private terminals, which are normally empty and don't require going through security checkpoints.
I sat in the back for the next flight, a quick 25-minute hop to Worcester, Massachusetts. Flying commercial between these two cities is impossible.
The seats are narrow but comfortable leather nonetheless. There were all the creature comforts including USB charging ports.
110v AC power outlets.
Personal reading lights and air-conditioning.
There was even a drop-down monitor that a laptop could be connected to, or even loaded up with Netflix.
WiFi wasn't installed on this plane but newer models can have it. SiriusXM Satellite Radio is also a popular add-on.
We quickly departed Glens Falls for Worcester without delay or need to refuel. The three-hour car journey between the two cities was reduced to 25 minutes of flying at 15,000 feet.
Though there was no flight attendant to serve snacks, there was plenty of legroom on the flight and the cabin is automatically pressurized. At the aircraft's top altitude of 28,000 feet, the cabin altitude is 8,000 feet.
The windows on the Vision Jet are also oversized, allowing for great views from the back of the plane.
They don't have shades but are UV-tinted, a feature found on newer aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Worcester was below the clouds, so an instrument approach would be required to access the airport. For the Vision Jet, it was nothing the autopilot couldn't handle.
As the autopilot brought us down to the minimum altitude for the approach, the outline of the runway was shown on the primary display so that Sean could hand-fly if needed.
At 600 feet, the runway came into view and it was smooth sailing all the way down.
After a smooth landing in Worcester, we headed back to Long Island. Visiting those three cities in one day would've meant at least 10 hours of driving and we landed back in New York before lunchtime.
"It's really the availability of flight and the availability to go places, like the experience that we had today," Vogel, a licensed pilot, told Business Insider referring to the benefits of having a Vision Jet and flying it yourself.
"The big issue with the pandemic and with the airlines is that they have cut back," Vogel continued. "If you're going to Madison, Wisconsin, or someplace ... Morgantown, West Virginia, or even down to Knoxville, those flights are disappearing."
Airlines are reducing frequencies as they can't fill the same number of flights they once could.
"We definitely see an opportunity that I think more and more people are going to be looking at personal transportation," Matt Bergwall, Cirrus' director of the Vision Jet product line, told Business Insider.
"We are already seeing a little bit of a demand for people who are just calling us up and saying, 'Hey, I don't want to actually learn how to fly. I see that you have this airplane. Tell me a little bit more,'" Bergwall said.
With the pandemic creating uncertainty over travel plans, Cirrus is hoping that more people will want to take control of their travel by either getting pilot licenses or purchasing planes to be flown by reliable operators like Nassau Flyers.
Airlines are adjusting their schedules to the point where convenience is lost, especially when flying to remote destinations outside major cities. And while the hassles of flying on a commercial airline previously only included going through security and potential delays and cancellations, the concerns of health and safety now have to be considered.
As a true entry-level jet, it's possible for a new pilot to be flying the Vision Jet with less than 100 hours of experience, though most prefer to build more hours on piston aircraft before doing so.
For business travelers who can't afford to fly extensively on traditional executive aircraft, the Vision Jet is a more cost-effective alternative and can accomplish most of the same missions, even if it takes a little more time on longer hops.
Read the original article on Business Insider