The Future of Cirrus

Jul. 14--Employees at Cirrus Design's Grand Forks plant got a taste of the company's future Friday afternoon when the Duluth-based aircraft manufacturer offered an early glimpse of its new personal jet.

The mockup made its highly anticipated first appearance in late June at an unveiling in Duluth.

According to Cirrus CEO and co-founder Alan Klapmeier, plans to build a jet have been in the works at Cirrus since the early days of the company. Today's unveiling of the new plane, dubbed "the-jet," marks an intersection of the company's past and future.

"It's been a long time that we've been thinking about a jet . . . . It's always been part of our future," he said.

In fact, Klapmeier said, it is not a coincidence that the aircraft featured in Cirrus' logo has a round jetlike nose.

The company's earliest aircraft, although powered from the rear by a piston engine, also featured design elements that look similar to the basic appearance of the new jet.

For Klapmeier, though, the-jet is about more than just fulfilling a longtime goal.

The aircraft also marks a new emphasis on the company's innovative approach to the aviation industry. The company's SR22 aircraft has been the top-selling single-engine, four-passenger aircraft for the past five years.

"The fun part about it is we get to change the industry again," Klapmeier said.

Mike Van Staagen, the aircraft's lead engineer, started working on the jet in earnest about four years ago. He spent a lot of time exploring various cabin designs and engine configurations before settling on what is now the-jet -- a V-tailed aircraft powered by a single Williams International FJ33 turbofan jet engine.

Van Staagen said Cirrus will not be ready to deliver the jet for at least another three years, but the company hopes to put the plane in the air for testing within a year.

Cirrus officials have not released detailed specs for the new jet. But, it will have a cruising speed of about 350 mph. It can carry up to seven passengers over a maximum distance of about 1,000 miles at an altitude of up to 25,000 feet, the company says.

The company is trying to keep the price tag about $1 million.

About 250 buyers already have put down a $100,000 deposit to buy the aircraft.

Impressed

employees

Cirrus employees based in Grand Forks saw the aircraft for the first time Friday. Many were impressed with what they saw. "It's comfortable; it's so nice in there," said Vanida Sengphongphanh, who has worked for Cirrus in Grand Forks for about three years.

Four-year employee Mike Schultz echoed her sentiments. "I like it," he said. "It's a sharp-looking plane."

Schultz added that local Cirrus employees do not always get to see the company's finished product. The Grand Forks plant builds composite parts that are used in the planes, but final assembly is done in Duluth.

North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, who spent some time in the model's cockpit during a demonstration, was excited about the jet and the opportunities it will create for both Cirrus and job creation in the state.

"This is going to absolutely be a winner," Hoeven said.

Grand Forks growth

Klapmeier told employees Friday they can expect to see more of the aircraft once production begins.

"We expect to build a lot of these parts in Grand Forks, and we know you guys are going to get a kick out of working on this airplane," he said.

Tom Bartoe, Cirrus' executive vice president of operations, said it's too early to tell how the jet will affect Grand Forks. "That's far enough away where it's hard to predict how it will affect the work force here," he said.

But a recent 90,000-square-foot expansion of Cirrus composite plant in Grand Forks has opened the door for partnerships with other aviation companies and could lead to more jobs, Bartoe said. For example, the local plant soon will start making composite parts for a Denver-based company called Adam Aircraft.

The plant already produces about 2,200 composite parts a week for Cirrus aircraft.

Bartoe said it wouldn't be out of the question for the company to add a couple of hundred positions in Grand Forks during the next two or three years.

Cirrus, founded in 1984, began as a kit airplane design and manufacturing company in Baraboo, Wis. The company relocated to Duluth and expanded to Grand Forks in the 1990s.

Earlier this year, Cirrus launched the third generation of its best-selling SR22 aircraft.

Edison reports on business. Reach him at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 107; or jedison@gfherald.com

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