Flying 17,000 feet above the mountains of Vermont at over 300 miles an hour, I tilted the tiny jet plane’s joystick to the left and watched the layer of clouds below tilt, almost imperceptibly, to the right.
The experienced pilot sitting beside me assured me I couldn’t crash the plane. It pretty much wouldn’t let me. If I were to try anything crazy, well, the plane’s computers know crazy when they see it. They would rein it in. And if things got really ugly, someone could pull the big red lever over my head and deploy the parachute.
Yes, this plane has a huge built-in parachute, designed to bear the weight of the entire aircraft.
If someone pulls the lever, the Cirrus Vision Jet immediately kicks its nose up toward the sky, putting its belly into the wind and quickly slowing the plane. At the same time, a parachute pops out from the roof. It inflates gradually, so the jet’s 6,000 pound weight doesn’t snap the lines. Then it floats toward the ground, carrying the plane, and all its occupants, down gently.
That’s extremely cool and rather comforting, but it’s not new. Cirrus Aircraft has had this safety feature in all of its planes since 2000. Until now, those have all been piston-engined airplanes. Now Cirrus is getting into jet aircraft, with the introduction of the first-ever single-engined private jet.
With a sticker price of $2 million, it’s a bargain compared to most private jets, which run about $5 million.
Sure, $2 million may sound like buckets of money to most of us. But, by cutting the personal jet’s price in half, Vision Jet opens the world of personal jet ownership to a lot of people who, until now, have been relegated to piston-engined propeller planes.
Now these folks can casually insert references to “my jet” into barroom conversations. Seriously, that’s a selling point
The other benefits have to do with speed and altitude. Unlike cars, in which a higher top speed has little practical benefit, a faster plane, like a jet, can actually get you somewhere much sooner. The Vision Jet also has a pressurized cabin that allows occupants to breathe at very high altitudes without oxygen masks. That means it can fly high enough to go up and over bad weather instead of having to wait it out or go around it as a less expensive plane might do.
The most remarkable feature on the Vision Jet is probably its enormous windows. Most planes with pressurized cabins have tiny oval portholes. The Vision Jet has windows almost as big as a car’s that provide a panoramic view of the world outside.
The big windows come thanks to carbon fiber construction. Carbon fiber is light but very strong and stiff. The Vision Jet’s mouse-shaped fuselage, made at the Chinese-owned company’s Grand Forks, N.D. parts factory, wouldn’t be possible using metal. (The fuselage parts are assembled into a finished airplane at Cirrus’s Duluth, Minn. plant.)
On the inside, the cabin feels about the size of a large SUV. There are three rows of seats, but the back row can only accommodate children. The second-row seats, behind the pilot and co-pilot, have lots of legroom and can recline way back, like first class seats in a jetliner.
Another thing this jet has in common with an SUV: there’s no bathroom. The aircraft is just too tiny. So you’d better go before you go, since you can’t pull over to a rest-stop at 20,000 feet.
But, for the most part, Cirrus uses the jet’s small size as a selling point. Until now, anyone who wanted to buy a jet would have to get a fairly big plane with multiple rows of full-sized seats they might never use. The Vision Jet’s single engine also reduces fuel and maintenance costs, Cirrus says.
Plus, with its V-tail and big windows, the Vision jets looks, undeniably, cool. Even the guys in the air traffic control tower said so. A lot of people would pay $2 million just for that.
CNN aviation editor Jon Ostrower contributed to this story.