Cirrus Aircraft

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Cirrus Design Corporation
Cirrus Aircraft
FormerlyCirrus Design (1984–December 2008)
Founded1984; 37 years ago (1984) in Baraboo, Wisconsin, United States
FoundersAlan & Dale Klapmeier
United States
Key people
Zean Nielsen (CEO)
Patrick Waddick (president, innovation & operations, Duluth division)
Todd Simmons (president, customer experience, Knoxville division)[1]
Dale Klapmeier (co-founder & senior advisor)
Don McIsaac (executive vice president & CFO)[2]
Ravi Dharnidharka (senior vice president, services & business development)[3]
ProductsLight aircraft
OwnerChina Aviation Industry General Aircraft (CAIGA)
Number of employees
1,600 (December 2019)[4]
ParentAviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC)

The Cirrus Design Corporation, doing business as Cirrus Aircraft (and previously branded as Cirrus Design),[3] is an aircraft manufacturer that was founded in 1984 by Alan and Dale Klapmeier to produce the VK-30 kit aircraft. The company is owned by a subsidiary of the Chinese government-owned AVIC, and is headquartered in Duluth, Minnesota, United States, with additional operational locations in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Knoxville, Tennessee, and McKinney, Texas.[5] Cirrus markets several versions of its three certificated single-engine light aircraft models: the SR20 (certified in 1998), SR22 (certified in 2000), and SR22T (certified in 2010). As of January 2021, the company had delivered 8,000 SR-aircraft in over 20 years of production, and has been the world's largest producer of piston-powered aircraft since 2013.[6][7][8][9]

Sales of the SR-series grew rapidly during the 2000s, until the economic crisis of 2008. Cirrus was planning to market a light-sport aircraft called the SR Sport, but suspended the project in 2009, due to financial challenges and a lack of market demand. This has since been cancelled. After a return to company growth in the 2010s, Cirrus certified and began deliveries of the Vision SF50 very light jet in 2016.[10][11][12] Upon its delivery, the aircraft became the first civilian single-engined jet to enter the market, and is often referred to as a "personal jet".[13][14]

The company produces all of its aircraft with composite materials and is known for pioneering new technologies in the light general aviation aircraft manufacturing industry, including glass cockpits and full-airframe ballistic parachutes.[6][8][15]

In 2001, Cirrus sold a majority of the company to Bahrain-based Arcapita Group. Ten years later, the manufacturer was acquired by China Aviation Industry General Aircraft (CAIGA), which is a division of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).[16][17]


Cirrus Aircraft has several operational facilities throughout the United States.

The company's headquarters and main manufacturing facilities are in Duluth, Minnesota. An additional manufacturing facility, which produces the composite components for the planes, is located in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The Grand Forks facility is owned by the city of Grand Forks and leased to the company.[18]

On 27 December 2007 the company secured a lease for the former Northwest Airlines hangar at Duluth International Airport. The 189,000-square-foot (17,600 m2) building was to be used for construction of its new Cirrus Jet.[19] Cirrus canceled the lease in 2009 during the height of the Great Recession.[20]

In February 2015, the City of Duluth had agreed to put up US$6M and had asked the state contribute the remaining US$4M to build a US$10M factory on the Duluth Airport dedicated to the production of SF50 Vision jets. The city would then try to recoup its costs for the facility from lease payments by Cirrus over time. The space opened on 19 December 2016.[21][12]

On 6 May 2015 Cirrus announced that it will establish a new facility campus called the "Vision Center" in Knoxville, Tennessee on the city's McGhee Tyson Airport. The facility will focus on all customer interactions including training, maintenance & repair, personalization, and deliveries for the Vision Jet and SR-series. The center opened on 12 January 2017.[22] All manufacturing operations were said to remain in Duluth and Grand Forks.[23][24]

In May 2019, the company announced that it will open its first factory-direct satellite service facility outside of Knoxville, at McKinney National Airport near Dallas, Texas, where it will expand its flight training, maintenance, and aircraft management operations.[25]

In February 2020, Cirrus announced plans to establish a new engineering and design center in Phoenix, Arizona.[5]


Co-founder Alan Klapmeier served as president from 1984 until January 2006, and chief executive officer (CEO) from 1984 until February 2009.

On 19 January 2006, Cirrus made public that chief operating officer (COO) David Coleal had been named president.[26]

On 18 December 2008, the company announced that COO Brent Wouters would be appointed president and CEO effective 1 February 2009. David Coleal was no longer with the company[27] and Alan Klapmeier continued as chairman of the board, with co-founder Dale Klapmeier as vice-chairman.[28]

On 1 August 2009, Cirrus Aircraft CEO Brent Wouters announced that Alan Klapmeier's contract as chairman would not be renewed when it expired at the end of that month.[29] Alan left Cirrus on 21 August 2009 and Dale became interim chairman the following month.[30][31]

On 19 September 2011, the company announced that Dale Klapmeier has been named CEO and that Brent Wouters, previously president and CEO, is no longer with the company.[32][33]

On 12 March 2013, early Cirrus employee Patrick Waddick, who originally became hired as an intern in 1988 to sweep floors for the company, was named president, adding this to his COO position.[34][35]

On 6 May 2015, Cirrus reported that chief customer officer (CCO) Todd Simmons will lead the new Vision Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, where all customer activities and operations for the company will take place.[36]

On 19 December 2018, it was announced that Dale Klapmeier will step down as CEO sometime in the first half of 2019, and transition into a senior advisory role for the company. During that time, Cirrus will conduct an internal and external search for a new CEO.[37][38]

On 4 June 2019, Cirrus announced that former Tesla Inc. executive Zean Nielsen has been selected as its next CEO.[39][40]



In 1984, Cirrus Aircraft's founders, brothers Alan and Dale Klapmeier, along with spouses Jeff and Sally Viken, started developing the Cirrus VK-30 as a homebuilt aircraft in the basement of the Klapmeiers' parents' barn in rural Baraboo, Wisconsin.[41] After a few years in the design phase, the brothers borrowed money to move the project to their own factory on the Baraboo–Wisconsin Dells Airport, where they began flight testing.[42][43] The VK-30 was introduced at the 1987 EAA Oshkosh Convention and first flew on 11 February 1988. Kit deliveries commenced shortly thereafter.[44]


Cirrus-designed Israviation ST50 at the Paris Air Show in 1997

Cirrus Aircraft designed the ST-50 under contract to Israeli aircraft manufacturer IsrAviation. The aircraft was configured like the Cirrus VK-30, but was powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-135 turboprop engine, in place of the piston engine used in the VK-30. The prototype was first flown on December 7, 1994, by Norman E. Howell.[45] That same year, the Klapmeier brothers moved company headquarters from southern Wisconsin to a much larger facility at the Duluth International Airport in Duluth, Minnesota, bringing 35 employees with them and hiring another 15 at once.[42][46]

In August 1996, Cirrus announced plans to build a plant at the Grand Forks International Airport in Grand Forks, North Dakota.[42]

By the middle of the decade the company had discontinued the VK-30 and began development of the Cirrus SR20, which was first flown in March 1995 and type certified in October, 1998.[47] This was followed by customer deliveries of the SR20 beginning in July, 1999.


Cirrus SR20 landing

In June 2000, the company received an FAA Production Certificate for its SR20 aircraft.[48] In November the same year, Cirrus received a type certificate for its next model, the Cirrus SR22, which began deliveries in 2001.[47]

In August 2001, Cirrus sold 58% of the company for $100 million to Crescent Capital, the U.S. arm of the First Islamic Investment Bank of Bahrain (now called Arcapita).[49][41][50][51]

In July 2002, the company announced that it would collaborate with the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation to provide a new Cirrus Customer Training program.[52] In February the following year, Cirrus delivered the industry's first-ever all glass cockpit light aircraft, sparking a major transition in general aviation, whereby over 90% of all new light aircraft by the year 2006 were equipped with glass cockpits.[53][52][54]

Cirrus SR22 front view

In June 2004, Cirrus received type certification for the SR20 from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).[55] That same year, Cirrus accomplished record-breaking sales, up 69% over the previous year. The SR22 became the world's best-selling general aviation aircraft.[56][52]

Cirrus entered the civilian flight-training fleet market with SR20 deliveries to Sweden's Lund University in January 2005,[57] followed by Western Michigan University in September of that year.[58]

In 2006, the company delivered 721 aircraft (its most in a single year to date), celebrating the 3,000th SR-series airplane off the production line only seven years after deliveries commenced,[56][52] something that no other aviation company had accomplished for decades.[6] That summer, Cirrus acquired a 25-percent stake in SATSair, a 2004 start-up air taxi operator that flew 26 SR22s. SATSair ceased operations on 24 October 2009.[59]

On 28 June 2007 the Cirrus Vision SF50 single-engine light jet was unveiled (then known simply as "The-Jet").[60] At the 2007 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh airshow, the company unveiled the Cirrus SRS light sport aircraft.[61] A version of the B&F Fk14 Polaris, the type never entered production for Cirrus. In December 2007 Arcapita stated that it was looking to sell its share of the company. Cirrus Aircraft indicated at the time of the announcement that this was expected as Arcapita was considered a medium-term investor.[19]

The Jet took its first flight in July 2008. In September 2008, the global sale slump in piston-engined aircraft impacted the company and it laid off 100 workers, or 8% of its workforce. This included 79 people at the main plant in Duluth, Minnesota and 29 employees at the composite construction plant in Grand Forks, North Dakota. After this round of lay-offs Cirrus had 1,230 employees remaining. Company COO Brent Wouters stated that the lay-offs were due to "not selling as many airplanes as we'd hoped to this year."[62]

Company CEO Alan Klapmeier announced in October 2008 that due to the economic situation and resulting lack of demand for Cirrus aircraft, the company was moving to a three-day work week. He reported that sales were down 10% over the same period in the previous year. Compared to the industry average in that same period sales were down 16%. Klapmeier also indicated that introduction of the SRS would be delayed until 2009, due to lack of demand in the light-sport aircraft market sector, but that the Cirrus Vision SF50 jet would not be delayed.[63][64]

Cirrus eliminated 208 employee positions in the fall of 2008 and cut aircraft production from 14 to 12 aircraft per week in response to the economic situation. In November 2008, the company announced that it would lay-off about 500 production employees for one month to allow for reductions in excess stock of aircraft produced.[65][66]

Cirrus started recalling its workers on 5 January 2009 after the month-long shutdown. The furloughed workers were called back slowly over the month, to ramp up production to eight aircraft per week, compared to a company capacity of 16 aircraft per week. The company indicated at that time that it would retain the ability to reduce its workforce quickly as the economic situation and sales numbers dictate.[67]

On 9 January 2009, Cirrus announced that it would lay off 50 administrative employees and extend the layoff period for 100 of the 500 employees laid off over Christmas 2008. Company spokesman Bill King stated that the cuts were necessary or else the company would not survive the current economic crisis.[68]

In early February 2009, the company's new CEO, Brent Wouters, indicated that the future of the company would likely hinge on the Vision SF50 jet design as production of the piston single-engine SR-series had fallen to 20% of its 2008 rate of 16 aircraft per week. Wouters characterized demand for new aircraft as "awful" and added, "We are increasing our focus on the jet, because that is going to be our future engine for growth in my estimation."[69]

In April 2009, the company announced that it was suspending the Cirrus SRS light sport aircraft project. It cited economic conditions, that the aircraft required development, an expanded flight-training strategy and that the LSA rules were expected to change over time to allow LSAs with a broader mission profile.[70]

On 29 April 2009, the company announced that it was increasing production from the previous 3-4 aircraft per week back to 6 aircraft per week. The change was accomplished without recalling any laid-off workers. The company stated: "We continue to see very encouraging trends in sales activities and interest from sales prospects domestically and around the world. Clearly, this is an upward move and is indicative of a stronger bias toward growth in aircraft orders. Though we remain in a very challenging environment, our hope is that this new rate is the first step and initial indicator of what will become a more substantial trend into the second half of the year and beyond."[71]

On 1 June 2009, the company announced it was recalling 50 workers and boosting production to 8 aircraft per week.[72][73]

The company stated:

In contrast to other reported general aviation industry trends, Cirrus Aircraft has seen consistent growth in new aircraft orders over the past 120 days, with stronger order rates consistently outpacing production output over that timeframe. Equally notable are the sources of the new orders. Domestic and international retail demand, as well as both U.S. and global institutional demand, are each playing a contributory role. Cirrus Certified, its pre-owned aircraft sales division, is seeing similar increased sales activity with used aircraft inventory levels showing increasing signs of stabilization.[73]

On 26 June 2009, it was reported by AvWeb that Cirrus Aircraft co-founder and former CEO Alan Klapmeier intended to buy the Vision SF50 project from Cirrus Aircraft and its major shareholder Arcapita and produce the aircraft under a new company. The new venture had been receiving financial advice from Merrill Lynch. Klapmeier indicated that his reason for wanting to take over the project was to speed up development and get the aircraft on the market sooner.[74][75] Cirrus CEO Brent Wouters indicated that while the company intended to proceed with the SF50 program itself, he would listen to Klapmeier's proposal.[76] On Monday 27 July 2009 Cirrus CEO Brent Wouters and co-founder Dale Klapmeier stated at a press conference that they would find a way to produce the SF50, either at Cirrus or through selling it to Alan Klapmeier. They both said that the key factor was raising enough capital to proceed with the project, complete certification and commence production.[77] On Friday 31 July 2009 Alan Klapmeier announced that his offer to buy the SF50 program had not succeeded, with the key issue having been the program selling price, as well as other points and that the negotiations were at an end. Wouters responded saying further talks were possible, but that Cirrus would continue to develop the SF50 in house.[78][79]

In late August 2009, Cirrus announced that it was laying off 85 employees, mostly office workers. Todd Simmons, vice president of marketing, stated: "These are challenging days for Cirrus, but the decision made is in the best interest in the entire company. Our outlook is still positive. We are making forward progress within the industry."[80]

In November 2009, the company laid off an additional 58 workers, or 10% of the remaining payroll. The company indicated that it had failed to achieve some "institutional sales of aircraft" and that meant the lay-offs were expected and also emphasized that it does not indicate deeper problems with the company. As of 11 November 2009, the company had about 550 production workers employed.[81]


In March 2010, Cirrus went to court in an attempt to get an order to prevent former supplier L-3 Communications from telling other Cirrus suppliers that Cirrus was heading into bankruptcy and from discouraging companies from doing business with Cirrus. On 1 April 2010, Cirrus applied for a "voluntary dismissal" of the case against L3, before L3 had filed a response. L3 had been engaged in a lawsuit against Cirrus for non-payment of US$18.7M in development costs for flat panel electronics, with Cirrus countering that L3 did not abide by the contract terms.[82][83]

In June 2010, the company began paying back-rent owed to the city of Grand Forks. Cirrus had stopped paying its rent 16 months earlier. It also owed the City of Duluth back rent, which the city has indicated would be forgiven in exchange for job creation.[84]

In February 2011, Cirrus was sold for US$210M to China Aviation Industry General Aircraft (CAIGA), a subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corporation, which is wholly owned by the Government of the People's Republic of China.[85][86][87] The announcement of the sale was met with mixed responses. The Duluth News-Tribune labelled it "a sinking feeling of impending loss", while Russ Niles of AvWeb said "Chinese participation in the aviation industry isn't necessarily a bad thing and the folks in Duluth and Grand Forks could have suffered a worse fate. In the absence of a sale, bankruptcy was a real possibility for Cirrus and it might have been hard for a trustee to justify operating the business with the numbers it was showing. As for where it leaves current Cirrus owners and those thinking of buying one, the sale is probably a positive thing."[88]

In mid-March 2011, aviation industry analyst Brian Foley indicated that he was trying to organize a group of US investors to make a counter-offer to the Chinese buy-out to keep Cirrus as a US-owned company. Foley stated that he had seen an "overwhelming response" from the U.S. aviation community, indicating that Americans want Cirrus "to be owned and operated on American soil, period."[89] Foley's counter-offer did not materialize.

In late March 2011, freshman Minnesota congressman Chip Cravaack urged the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to exercise "extreme caution" over allowing the sale of Cirrus to the Chinese government, indicating that he was concerned that company technology would be used for Chinese military programs. Cirrus spokesman Todd Simmons responded to the congressman's remarks with surprise, responding that, "the CAIGA transaction is an investment in Duluth and our local communities."[90] On 30 March 2011, at the Sun 'n Fun airshow, company co-founder Dale Klapmeier provided reassurances that Chinese ownership would not result in production being moved out of the USA. Klapmeier also expressed disappointment in the political issues raised, particularly by Cravaack. Klapmeier explained, "His concerns are unfounded," detailing that Cirrus did not have any unique technology that could be employed in military applications.[91] Former 18-term Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar also came out in support of Cirrus and the acquisition, saying Cravaack was "undermining" the situation, and that "we have nothing to fear from an investment such as this by the Chinese."[92][93]

The sale was reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States and was approved, as Cirrus has no national security-sensitive trade secrets.[94] The sale to CAIGA was completed as a merger of the two companies on 28 June 2011.[95][96]

In July 2011, CAIGA president Xiangkai Meng and Duluth Mayor Don Ness signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding that the jobs at Cirrus Aircraft would remain in Duluth and not be moved to China. Ness said "Verbal assurances are wonderful, but a written assurance, signed by the president of CAIGA, certainly carries much more weight."[97]

Following the company's merger with CAIGA in July 2011, company CEO Brent Wouters indicated that Cirrus would move quickly to expand its line of aircraft, including bringing the Vision SF50 jet to market. Wouters said "We need to expand our product line -- bigger, smaller, faster airplanes, a much broader range, and very quickly. And we need more penetration in the top 10 foreign markets. And we must go forward quickly on both avenues."[98]

On the first anniversary of Chinese government ownership in 2012, company CEO Dale Klapmeier indicated that Cirrus was financially in a much better position and progress was being made with certifying the Vision SF-50 jet.[16]

In March 2013, the company was granted a loan for US$950,000 from the City of Grand Forks, North Dakota to purchase an autoclave for composite production at the company's Grand Forks facility. The loan was originally turned down by the city, questioning whether the company would ever repay it. The loan was later allowed and an apology issued.[99]

In July 2013, Cirrus president and COO Pat Waddick indicated that the ongoing Chinese government investment would allow it to continue to develop new models of aircraft with innovative powerplants. CEO Dale Klapmeier stated that the company hopes to eventually establish additional aircraft manufacturing facilities in China.[100]

In 2013 the company delivered 276 new aircraft. This was a 10 percent increase in the number of deliveries over 2012 and the company's best year since before the 2008 recession. In 2013 the SR22 and SR22T were the highest-selling general aviation fixed-wing aircraft in the world and had been for eleven years in a row.[56][101] Cirrus passed Textron Aviation as the largest producer of piston aircraft by unit-volume in 2013, and has remained the largest ever since.[7][102]

On March 25, 2014 the company's first conforming Vision SF50 jet flew.[103] Cirrus also indicated that it was continuing to hire engineers, technicians and designers for the jet program. From 2011 to 2014 Cirrus hired more than 300 new workers, bringing the total number of employees to over 800.[104][105]

In 2015, the company announced plans to expand to Knoxville, Tennessee and establish a customer delivery center there,[36] which officially opened on 12 January 2017.[22]

On 28 October 2016, Cirrus received FAA type certification for the Vision SF50 very light jet,[11] with deliveries beginning in December of that year in the company's new Duluth aircraft finishing facility.[12]

In April 2018, the company was named the 2017 winner of the Collier Trophy for the "greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America" in the past year. The trophy was awarded for "designing, certifying, and entering-into-service the Vision Jet — the world’s first single-engine general aviation personal jet aircraft with a whole airframe parachute system".[106][13]

By the end of 2019, Cirrus employed 1,600 people and produced 81 Vision Jets and 384 SR-series aircraft that year, resulting in the company's fifth year of growth and its best year in sales.[4][5][107] The Vision SF50 became the world's best-selling general aviation jet.[5]


2006 model Cirrus SR22
Interior of SR22 with Cirrus Perspective avionics by Garmin

SR aircraft series[edit]

The Cirrus SR (Single Reciprocating) Series aircraft (including the SRV, SR20, SR22 and SR22T) are designed around composite technologies with "Cirrus Perspective" by Garmin (and previously Avidyne Entegra) digital flight displays and modern avionics as standard equipment. The aircraft are all electric - no vacuum systems are used. Redundancy is provided by dual batteries and alternators. The series originally began as a four-seat aircraft, with a smaller fifth seat added in 2013. The SR22 is also available with TKS anti-icing equipment, which enables flight into known icing conditions.[108] The SR aircraft series was the first of its kind to come equipped with flight envelope protection in the form of an electronic "level" button, as well as "airbag seatbelts", two airbags installed in the shoulder harnesses of both the pilot and co-pilots' seat belts.[109][110][111]

The series incorporates other unusual design elements. All SR-aircraft use a mechanical side yoke instead of the traditional yoke or stick flight controls. The aircraft also use a single power lever that adjusts both throttle and propeller RPM via a mechanical cam actuated throttle and propeller control system. Construction is dominated by composite materials (a technique the company has used with every model since its first design in 1988, the VK-30), although traditional aluminum is used for flight control surfaces.

The SR22T is powered by a Continental TSIO-550-K turbocharged piston engine. Turbocharging allows the engine to maintain maximum power at higher altitudes while increasing the maximum operating altitude to 25,000 ft (7,620 m).

Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS)[edit]

Inflight CAPS deployment

SR-series aircraft are equipped with the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS), developed in association with Ballistic Recovery Systems, a ballistic parachute deployed from the back of the aircraft. In many inflight emergencies, it allows the entire airplane to descend safely to the ground and has been credited with saving over 150 lives to date.[112][113] Cirrus was the first manufacturer to receive FAA certification for production aircraft with ballistic parachute systems, and remains the only aviation company to implement the device as a standard equipment on all its models.[114] The system was first tested in 1998 by late Air National Guard F-16 pilot and chief Cirrus test pilot, Scott D. Anderson, who completed the tests in an SR20 over the southern California desert.[115]

The turbofan-powered Vision SF50 also comes equipped with CAPS, making it the first jet with a whole-plane parachute to receive certification.[14][11]

List of Cirrus aircraft[edit]

  • Cirrus SR20 - single piston-engine four- or five-seat composite aircraft produced since 1999
  • Cirrus SR22/22T - single piston-engine four- or five-seat composite aircraft produced since 2001
  • Cirrus SR Sport - single-engine low-wing ultralight aircraft that seats two side by side
  • Cirrus ST50 - contracted single-engine turboprop aircraft developed from the VK-30
  • Cirrus Vision SF50 - single turbofan-engine five- or seven-seat composite jet produced since 2016
  • Cirrus VK-30 - single-engine pusher-propeller homebuilt aircraft originally sold as a kit


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