Reporting Bill Hudson
DULUTH, Minn. (WCCO) — To say that Dale Klapmeier is excited about general aviation would be a gross understatement. Klapmeier is co-founder and CEO of Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft, the company that revolutionized safety in small airplanes.
“The easier an airplane is to fly, the more often you fly, the better you are as a pilot, the safer. So it’s got to be simple, intuitive, very easy to understand what’s going on,” explained Klapmeier.
To accomplish that in all Cirrus-designed airplanes, the company replaced conventional analog instruments with TV monitor screens or Primary Flight Display. The twin screens contain all instrument and navigational aids as well as a real-time XM satellite weather system.
Pilots are able to see the same weather information as they would while doing pre-flight on the ground. The ability to see continuously changing weather systems in-flight helps them avoid trouble before they’re in it.
But the initial marketing genius of Cirrus airplanes was the addition of a deployable parachute built into the fuselage of each plane. Since the first plane rolled off the assembly line in 1999, parachutes have been deployed 23 times and saved 49 lives.
“They (Cirrus) brought it into the 21st century,” said pilot and plane owner Andy Niemyer.
The former military aviator purchased his Cirrus SR 22 five years ago. Niemyer explains that the company’s mission to build a safer, easier to operate private aircraft is turning the industry around.
“They’ve made now available to the general aviation pilot like myself, the kind of technology and the kind of in-the-cockpit knowledge that the airliners have,” said Niemyer.
The company’s mission is paying off. Cirrus Aircraft is now the leading manufacturer of the four-seat airplanes. The Duluth company rolled out its 5000th plane in September.
What you won’t see on the production floor just yet is the company’s entry into jet aircraft. A five-seat model, called the “Vision,” will give current Cirrus customers another option to step up into a faster aircraft. It will become the first of its kind in the jet aircraft category geared to private owners and small businesses who desire a balance of simplicity with greater speed and range.
Klapmeier said the plane is still in the engineering phase and doesn’t expect production for another three to five years.
“When you’re designing something that is better and its better in every way, you certainly expect to take over the industry,” Klapmeier said.
Back in June, Cirrus was bought by the Chinese company, China Aviation Industry General Aircraft. CAIGA will retain production in Grand Forks and Duluth for the foreseeable future.