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Cirrus provides update of jet development

Cirrus Design Corp. shared a few more details about the jet it is developing during a press conference Wednesday.

While Cirrus CEO Alan Klapmeier still aims to deliver on his promise to produce "the lowest, slowest, shortest-range jet," the company reports its test jet has hit a maximum speed of 319 knots -- the equivalent of 367 mph. However, the production model of the plane will more likely top out at around 300 knots.

At the more modest speed of 210 knots, the Cirrus Vision SJ50 is expected to have a maximum range of 1,400 nautical miles.

Klapmeier said the company has increased the fuel capacity of the jet from initial designs.

When fully fueled, the Vision SJ50 is expected to have 400 pounds of payload for passengers and baggage.

Klapmeier said Cirrus is still shooting to sell its base model jet for about $1 million or about $1.25 million fully equipped with options. But he explained that it's difficult to nail down a price since it's unclear when the airplane will be ready for production and what the subsequent effects of inflation will be.

When asked about the likely commercial launch of the SJ50, Klapmeier the introduction of the jet by the end of 2010 is "theoretically possible but not likely;" 2011 is most likely; and 2012 is "possible but not likely."

Klapmeier said development efforts for the jet continue unabated, despite Cirrus' recent cutting of about 200 positions and the furlough of about 500 production workers for the month of December.

He conceded, however, that "The economy will affect how quickly we ramp up from here on out."

Klapmeier expressed optimism that the jet program will continue to operate out of the former Northwest Airlines maintenance base in Duluth and said Cirrus will look at manufacturing the jet in the city, too. But he said, "We will consider other locations, as well."

After about 120 hours of test flying its first working prototype of the SJ50, Cirrus has tweaked the design by sharpening the airplane's nose, eliminating a right side door to reduce weight, modifying and downsizing its wing, enlarging the ventral fins of the tail and reducing the downward pitch of the engine.