Flying at 28,000 feet in a private jet the size of an SUV is a special kind of thrill. Unlike in a commercial airliner, or even a cozy regional jet, there’s never more than a few feet of physical matter in any direction between you and the great, unpressurized beyond. When that jet — the Cirrus Vision Jet SF50 — has the largest windows in the industry, thanks to its equally pioneering carbon fiber construction, the thrill doubles. You’re bathed in sunshine, surrounded by scrolling clouds, cities, mountains, and patchwork fields miles below. This isn’t any small private-airplane flight, not at these altitudes and these speeds. Nor is it like other business jets. Those, frankly, are more like elevators — you get in one place, get out in another, with barely any sensation of flight in between. The Vision, though, is a Wonkavator, an open, airy capsule moving you through time and space, your face pressed against the expansive glass.
A series of flights over several days from the east coast to Duluth, Minnesota, and back with a pair of Cirrus pilots laid bare the allure of this specific mode of travel. While that might sound obvious — who wouldn’t want to fly private jets? — experiencing it firsthand in the little Vision was eye-opening. You come and go on your own schedule. You cruise effortlessly in and out of small airports rather than massive hubs, hitting three or four cities in one day if you need. You can stretch your legs, take in the view, and keep your laptop on the entire time if you please. It’s liberating.
At $2 million, the five-seat Vision Jet is the most affordable private jet by a significant margin. It’s also the smallest, the easiest to fly, and by far the most attractive. Whereas other private jets look essentially the same — a long tube with two engines on either side and vertical and horizontal stabilizers out behind the wings — the Vision aspires to a higher standard of functional design, enabled by its carbon fiber construction and its compact configuration. Its fuselage sits like a pod above of the wings, in a graceful teardrop shape — which is no coincidence, as that’s the most aerodynamically efficient form in the natural world. Its single Williams FJ33 turbofan jet engine sits above the fuselage, tucked in behind the forward hump, its 1,800 lb-ft of thrust aimed between the unique upward-canted V-tail. It sits low to the ground and looks as light as it truly is — just 3,500 pounds empty. That’s lighter than most cars, and nearly a half-ton lighter than the current grand dame of the hypercar universe, the Bugatti Chiron.
In fact, mull over that comparison for a moment. If someone invests upwards of $2 million in a Bugatti Chiron, that purchase is considered a fantastic acquisition that places the owner in rare air, miles above the average supercar set. It’ll stay garaged and pampered and driven maybe 800 miles per year. For roughly the same investment, however, they can buy this sleek private jet — an “entry level” purchase — and fly the wings off the thing. Money’s funny that way. Channeled in one direction, it’s a set of antlers on your wall. Channeled in another, you’re literally flying high, making the most practical and pleasurable use of the aircraft that you can. The technology levels and the innovation present in both vehicles are comparable, yet the products are perceived so differently.
At $2 million, the five-seat Vision Jet is the most affordable private jet by a significant margin. It’s also the smallest, the easiest to fly, and by far the most attractive.
Indeed, while often mentioned in the same breath by both the upwardly mobile and purely enthusiastic, the ownership and use of private airplanes and sports cars are in fact miles apart in real-world terms. You can crack out your Ferrari — or even that Chiron — and flick it through some local twisties at a moment’s notice so long as you have a driver’s license. Airplanes, though, and especially jets, require orders of magnitude more intellectual investment. You need training, certification and awareness of all the nuances of flight. Even going from A to B requires planning, persistent communication and adherence to strict “rules of the road.” Yes, you can take it out for a quick joyride every now and then, but actually going places is more complicated. Which is a greater barrier to entry than price alone — as it should be.
Nevertheless, enthusiasm for the Vision Jet — in development for a decade and just now starting to land in private hands — is sky-high. Not only is it appealing for pilots yearning to step up from propeller aircraft, thanks to its streamlined operation and custom-designed digital cockpit, it’s appealing to anyone who wants aviation in their lives, whether for fun, personal travel, or bouncing around to visit five clients in a single day instead of three days through the commercial air system. It’s also affordable, as jets go, with the lowest hourly operating cost, at about $600 (which factors in maintenance over a ten-year period). The low operating costs can be attributed in part to the Vision’s efficiency, both in its aerodynamics and its single engine. (By the way, even an engine failure, which is exceptionally rare, wouldn’t hinder the Vision much. Its 14:1 glide ratio will likely get you someplace safe in a pinch.)
Inside, the cabin is roomy and packed with smart features, such as cockpit seats that slide all the way back to the cabin door for easy entry and exit, and rear seats that can be removed and stowed in the cargo hold if you want to bring a kayak or bicycle along someplace. There’s no full bathroom, but most flight times won’t require it, though there is a provision for a stowable toilet/curtain situation if you think it might come in handy. There are USB ports aplenty, and the same Sirius/XM satellite system that streams weather data to the cockpit also pipes in music to the passengers, comfortably audible through noise-canceling earphones.
Though capable of cruising speeds up to 350 mph, the airplane comes alive well below that, letting you bank easily through the sky with responsive controls that are smooth and effortless.
In the cockpit and externally, the innovation shifts to more flight-oriented benefits, as you might expect. The Garmin cockpit — the company does much more than fitness watches and in-car navigation — has been engineered for intuitive operation by non-professional pilots. A few taps here and there lead you to the intel you need, and it automatically prioritizes your information streams. The engine can be started with the push of a single button, instead of multiple priming, engagement, and monitoring steps. The wing and rear V-tail have been optimized for stability and safety, even at low speeds, and the Vision is the only jet in the world to have a built-in ballistic parachute recovery system — a whole-aircraft parachute that rockets (literally) from the nose of the airplane if things go badly on your flight. Cirrus includes this in their SR-series propeller aircraft, and it has saved dozens of lives.
Actually piloting the Vision Jet via the sidestick controller is as uniquely enthralling as riding in the back. Though capable of cruising speeds up to 350 mph, the airplane comes alive well below that, letting you bank easily through the sky with responsive controls that are smooth and effortless. It’s not an aerobatic airplane by any stretch, but it’s far more fun to fly than other personal jets, which necessarily have to fly at even faster speeds and are even more businesslike in their operation.
This one, however, is actually fun, and as a passenger, you feel the sensation of flight more than you would in larger jets. The thrills don’t come quite as fast and furious as they might when you’re rocketing that Bugatti through the turns, with the trees whizzing past you and your heart racing, but you feel the movement and the power and the lightness. That lightness is wonderful for many reasons, but it’s also occasionally disquieting. For instance, you feel turbulence a bit more in a jet this size while traveling at over 300 mph, with the airplane porpoising around as you sail through the bumpy air. It’s not bad, but the movement is unfamiliar to commercial airline passengers and can feel as though the airplane is rotating around all three axes at once. Big jets just don’t do that.
Of course, big jets also can’t do half the things the Cirrus can. After my flights, I realized just how fully unique and alien the experience of cross-country travel in a private jet truly is. When I arrived at the airport — specifically the FBO, where bizjets come and go — I was in the air in minutes. Taxiing for takeoff and after landing goes by in a flash. When I finally touched down at home, I was in my car before the Vision even finished refueling. And in the air, well — I’ll take a Wonkavator over an elevator any day.