Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft on Tuesday announced the successful first flight of a test version of its long-awaited single engine jet.
Cirrus made its name with a sleek four-seat piston-engine plane that features a safety parachute. For much of the last decade, the company has been developing a seven passenger personal jet.
The Vision jet will fill a gap in the market between propeller planes and more expensive business jets, said Todd Simmons, the company's executive vice president of sales, marketing and customer support.
"It's really that open part of the marketplace that's ready and ripe for a new entrant that can fill that," Simmons said. "That's exactly what this airplane does."
So far, 550 customers have made $100,000 deposits on the jet, which will cost $1.96 million. Cirrus plans to fly two more test planes this year to gain Federal Aviation Administration certification. The company aims to deliver the first jet to a customer by the end of 2015.
The company's development of the Vision jet was stalled by the recession in 2008, shortly after the company flew the first prototype jet. But the program was jumpstarted two years ago by a nearly $100 million investment by the company's new Chinese owners.
Cirrus employs about 600 people at its Duluth headquarters, where the jet will be produced. About 200 work on the jet program, and Simmons said the company has about 60 job openings for designers, engineers and others.
"There's an excitement around here that quite frankly is very palpable," Simmons said. "You can feel the energy in the building, and you can see it in the employees and the customers that are here. So it's exciting to say the very least."