October 5, 2018

A Jet for every occasion

Being in the corridors of the Cessna Citation CJ3 +, a rather strange question came to mind. I turned to the pilot Ken Mullins and asked, “If you did not look at the logbook, could you tell me if I was sitting on an M2 Citation or a CJ3 +?”

He looked briefly around the cabin and shrugged. “No,” was the answer.

Having flown the Citation M2 on the morning of that same day, had reached the same conclusion, Cessna invited the magazine Skies to Wichita, Kansas, to evaluate two of the jets of the Citation line: the Citation M2 and CJ3 +. At first I thought I would write separate articles, but I decided to change the plan. The story seemed to be more about the aeronautical DNA threads that are applied in different Citation models, and how a true repertoire of similar and related designs drives Cessna to please all the needs of the clients.

A species, rarely, will survive in the wild for a long time unless it successfully adapts to its environment. The survival of the fittest applies in biology of course, but it also seems to apply to business jets. The first ancestors of modern business aircraft were first dragged to the mainland in the 1960s, and included the predecessor of the Cessna Citation, the FanJet 500, which first flew in 1969. The evolution of the Citation has been in March since then; a lineage that covers approximately 40% of the duration of the flight propelled by humans.

Meet the jets

Mustang (VLJ), the six-seat light jet is the first Cessna model jet. The M2, certified at the end of 2013, is the first step to updating the Mustang, but it shares more features with the CJ series.

The next step of the Citation evolutionary scale is the CJ3 +, followed by the CJ4 Citation and a circle of varied Citations, all sharing a strong resemblance. Each of the Citation species, to twist the evolutionary metaphor tortuously, is uniquely adapted to the needs of a notional client’s environment, offering an incrementally improved range, in addition to a payload with great performance.

When the CJs were introduced in 1993, they were a totally new design, visually identifiable by their swept T tail. They used the previous dimensions of the front fuselage of Citation I, and included two Williams International FJ44 engines, a naturally efficient streamlined laminar flow profile and a crawler undercarriage. The similarities are greater than the differences, so we will see together the M2 and the CJ3 +.

I flew the M2 and the CJ3 + back to back from the Cessna facility at the Wichita Eisenhower Airport. Our flight plan on both planes took us to the southwest of Wichita to board and verify cruise performance and do some aerial work before returning for a better approach.

Similar family

The pre-flight inspections revealed that the aircraft were well designed, simple and solid. Both designs featured a mechanical flight control system by cable and pusher. The front edges of the hot wing use purge air for the antifreeze, while the pneumatic boots keep the horizontal stabilizers clean. Both planes have over-wing fuel.

The cabin, or rather the cabins, as they are essentially identical, are ordered and functional. The latest CJs have a central console that allow the pilot to sit without making inadvertent postures. The seats seemed adequately adjustable for a wide range of dimensions. The yokes wrapped in leather gave a touch of class.

Both the M2 and the CJ3 + feature the Garmin G3000 avionics suite; a system that is fast becoming the de facto standard for IFR designs piloted by the owner. Three bright and clear 14.1-inch screens horizontally span the entire width of the instrument panel. It is difficult to refer to them as simple primary and multifunctional flight screens because the three screens can be customized with multiple windows, depending on the preference and the flight phase.

Two Garmin GTC 570 touchscreen controllers at the base of the center console were within easy reach and provide the interface for almost all systems and functions of the aircraft. Garmin’s avionics started up to the initialization screen, and we did a short work of weight and balance, field performance, flight planning and functional systems tests. The ability to download the aerodrome meteorological data (METARs) through the Sirius XM data link. The glareshield housed the control panel of the automatic pilot mode, buttons for the various cursors and errors, a panel for the control of brightness and reversion of the screens and an integrated holding instrument. There are no air switches.

Cessna planes have certainly adopted flight planning technology. Each jet comes with a one-year subscription to the CessNav suite of “apps” for the iPad, which performs weight and balance calculations, track requirements and cruise performance. The applications are simple, flexible and pleasant to use, and it was a welcome change to drag a pencil through the eye charts in the flight manual. Despite its similarities, the CJ3 + incorporates differences due to its certification in the Federal Aviation Administration part 23 Commuter category. It presents a pneumatic rudder bias, TCAS II traffic detection system, smoke detection in the front and rear luggage compartments and a third pitot tube for the standby instrument. M2: Brother of the Citation, for some reason, I rarely get to travel in the back of these machines, so I tried the luxurious M2 carefully designed with comfortable cabins. The “Clairity” cabin management system based on Cessna tablets is a popular choice, which provides wireless lighting control and cabin temperature, moving maps and transmission media.

The M2 has seats for a single driver and up to seven passengers, if one includes the four seats of the club, the restroom with belt, the passenger seat and the optional side seat in front of the main entrance door. As with most aircraft, however, the decision to fill seats or fill tanks implies a certain commitment. The empty weight of our new M2 demonstration aircraft, N906MT, was 6,795 pounds. The addition of two intrepid aeronauts and equipment (448 pounds) and 3,000 pounds of fuel (near the maximum usable fuel capacity of 3,296 pounds) produced a gross take-off weight of 10,423 pounds. That left room for around 557 pounds of additional payload, or about three additional passengers. Selecting the dispatch switch activated an auxiliary battery in the nose that powers a radio, a screen and a GTC 570, allowing us to illuminate the avionics and initialize the flight plan before starting the engine. The complete digital control of the authority engine (FADEC) simplifies each phase of the flight, but makes the motor start as simple as pushing a button and advancing the respective regulator at idle.

The M2 requires a takeoff field length of 3,210 feet with the maximum takeoff weight and standard conditions at sea level. I selected the takeoff catch on the thrust levers and headed down the pavement until our programmed rotation speed of 103 knots indicated airspeed (KIAS). In the M2, the application of about eight to 10 pounds of force to the slightly levitated rotation. The takeoffs were so easy that I am not able to make any technical comments. My notes say, “Funny!” I flew a series of vectors and stepped climbs while we were away from the busy airspace of Wichita, enjoying the opportunity very much.

The design of aircraft with propulsion by the owner presents additional challenges for engineers, since in addition to the need for reliability, performance and economy, operators also expect to fall in love with their plane. It is not enough to design a practical jet; its handling also has to be delicious, and if that was indeed a design goal, then the M2 meets admirably. The M2 can climb its certified ceiling of FL410 (41,000 feet) to the maximum takeoff weight in 24 minutes under standard conditions. The maximum cruise power setting will give 404 true speed knots (KTAS) in FL410. I found that number reassuring. For some reason, the cruise on anything less than the magic number of 400 knots seems slow on a jet. When a larger economy is a factor, in exchange for a certain speed, the maximum published range of the M2 is 1,550 nautical miles.

Before we were being contacted for a GPS coupled approach to the 19-Left track of Wichita. Garmin’s GFC 700 autopilot did an excellent job finding the track. The M2 can be stopped at 2,590 feet with the maximum landing weight, under standard sea level conditions. The pilot has the option of deploying manual speed brake on the landing or by extending the position of the lift dump of the flaps.

Our brief flight on the M2 left me feeling very comfortable with its systems and features, and eager to fly something like it again. In fact, even after my M2 flight, I still did not appreciate the degree of similarity that was going to come that afternoon when we flew the CJ3 +.

CJ3 +: Even more jet

The CJ3 + is simply more airplane for those who want something more.

More than eight feet more than fuselage, for example, results in two more seats, bringing the capacity of a single pilot, plus nine passengers. Our demonstration aircraft CJ3 +, N484CJ, had an empty weight of 8,373 pounds. The same two crewmen with equipment (468 pounds), but with only 3,500 pounds of fuel (of a usable capacity of 4,710 pounds) brought it to an initial weight of 12,341 pounds. That put us a generous 1,729 pounds under the maximum ramp weight of 14,070 pounds, leaving space to fill the seats with a small residual payload for the luggage.

The quotes share a strong resemblance to the family, and for all practical purposes I found the CJ3 + handled identically to the M2; that is to say very well.

The slightly more powerful CJ3 + accelerated strongly to our programmed rotation speed of 99 KIAS. It would require 3,180 feet of runway with maximum take-off weight and standard sea level conditions. We captured the published climb profile from 222 KIAS to Mach 0.56, noting 2,100 feet per minute of ascent speed that passes 10,000 feet, later noting happily that the rate of climb had only decreased to 1,200 feet per minute past FL370. The climb to the certified ceiling of the CJ3 + of the FL450 (45,000 feet) takes 27 minutes under standard conditions to the maximum takeoff weight.

We put the accelerators on the cruise and they rewarded us with a 419 KTAS (0.734 Mach), burning 780 pounds of fuel per hour under almost standard atmospheric conditions (ISA-3ºC), which was actually a few knots faster than the published one. A cheaper option was to reduce the power to long-range cruisers, which resulted in a speed of 359 KTAS (0.64 Mach), burning 635 pounds of fuel per hour, which also fit very well with the numbers published in the manual flight. With that power setting, the maximum published range of the CJ3 + is 2,040 nautical miles.
Whether it’s more seats, more range or more speed, the CJ3 + offers several modest increases in capacity, which adds considerable operational flexibility.

Choose a jet

The long evolution of Cessna Citation has resulted in the most diverse family tree of products offered by any business aircraft manufacturer. With eight models of jets available and two more in development, from the simple and friendly Citation Mustang to the Citation Hemisphere, Cessna has a custom made aircraft for the needs of each client. A quick comparison of the M2 and the CJ3 + demonstrates the genius between the models. Both designs share a lot in systems and features, but differ enough to offer customers a jet that has been developed specifically for their particular mission. That more than 7,000 Citation have been delivered to date speaks of the success of the species. Robert Erdos is a contributing editor of Skies magazine. He is a graduate of the Naval Testing Pilots School of the United States and a professional test pilot. Also an aviation enthusiast, his leisure activities include demonstrating with vintage airplanes and flying his RV-6 kitplane.