““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Cessna's Citation Mustang
Four years ago, when I last wrote about the Cessna Citation Mustang entry-level twin jet, customer deliveries had just begun. Since then, more than 500 have been ordered and about 300 have been delivered. I've had a chance to log some simulator, cockpit and cabin time and talk to several happy Mustang owners. My conclusion: Cessna has delivered exactly what it promised-a rugged, dependable, economical, easy-to-fly airplane with superior avionics, comprehensive pilot training and great product support.
No big surprise. Cessna Citations have been around for more than four decades and are the bestselling line of business jets in the world. This isn't their first rodeo. If Cessna couldn't get it right, who could? I mean, it would be like going to Spago and getting wilted greens.
What does surprise me are some of the spectacular flame-outs among those that could not get it right-namely Adam, Avocet, Century, Eclipse, Epic, ProJet, Safire and lesser others-and how two established companies, Embraer and Honda, continue to struggle in the VLJ arena. Aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia correctly labeled the very light jet craze that took hold eight years ago a "dot-com with wings." While Embraer has delivered more than 100 Phenom 100 very light jets, these aircraft have had a few problems, including some related to braking. Meanwhile, the futuristic, 420-knot HondaJet seems to be afflicted with Pentagon-style program schedule conjugation: late, later, latest.
On the Mustang, Cessna had no need for apologia or antibiotic press releases. Rather than viewing the model as more "disruptive technology" from San Jose, the manufacturer saw it for what it really was: a way to get a fresh generation of customers into its family of business jets and move them up the product ladder. We're talking Alfred P. Sloan here, not Bill Gates.
The program ran on time and without major glitches. The six-seat (two pilots, four passengers) Mustang was the first VLJ to be fully FAA certified, receiving its type certificate in September 2006 and certification to fly into known-icing conditions two months later. Cessna improved its odds of market success by embracing the tried and true: mostly metal construction. No carbon fiber fuselages baked in ovens the size of Delaware. No exotic, fighter jock side-stick controls for the pilots-just good old-fashioned control yokes. Like all the company's Citation CJs, the Mustang is certified for single-pilot operation. The avionics are modern glass panel, but are a variation of the Garmin 1000 system the company flew in its piston-powered propeller airplanes for two years before adapting it for the Mustang.
With a maximum takeoff weight of 8,395 pounds, the Mustang isn't the smallest or biggest VLJ, nor-at an average flyaway price of $3.04 million for the High Sierra option unveiled last year-the least or most expensive. The claimed top speed is on the low end of average, at 340 knots (although in test flights, better numbers have been achieved), as is range, at 1,150 nautical miles, and payload, at 600 pounds (full fuel, with a single pilot).
With the new $75,000 High Sierra option (shown below) you get a hipper two-tone exterior paint job, a choice of three new interior finishes with upgraded leathers and carpets and, in the cockpit, electronic charts and synthetic vision. The package also includes locking fuel caps (which, on a $3 million airplane, should be standard, not part of an option package) and two-year enrollment in Cessna's ProTech and ProParts maintenance programs (see previous comment).
On either the High Sierra Edition or the standard Mustang, passenger ergonomics rank among the best in class. The cabin is nearly 10 feet long and more than four and a half feet wide with a trenched center aisle that yields 54 inches of headroom. The oval windows have pleated manual shades and hearken back to Cessna's successful line of piston twin 300 and 400 series cabin-class airplanes. They provide ample natural light that is supplemented by LEDs.
The seats, while small, make extensive use of sculpted foam to maximize lumbar support. Headrests are adjustable. The outer armrests on the rear-facing single seats fold up and out of the way while the two-seat rear bench incorporates a center console with fold-down center armrest, storage drawer and compartment, cup holders and a power outlet. The rear-facing seats have limited recline-about 25 degrees. Tasteful automotive-style graphics substitute for actual veneer finishes. The subtly curved side ledges feature cup holders and foldout tables (one on each side). The four main passenger seats are aft of the cabin door.
Across from the door are small beverage and storage drawers and the cabinet that houses the chemical, non-flushing toilet. (Though it's certainly better than no toilet at all, you probably won't want to use it unless absolutely necessary.) With the lid closed, the toilet cabinet makes a good storage ledge for small briefcases. Baggage space is generous: 63 cubic feet between the nose, tail cone and interior baggage and storage areas for a theoretical total capacity of 718 pounds.
Today the aircraft has strong export sales: 60 percent of Mustangs ordered so far are destined for countries other than the U.S., including China. The Mustang is certified in more than 60 countries and is on its way to becoming if not the backbone, certainly a big part of on-demand charter intra-Europe. The aircraft is ideally suited for that continent's twin-engine IFR requirements as well as for alleviating concerns about noise. Its Pratt & Whitney Canada PW615F engines are not only miserly on gas but also relatively quiet.
Besides being used for personal and executive transport, the Mustang is finding new niches. It has been employed as an air ambulance, for example, and as a primary jet trainer for civil and airline flight schools worldwide. In 2009, Cessna delivered 125 Mustangs and last year-amid the carnage of new jet sales-it was the company's bestselling model.