Cessna Citation II

Cessna Citation II: The 'Family Truckster'

A "goofy market" gives new life to a legacy model.

Here’s one example of what the current tight used-bizjet market has wrought: an eight-passenger 1984 Cessna Citation II—with almost run-out engines—is for sale for just $299,000. That equates to monthly payments of only $1,900—about what you’d pay to rent an upscale one-bedroom apartment in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The former Customs and Border Protection aircraft has 11,800 hours of total time on the airframe and a couple hundred hours left on the engines. It comes with a stock executive interior—but it’s not installed, and some assembly is required. You’ll also need to replace the windshield. In addition, several phase inspections are coming due. 

A few years ago, an airplane like this would have been sent to the boneyard and parted out. Or it might be acquired for a one-shot smuggling mission or sent to a country where  maintenance inspection is an unknown concept. But in February, it sat in a Dexter, Michigan hangar where it was being offered for sale by Herron Aviation, after having been picked up at a government auction in Florida last year. The aircraft just recently made it through the months-long FAA registration gauntlet and, at this writing, has been on the market for a little less than a week. Photos that accompany the online listing show an aircraft that looks like a barn find. In a normal market, a buyer wouldn’t look twice.

Yet, over just a few days, company principal Brian Herron received more than 30 calls from potential buyers. By the time you read this, the aircraft likely will have been sold for close to the asking price.

Skipping Pre-buy Inspections

Herron specializes in acquiring and remarketing what he calls “variable” aircraft. And the demand for those aircraft is booming, with customers sometimes eschewing pre-buy inspections and even snapping up aircraft with missing logs. “In a regular market, you wouldn’t see much demand for Citation IIs, but they’re selling,” said Herron.

That is, when you can find one. More people who already have them are hanging onto them, said Phil Stearns, director of sales and marketing for Stevens Aviation, a major third-party maintenance and modification provider for Citation jets. Stearns calls the Citation II the “Family Truckster,” a reference to a fictitious, aesthetically challenged station wagon featured in the 1983 comedy movie, National Lampoon’s Vacation.

“The value of the aircraft is basically the time left on the motors,” said Stearns. But increasingly, people are keeping them. “If you’re in the aircraft, it fits your mission. It’s paid for at this point in its life and likely [fully depreciated]. It’s the Family Truckster and you’re going to keep running this thing. You can turn up $700,000 or $800,000 for a set of motors when it comes time for that thing. Or you could try and find a [newer] airplane—and good luck to you. It’s just a goofy market right now.”

And that market is keeping the Citation II relevant.

Cessna Citation II
Cessna Citation II

Cessna manufactured the airplane between 1978 and 2006 in four main variants—II, IISP, SII, and Bravo—and several aftermarket remanufacturing/re-engine programs were available for the aircraft—the Super II and Super S-II from Sierra Industries and the Clifford Series 550 from the Clifford Development Group. Altogether, nearly 1,200 Citation 550 family series aircraft were built. With its good short-runway performance—less than 4,000 feet required in most situations—and better comparable speed, the Citation II did more than any other business jet to substantially reduce the market appeal of twin-turboprop business aircraft. In its wake, one by one production ended on business turboprop twins made by Mitsubishi, Aero Commander, Piper, and Fairchild/Swearingen. Only the Beechcraft King Air remained in production. With a cruising speed of 385 knots, it was only marginally faster than these propeller aircraft on most trips under 500 nautical miles but cruised at higher altitudes (ceiling 43,000 feet) and provided a cabin with less vibration for the passengers. There was also the cache and appeal of jet travel.

The impact of the Citation II family on worldwide business aviation cannot be understated, either for its maker or its customers. Early on, it brought dozens of Part 135 charter operators into the jet age. The Citation II line, specifically the S/II, formed the backbone of the initial fleet of fractional ownership pioneer NetJets, both in the U.S. and Europe, in the 1980s and 1990s, and numerous smaller fractional and shared ownership operators. And its design was modified and morphed into numerous succeeding models by Cessna—the Citation V, Ultra, Excel, and XLS/XLS+—which collectively account for more than 1,500 aircraft.

The Original Model Is Most Popular

Within the entire Citation II lineage, the original Citation II, manufactured between 1978 and 1994, has been the most popular. It features a three-foot, nine-inch fuselage stretch and a three-foot, six-inch cabin extension from the original Citation I, creating room for two extra passengers, and a wider wingspan, allowing for 198 gallons of additional fuel. Compared with the engines on the Citation I, the II’s Pratt & Whitney JT15D-4 engines each deliver 600 pounds of additional thrust. Cruising at 375 knots, the II has a range of 1,200 nm with IFR reserves. Real-world cruising speed is closer to 350 knots.

Typical cabin layouts feature a two-place, side-facing divan opposite the aircraft entry door followed by six individual executive seats. Legroom in the first four of these, arranged in a facing club-four configuration, is more generous than in the two most aft seats. Between the first four and last two seats, the wing spar also intrudes into the cabin aisle, so watch your step. A blue water lav with a closing privacy door is behind the seats in the rear cabin. By contemporary standards, the cabin is not capacious, measuring 15 feet, nine inches long, four feet, eight inches wide, and four feet, seven inches tall—counting the trenched center aisle. With seats full, passengers need to pack light. 

The II was certified to the more stringent Part 25 FAA standards and requires two pilots. However, the II/SP (Model 551, produced between 1978 and 1987) can be flown single-pilot. The II/SP aircraft requires a different type rating, has a slightly different instrument panel and an 800-pounds-lighter maximum takeoff weight, down to 12,500 pounds, to bring it into Part 23 parameters. The II’s straight-leg, wide-stance main landing gear is not forgiving of ham-handed landings and the turning radius on the ramp is a bit wider than that of its contemporaries. The SII (produced 1984-1988) can also be flown single-pilot. Featuring tweaked engines and a reworked wing that can hold an extra 120 gallons of fuel, the SII offers a maximum cruise speed of 400 knots and a range of almost 2,000 nm.

Required maintenance phase inspections are pricey events. The Phase V must be completed every three years or 1,200 hours. It can easily cost more than what you paid for the airplane. Similarly, the engine TBO for the Pratts is 3,500 hours; however, that can be extended to up to 5,200 hours “on condition,” provided the engines are enrolled in an approved monitoring and inspection program.

The aftermarket modification programs from Sierra and Clifford replaced the Pratt engines with those from Williams, boosting cruise speed and takeoff weight while cutting climb times and fuel consumption. Priced from $1.6 million to more than $2 million, they long ago stopped making sense for a market where the majority of inventory for sale is priced under $1.5 million; however, aircraft so equipped command a premium price. Similarly, any cabin upgrade beyond a simple re-cover of the soft goods likely will be money lost.

Then again, it’s a “goofy market.” Because it is, the flying “Family Truckster” soldiers on.