Citation M2 Gen2 in flight

Cessna Citation M2 Gen2

Incremental changes over decades have yielded a light jet that qualifies as a strong competitor in its class.

On an overcast January afternoon, I trudged through slushy snow and boarded the then-new 1966 Cessna 182J Skylane single-engine propeller airplane. Fifty-seven years later, I sat behind the controls of a new Cessna T182T. 

Inside, I noticed significant differences between the two airplanes. The seats on the new one were more comfortable, the substrates and fabrics used for its interior were of higher quality, and the “steam gauge” instrument panel that was state-of-the-art in 1966 had been replaced by a slick glass panel design from Garmin with all the latest safety features. But on the exterior, aside from wider air intakes for the engine, a new propeller, and better paint, the two aircraft looked remarkably similar. They should: they have the same FAA type certificate. 

The Skylane’s incremental evolution is yet another example of Cessna’s aircraft development philosophy: design a model with good aerodynamic “bones,” as they say in the real estate trade, and then refine it over time. The approach has yielded excellent results, and it’s also a lot cheaper than repeatedly designing from scratch.) 

That brings us to the new $6.15 million Cessna Citation M2 Gen2 (for Generation 2) light jet. The M2 Gen2 can trace its roots back to 1957—the year after the airframer delivered the first Skylane. That was the year Cessna initially delivered the two-seat, twin-engine T-37 “Tweet” jet trainer to the U.S. Air Force. Over a 20-year production run, the airframer manufactured 1,269 Tweets. Another 557 were armed versions, designated the A-37, that flew not only during the Vietnam conflict but also in counterinsurgency missions around the world. 

Citation M2 Gen2 cabin

Citation I’s Shortcomings

More importantly, the Tweet became the foundation for Cessna’s wildly successful line of Citation business jets, beginning with the original Citation 500 Fanjet in 1971, which the company redesignated as the Citation I in 1976. Cessna managed to sell 700 copies between 1972 and 1985, when production ended. The aircraft had come under fire for its thirsty fuel burn and relatively slow (357-knot) top speed that bled off quickly at higher altitudes. It also suffered from insufficient cabin headroom and aesthetic challenges, including stodgy styling and a bulbous nose. Airport wags were quick to label it the “Slowtation.”

Cessna designed the CJ to correct these deficiencies. It used part of the Citation I’s fuselage mated to a new nose and tail assembly, more aerodynamic wings, a pair of fuel-efficient Williams FJ44 engines, new first-generation glass-panel avionics, and a redesigned cabin that provided better headroom from a trenched center aisle. Cessna shaved more than 1,400 pounds from the airplane, down to a maximum takeoff weight of 10,400 pounds, and range increased from 1,329 to 1,500 nautical miles. More importantly, the top cruise speed increased to a more respectable 380 knots. 

The aircraft sold well, with more than 700 CJs and updated CJ1 and CJ1+ versions delivered during an 18-year production run. Then, in 2011, the company announced plans for the M2. 

Citation M2 Gen2 cockpit

At first blush, the M2 looked like a refreshed CJ1+, only with subtle winglets. But under the skin, much was new, including uprated Williams FJ44-1AP-21 engines with full authority digital engine control (Fadec), new Garmin G3000 touchscreen avionics, and a roomier cockpit with a shorter control pedestal for easier entry and egress from the pilot seats. The design resonated with the market, especially with owner-pilots (the M2 can be flown single-pilot), and Cessna delivered 302 M2s during its 2013-2021 production cycle. 

In 2021, the airframer announced plans for a refreshed M2, designated the M2 Gen2, with additional improvements. Among them are three more inches of cockpit legroom and a cabin with more durable materials, new sidewall ledges, a choice of wood or carpet flooring materials, accent lighting, illuminated cupholders, and wireless and USB charging ports at each passenger seat. Customers can also choose from four color/fabric/material combinations: mist, driftwood, ebony, and cashmere. Cessna delivered 32 copies of the M2 Gen2 last year, its first full year of production, and 11 through the first six months of 2023. 

A Viable Competitor

The updated model gave Textron Aviation, Cessna’s parent company, a viable competitor to the comparatively new-design HondaJet, the latest version of which, the Elite II, retails for $6.5 million or nearly $400,000 more. 

The HondaJet was initially the antithesis of incremental. It began life as a research project way back in 1987, but the first production prototype didn’t fly until 2003 and it wasn’t certified until 2015, after the company had patiently spent nearly $2 billion on its development.

From then through 2022, Honda delivered 250 aircraft. For the extra money, it offers a cabin with the same seating capacity as the Citation M2 Gen2—albeit one with more legroom and a lav with a privacy door—that is two inches wider and six feet longer. It is a few knots faster than the Cessna and has a service ceiling that is 2,000 feet higher. The aircraft’s ranges are within three nautical miles of each other (the M2’s is 1,550 nautical miles while the Honda’s is 1,547) and their maximum takeoff weights are nearly identical (the M2’s is 10,700 pounds while the latest Honda’s is 10,701). However, the Cessna can use slightly shorter runways and you can enhance its performance by installing a certified $250,900 aftermarket option, Atlas active winglets from Tamarack Aerospace. 

Adding the winglets to the M2 Gen2 boosts performance across the board: range increases to 1,600 nautical miles, climb time is reduced, payload increases by 400 pounds and under high/hot conditions is boosted by 500 pounds, fuel consumption declines up to 33 percent, landing distance decreases due to the ability to use slower approach speeds, and turbulence is reduced by up to 25 percent. The installation adds 75 pounds to the aircraft and takes eight days to complete. It increases the M2 Gen2’s wingspan from 47 feet, three inches to 52 feet, six inches. The winglets make an already solid performer that much better. 

But individual and comparative attributes aside, maybe this is the biggest takeaway from the M2 Gen2: sometimes—with continuous improvement of a legacy airframe—you can achieve almost the same performance and comfort you could get with a pricier clean-sheet design. And when you’re not sinking billions into development costs, you can deliver that performance for a lot less. 

Citation M2 Gen2


2023 Textron Aviation Cessna Citation M2 Gen2 at a Glance

Price: $6.15 million

Engines: 2 Williams FJ-44-1AP-21, 1,965 pounds of thrust each

Avionics: Garmin G3000

Crew: 1–2 

Passengers: 6–7 

Cabin: 57 in (H), 58 in (W), 11 ft (L)

Baggage compartment: 45.6 cu ft 

Top cruising speed: 404 kt 

Range: 1,550 nm (full fuel payload 514 lb) 

Service ceiling: 41,000 ft 

Maximum takeoff weight: 10,700 lb