To paraphrase a famous American philosopher, predictions can be hard to make, especially when they’re about the future. But seeing the future of the entry-level business jet market 20 years ago, Cessna, with the creation of its seminal CitationJet, must have been watching the future in some late ’80s version of high definition. The airplane it created not only sold very well for a long time — Cessna has built 359 original CitationJets during the airplane’s run — but that entry-level jet also spawned several close derivatives. The company has produced 1,450 CJs in all. These airplanes have helped Cessna dominate the market for light, small-cabin jets up to the boundary of midsize.
In some cases Cessna’s competitors have tried, with limited success, to create an alternative vision of the light jet paradigm that Cessna seems to have both invented and perfected.
That original CitationJet was a wonder. At a top cruise speed of 380 knots, it was between 30 and 40 knots faster than its predecessor, and it was lighter while having similar payload numbers. It was also a single-pilot airplane from the start, and its solid and predictable handling qualities made it a realistic step-up airplane for all kinds of pilots.
A CJ in Every Niche
Today the CJ lineup includes three airplanes, the CJ2+, the CJ3 and the flagship CJ4. The derivatives started coming in 2000, when Cessna delivered the first CJ1, an improved CJ with updated avionics — Collins Pro Line 21, the current standard across the CJ line — and higher maximum takeoff weight. More notably, the CJ2, which featured a stretched fuselage, more powerful engines and better range, was a roomier, faster, more modern CJ. The CJ3, an immediate hit, came four years later. It was stretched even more and was even faster, to the point that it began attracting customers that Cessna never figured would be asking for a CJ, including fractional providers. The ultimate expression, at least so far, is the CJ4, a 2,000 nm, 450-knot airplane. Cessna delivered the first CJ4 just last year. Today, every CJ is outfitted with digitally controlled (fadec) engines, which makes single-pilot flying safer and easier.
Citation: A Better Idea
There are relatively few truly significant product introductions in the short history of the entry-level business/personal jet, yet most of them have been pioneered by one company, Cessna Aircraft out of Wichita, Kansas. The certification in 1971 of the Citation, the CitationJet’s inspiration, was one such event.
The airplane was originally called the Fanjet, for the Pratt & Whitney JT15D-1A turbofan engines that powered them. Though the Fanjet moniker was soon abandoned, Cessna’s instinct to focus on the fan was right on the money. The Citation’s light jet competition at the time, the Lear 24, was a whole different animal. It was a true turbojet; it featured a moderately swept wing; it was much faster, and it was demanding to fly. The new Cessna jet, on the other hand, was anything but a barnburner, a fact that some had fun with, calling it the “Slow-tation” or the “Nearjet.” But the truth was that Cessna turned the airplane’s performance into a selling point. The Citation handled easily and could use runways considerably shorter than the Lear could.