When Cessna designed the light-jet CitationJet in the early 1990s, the emphasis was on low cost and ease of operation. From the start, the CJ was intended to be flown by a single pilot much of the time and to have broad appeal to owner pilots. And the CJ proved to be a success, with Cessna delivering the first 359 between 1993 and 1999, which was an overall slow sales period for business aviation.
The early CJs continue to be popular jets with their low operating costs and predictable flying qualities, but the avionics system is hopelessly out of date. It has become difficult to find replacement parts for many components of the avionics and engine gauging system, and there is no technically or economically realistic way to bring the CJ cockpit into the advanced world of the FAA's NextGen air traffic system.
To help keep the original CJs — serial numbers 0001 to 0359 — flying far into the future, Cessna teamed with Garmin to create a whole new avionics system based on Garmin's popular and very capable G1000 system. Garmin developed and earned FAA approval for the new system, and the conversions will be done at Cessna's Citation Service Centers. Unlike most other avionics conversions, this one keeps the CJ in the Cessna maintenance system with the necessary, approved maintenance plan assuring continuing airworthiness far into the future.
The CJ was originally designed during a transition period in avionics development, so it ended up with a hodgepodge of equipment. It has very basic EFIS displays for attitude and heading, combined with mechanical instruments for air data. No lower cost AHRS existed, so the CJ has conventional gyros for attitude and heading reference. Because Cessna wanted to keep the CJ simple and low-cost, there is no AC power system, so the gyros have to make their own AC power, which means they are not interchangeable with the gyros in thousands of other jets.
The navigation and communication functions are handled by Bendix/King Silver Crown radios, which work fine, but they cannot be upgraded to new performance standards. Most CJs have some kind of a flight management system (FMS), but GPS WAAS and other current technology is generally not available.
The Garmin solution was to rip out all of the avionics, including the engine and fuel gauges, and replace them with a three-display flat-glass system. In the center is a 12-inch MFD with 10.4-inch PFDs on either side. In place of the ancient EADI, a CJ owner can have the magic of synthetic vision on his PFD, all supported by Garmin's WAAS-enabled GPS navigators. The system is capable of flying LPV and all other GPS-based procedures and is ready to move up to ADS-B and other requirements of NextGen.
The system, of course, has redundancy in all of the essential components, such as AHRS, GPS receivers, air data computers and so on. The CJ system qualifies for RVSM flight above 29,000 feet.
The big flat-glass displays also provide plenty of space to show XM satellite weather, Jeppesen or Garmin FliteCharts approach charts, Garmin's SafeTaxi display that shows your position on the airport and all of the moving map features expected in a current avionics system.
To control the airplane, there is Garmin's GFC 700 autopilot, which has been so successful in other jets, such as the Cessna Mustang and Embraer Phenom 100. A new flight guidance panel with all knobs and buttons to control the autopilot/flight director has been located front and center, just where it should be.
To see the new system in flight with Garmin test pilot Stephen Reid, who did the development flying on the system, in the right seat, I engaged the autopilot shortly after liftoff and let the system show its stuff. As many times as I fly these G1000 procedures, I'm still impressed, because the CJ automatically flew to the initial approach fix on the ILS at Lawrence, Kansas, entered the holding pattern, and then flew the ILS down to minimums. At that point I pressed go-around, and the system made all of the necessary mode selections to first fly runway heading to the specified altitude, then turn, then level off, intercept the designated course and enter the holding pattern to complete the missed approach procedure. My only action after pressing the go-around button was to re-engage the autopilot.
The engine and fuel gauges in the CJ are the vertical tapes that have been a trademark of Citations from that era. In the new system, all of that information is displayed on the center MFD or can be shown on the border of the PFD. A new capability is the automatic calculation of target engine power for takeoff, climb and maximum cruise. A little blue bug appears on the N1 vertical scale to show you the target power setting, so there is no need to look up engine speeds for each elevation and temperature in the checklist.
The base price for the avionics conversion is $385,000, with some capabilities such as synthetic vision being an option. Cessna expects the conversion to require three to four weeks of downtime in any Citation Service Center.