To say I was looking forward to flying Cessna’s new Citation M2 is a great understatement. As I flew from Austin, Texas, up to Wichita, Kansas, in my Garmin-equipped SR22 to meet with the folks from Cessna, I couldn’t help but wonder how Cessna had made a light jet designed more than 20 years ago into the kind of modern marvel buyers (and journalists) expect these days. I’m type-rated in the Cessna Model 525 CitationJet, a rating I earned in a flight simulator outfitted with early legacy avionics that made me long, as I twisted knobs and rotated dials in the dark, for something at least a little more modern.
Clearly, I hadn’t wished for enough. The next day I’d be flying a CJ with next-gen avionics, stuff that very few pilots have seen, much less flown.
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What’s an M2?
The launch of Cessna’s Citation M2 by then-new CEO Scott Ernest to a group of journalists at the company’s headquarters in Wichita last year was, for lack of a better word, interesting. Until we arrived on site that day, none of us knew exactly what M2 was or how it fit in with Cessna’s traditional lineup of light jets.
As it turned out, M2 was intended, as one might assume, to sound as if it’s the next logical step after the entry-level Model 510 Mustang, but it wasn’t a Mustang at all. It was in reality a Model 525 CitationJet or “CJ.”
Early on in the M2 program, the folks at Cessna seemed to want to refer to M2 as a new model instead of a new version of the CJ. This surprised me, as CitationJet is one of the best brands in aviation.
The more I thought about it, however, the more the strategy made sense. After all, Mustang pilots are passionate about their planes and rightly so. Cessna was simply seeking to capitalize on that passion.
As with the original Citation introduced way back in the 1970s, Cessna was attempting to do what it did 20 years later with the CitationJet and 30 years later with the Mustang: create a new, lower-cost-of-admission entry-level jet.
The CitationJet program was launched in 1989 in the effort to introduce a light jet expressly designed for single-pilot operations that also boasted good performance and a comfortable cabin for a small airplane. The price was just under $3 million. It was a huge hit. Cessna has sold more than 400 Model 525s of different varieties since the CJ’s introduction.
The Mustang, which followed a decade later, came in at around that same price (though Cessna for a time sold it for $2.5 million). The Mustang, which Cessna began delivering in 2005, resonated strongly with owner-pilots. It was smaller, easier to fly and featured the Garmin G1000 flat-panel avionics system that many of the pilots stepping up to the Mustang had cut their teeth on in Cessna’s single-engine products.
The problem was the logical step-up airplane for them, the now-discontinued CJ1+, was a very different airplane: faster, more demanding of pilot performance and more bizjet-like up front. As straightforward as the CJ is, the transition seems daunting to some pilots stepping up from piston singles or twins, or even the Mustang. M2 is designed to address that gap by giving performance on top of easy-flying manners.
The Citation, the CitationJet and even the Mustang were designed during periods when light jet sales were hot and it made sense to invest in new product development, even to create clean-sheet airplanes for promising markets. In each case, the gamble paid off. Today, with the light and midsize markets markedly off, the same cannot be said. So Cessna needed to come up with a “new” model that leveraged existing technology. And M2 was born.
Far from being the shortsighted shortcut that some critics might make it out to be, M2 seems to me to be a brilliant recasting of a great airframe with the latest quality-of-life upgrades. This is hardly the first time such a thing has been done, but the cleverness of the M2 program is striking. For the investment costs of a new avionics package, interior and performance upgrade, you get what is not only the new entry-level CJ but also the perfect step-up model for the hundreds of happy Mustang customers who are looking for something a little faster and roomier. You can see why I was so curious to fly it and see how it stacked up to the other CJs I’ve flown, which include ones from every phase in its history. Regardless, it was clear that previous models had set a high bar for Cessna to reach with its latest Model 525 CitationJet, the first with Garmin avionics.
Quality of Life
The improvements to M2 are modest in scope but impressive in their effect. Though I have flown a number of different CJs and have a couple of dozen hours in a CJ1+, M2 seems for all the world like a different airplane, at least once you get inside.
On the outside, you can tell instantly that it’s an M2 and not a straight CJ thanks to the new wingtip extensions that are too subtle to be called “winglets.” Cessna refers to them instead as “swooplets,” a term we’re adding right now to Flying‘s electronic dictionary. Winglets improve lift by adding significantly to wingspan and wing area. More importantly perhaps, they greatly reduce the drag associated with the wasteful span-wise flow that normally spills over the wingtip. As far as swooplets are concerned, without conducting any thorough aerodynamic analysis, I’m going to say they are there largely for the sake of appearance. I still like them.
Inside M2 there are changes galore. Turn right upon entry through the classic CJ door, and you see the completely redesigned cabin. There are new seat appointments (the structure is the same; the comfort is much improved), a new entertainment/network system Cessna calls Clarity and beautifully redesigned features, including the lav (now with a hard door), food-storage area (calling it a galley is a stretch) and LED lighting throughout. The interior was redesigned by the same team that is working on Cessna’s two large-body models, the Latitude and larger Longitude, so the quality of the materials and workmanship in M2 is as good as you’ll see in Cessna’s in-development big-bucks bizjets.
Up front, the changes are even more evident. M2 is the first CJ to feature Garmin flat-panel avionics, in this case the G3000 system designed for light jets. G3000 is an evolution of the G1000-based system that comes standard in the Mustang and in all of Cessna’s current single-engine models. The magic behind G3000 is that it uses small touch screens to navigate the display system’s menus instead of bezel-mounted buttons or a stick cursor. The interface is user-friendly, with shallow menus, an easy-to-navigate home menu layout (if you’re ever lost, just go to the menu’s home) and big graphical icons to help you recognize the function without having to put on your reading specs.
I’d flown with a G2000, a close companion product to G3000, in a couple of different airplanes and loved it. For pilots familiar with G1000, G3000 will seem very familiar, though I found myself searching at first to figure out how to do simple things, like swap a radio frequency.
More often than not, I was trying too hard. Just touch the frequency you want on the controller, and boom, it’s there. G3000 also cleans up the cockpit a great deal compared to previous CJ avionics installations. Because a lot of the functions are housed in the integrated avionics suite, Cessna was able to eliminate many, though not all, of the knobs, buttons and switches that proliferate in any jet’s cockpit. M2 is still a serious airplane to fly. But with G3000 and full-authority digital engine control, the pilot workload is greatly reduced. In a single-pilot jet, that means a lot.
Other improvements to the cockpit are easier entry (thanks to a lowered console), greater seat travel rearward, greater recline thanks to an ingenious cutout that lets you recline back into what used to be a cabinet wall, and the elimination of the infamous rotary-test knob. You’ve also got a multifunction backup instrument on the glareshield, autopilot controls up there too (where they belong) and backup display controllers in the highly unlikely event that the touch screens go out.
M2 is supposed to be a 400-knot airplane, compared to 380 knots for the CJ1+, and I spent a while trying to figure out exactly how Cessna managed to get an extra 20 knots out of an airframe that, swooplets excepted, seemed identical to the previous generation of CJs. The answer, I was told, was simply that the new Williams power plants, with up to 1,965 pounds of thrust apiece, produce more power than the previous FJ44s. This accounts for much of the performance improvement in the new model.
The plan was for us to brief on the new airplane, hop in it, fly to Independence, Kansas, where M2 will be produced, tour the factory, hop back in, do some more flying and head back to Wichita in time for lunch. The plan alone was making me hungry.
My right-seat companion for the flight was Cessna engineering test pilot Pete Fisher, who walked me patiently through the procedures for the new model, including the checklists, which can now be largely completed using what software geeks might refer to as “wizards” on the Garmin panel that guide you through test steps — everything from fire-warning checks to stick shaker — without having the dreaded rotary-test switch, a round dial switch that served the same purpose as the new electronic preflight guide. The improved crew alerting system has messages for a number of warnings that formerly had dedicated lights in the panel. The effect is a panel that is a lot less cluttered, a lot better organized and a lot less demanding of the pilot’s attention, which should be focused on flying and less on the tedious art of switchology.
A big difference between the old and new CJs is that newer models are equipped with fadec, so the start sequence is greatly simplified as is engine management in general. On start, you get things spinning, introduce fuel and watch the numbers do what they do. Should something go awry, which is unlikely, the system takes care of itself, something it can do much faster and better than any human.
It was hot in Wichita that July day, just over 100 degrees, and as I plugged the numbers into the G3000, I was surprised at what good performance, including incredibly impressive runway performance, it still predicted for us despite the high density altitude.
As I taxied the airplane out of the busy Cessna experimental test ramp — no, I can’t tell you what I saw there, but it was very cool — and toward the runway, everything about M2 seemed like classic CJ. I will admit that I was thrilled that instead of a little paper card onto which I’d scribbled our V speeds, the G3000 had them displayed numerically and graphically.
We were cleared, I made sure everyone was ready to go, and I made one last check and advanced the power levers for takeoff — literally, for “takeoff,” which is one of the lever presets. Instead of having to set power by the numbers, which I always thought was crazy for a single pilot flying a jet, you simply push the throttles full forward and get ready to go flying.
M2 accelerated as only a light jet with a light load and fairly big engines can do, and before I knew it, we were V1, at 104 knots, and then rotate at 105. We were flying, and I remembered once again how much I love this airplane. Gear up, flaps up, make the turn, go to departure, talk to you on the way back. I hand-flew the airplane on the way up, and it was in every respect a 525, that is to say, pleasing to fly, predictable and just responsive enough.
A couple of nice things that a modest addition of power have done for M2: First, its already short takeoff and landing distances are now even shorter. At max takeoff weight and standard conditions at sea level, M2 gets off the ground in just 3,250 feet. Getting it down is even more impressive. At max landing weight (which is just 800 pounds less than M2’s max takeoff weight of 10,700 pounds) the airplane requires just 2,640 feet of runway.
Second, more power equals better climbing ability. M2 can climb directly to 41,000 feet in around 24 minutes, figures that jibe with my flight, though we did not get the opportunity to climb directly to that altitude or to our final altitude of 34,000 feet, for that matter. For our initial climb (takeoff weight was 9,900 pounds) at 220 knots indicated, we were, however, seeing an impressive 2,700 fpm on the VSI, and that was on a very hot day, ISA+16.
Even once we were in the flight levels, the climbing power was still there. From FL260 up to FL340, M2 was climbing at better than 1,300 fpm, which is a good rate of climb. Of course, for a jet this means you get higher faster, save fuel and extend range. When it comes to just about everything with jets, higher is better.
At 34,000 feet and ISA+11, an altitude — though not temperature — where M2 should get its best speed, it did indeed. At 920 pounds per hour total (around 135 gph per side) we were seeing 401 knots. We didn’t venture up to 41,000 feet that day, but Fisher told me the fuel flow typically goes way down, to 700 pph total (around 50 gallons per side, so barely more than a third of the fuel burn at FL340) for a slight penalty in airspeed.
Coming into Independence, a short hop for us in the CJ, I used the hydraulic speed brakes, which you can extend at any speed, though they retract automatically when either engine is at high thrust to guard against accidently leaving speed brakes deployed when they’re the last thing you need.
The tower directed us to a left base for Runway 35 and cleared us to land. The CJ has four notches of flaps, though the last one, which is 60 degrees, is for lift dump only and can only be selected when you’re on the ground. With a 5,500-foot runway and a long drive away from any airline airport, Independence is a perfect example of the ideal destination for a CJ (or just about any bizjet, for that matter). Again, the CJ was a CJ, and the pattern and landing were exactly what I’d expected. I made my best landing of the day, and we taxied in.
After one of the best factory tours I’ve ever had thanks to the hospitality of Lily English, the general manager of Cessna’s Indy manufacturing plant, we hopped back into M2 and made our way back to Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, taking the long way, spending time doing air work, steep turns, slow flight, stalls and the like. Again, it was great to get reacquainted with the 525. As should be the case for an entry-level, single-pilot jet intended for owner-flown operations, the CJ exhibits docile handling, even at high altitudes. A stick shaker keeps you alerted to any unintended stalls, and the Williams engines provide enough motive force to turn such an event into a quick and easy climb.
As I’d suspected, M2 left me speechless. I know Cessna wasn’t redoing the 525 just for me, but they might as well have been. They took a tried-and-true performer, gave it a bit more power, remarkably easy-to-use avionics that cut down on workload and complexity, and a refined cabin that is sure to please the people in back. I wish I’d been able to fly it back home.
At right around $4.4 million, M2 is well-positioned, but it will face some stiff competition from two chief rivals: the still in-development HondaJet and the Embraer Phenom 100. In terms of performance, price and refinement, M2 stacks up well against the two formidable entry-level jets.
As usual, one of the advantages M2 has over its competitors is Cessna’s remarkable service center network, which seems to only get stronger as time passes. Moreover, there’s really very little in the form of potential surprises for owners.
In many ways, that’s what the CitationJet has always been about, giving owner-pilots an airplane that does exactly what they expect it to do with great economy and dependability. Only now it’s doing it with a great new cockpit and a wonderful new cabin, a combination of attributes Cessna says has created a tremendous level of interest in the new jet, which comes as no surprise to us.