As a brand, "Cessna Citation" conjures up a sense of solidity, of reliability, of conservatism, tradition and value. Utility trumps flash, the tried-and-true takes precedence over the new, and proven service wins out over promises. For decades Citations have sold themselves to customers who were looking to get a great value on an airplane with a track record of getting the job done for many hundreds of owners just like them.
So when the Wichita, Kansas, icon tooled up to build a couple of next-generation larger cabin models, the question I had was this: How does this paragon of plain-sense manufacturing build new Citations that embody the best of the company's traditional strengths in addition to the latest innovations in propulsion, avionics, aerodynamics and cabin design?
How they did it is kind of a long story. What they came up with isn't. It's called the Latitude.
For the last few months I'd been itching to go flying in the Latitude, the first of a new generation of Cessnas that at this point includes just one other member, the emerging Citation Longitude. (To keep them straight, I just remember that the "Long"itude has a "long"er range.) Cessna's flight test program was in full swing, so wresting a flying example from the flight test engineers' busy slide rules for a couple of hours of atmospheric fun was no easy feat. It finally happened, though, and the flight was amazing.
Some might dismiss the Latitude as a slightly scaled down version of the Sovereign+, but there's a lot more to it than that. True, the Latitude is certificated under an amendment to the Sovereign Model 680 type certificate, and the airplane shares many design features, components and philosophies with the Sovereign line. To wit, pilots with a Cessna model 680 type rating will need only differences training to fly the Latitude.
The story of the Latitude is proven technology seamlessly meeting high-tech enhancements. The idea was to take the best features of the Sovereign+, improve upon the cabin and avionics, and do it without tackling high-risk new features, like new wings (the Latitude's is essentially identical to the Sovereign+ wing), tail or, gulp, flight control systems.
Still, there's a lot that's new in the Latitude, some of it verging on revolutionary by midsize standards. As with every bizjet we've ever flown, the best seats in the house are up front (though we'll admit we're biased in favor of seats with flight controls as part of the package — that's true first class). In the case of the Latitude, the cabin is a revelation. Like Embraer, the one competing manufacturer with a true midsize jet, Cessna realized that if it wanted to compete in this new world of high-flying expectations, it had to create a jet with a cabin that passengers more than just put up with; they had to adore it. Target hit.
Cessna started out with a short list of goals consistent with the company's Citation DNA while pushing into realms of technology and comfort that went beyond any plane that had worn Cessna colors before. The tried-and-true included — and this is not hyperbole — legendary reliability, serviceability, industry-leading runway performance with super-slow approach speeds, low operating costs and a really competitive purchase price. To achieve these things, Cessna designers gave the new model an all-metal design with the moderately swept Sovereign wing for great hand-flying manners and a perfect blend of solid cruise performance and head-scratchingly low approach speeds.
The Latitude features good, old-fashioned "fly-by-wire" flight controls, in that the ailerons, rudder and elevator are controlled by physical "wires," namely unpowered (not hydraulic) cables and push rods. It's a simple, proven and robust system. To give the Latitude consistent control feel throughout its large speed envelope — Mach 0.80 to just over 80 knots — there's a mechanical linkage system that adjusts aileron power to be roughly the same even at higher speeds, so pilots don't have to use mucho muscle power to maneuver at altitude, where the energetic airflow provides lots of natural control resistance.
Assisting in flight control is a smart, hydraulically powered spoiler system with five spoilers per side. These serve as a multifunction lift and control management system. Three spoilers on each wing augment aileron operation, and all of them act as inflight speedbrakes and lift dump devices after landing. While it's transparent to the pilots, the pilot and copilot controls are hooked up to different roll controls — the pilot's yoke handles the ailerons and the copilot's the spoilers. There's a disconnect control that can be activated to split the systems, allowing the airplane to be flown by ailerons or spoilers alone, providing a clever form of redundancy in the unlikely event that something should break.
Another design decision that kept the program risk low was sticking with the same engines as on the Sovereign, the rugged, reliable, efficient and proven Pratt & Whitney PW306D1. Incorporating full-authority digital engine control (fadec) for easy operation and maximum efficiency, the high-bypass turbofan engines put out 5,760 pounds of thrust apiece, while regulating the ratio of exhaust gases with bypass air to lower emissions and noise.
Cessna's aerodynamicists had the additional luxury of using the magic that is the Sovereign+ wing, which does it all, providing an MMO of Mach 0.80 to go along with VREFs hovering right around 100 knots. Big Fowler flaps provide plenty of slowdown power, both providing drag and increasing the wing area substantially when fully extended. The Latitude doesn't have winglets but rather little "swooplets," as on the Sovereign+. These subtly upturned tips look for all the world like cosmetic flourishes, but Cessna says they do more good at less cost than big winglets, which can add weight while requiring additional supporting wing structure to boot.
To understand the Latitude's cabin appeal, you need to start from the ground up — well, the floor up anyway. The Latitude has a true flat floor and the widest and tallest Citation cabin ever. At 6 feet in height and a super-wide 77 inches across, the space goes beyond other Citations for those reasons alone. Cessna went further, designing the windows to be large and spaced perfectly to give every seat occupant a private view of the world slipping by below. The effect is a cabin that reminds me more of a large-cabin jet than a midsize model, an effect that will not be lost on potential customers.
Cabin styling, comfort, amenities and technology are all big upgrades over past true midsize models. The Latitude's seats are what seem to be the ideal blend of minimal and comfortable, with enough structure to be substantial while sleek enough to not overwhelm (or take up excessive space). They are also highly adjustable, allowing the passenger to slide out toward the aisle (not the alley), and they rotate, recline, mold to one's contours and even transform into a very sleep-friendly shape.
It's hard to quantify quiet in the cabin, but it seemed really quiet, even when I slipped back during flight to check out the passengers' chambers. Like newly updated Citations, the Latitude has Cessna's Clarity Wireless cabin connectivity system through which passengers can enjoy music or video and control lighting and temperature. With Clarity passengers can play music (or a selected movie's soundtrack) through the cabin speakers. Inside a jet screaming through the skies at eight-tenths the speed of sound, I expected that soundscape to be tinny and challenged. It was, instead, deep, rich and encompassing. Hmm, I wondered, what would be my soundtrack to Hawaii?
Like the Citation X+ and Sovereign+, the Latitude has Garmin's new G5000 touch-screen avionics suite with autothrottles. The four touch-screen controllers allow the pilots to make inputs to the flight management system at easy arm's reach. The touch-screen layout eliminates the big flight management keypad/displays on the console between the seats, so things seem far cleaner and less cluttered.
G5000, like Garmin's other similar systems for light airplanes and smaller turbine models, is based on a user interface that's a big improvement over the G1000 system that revolutionized general aviation but that can be a chore to learn and requires more button pushes to execute a task than one might like. Instead of using big FMS keypads to do the dirty work, pilots can touch the data into one of the touch-screen controllers (set up to work well even in turbulence) and see the magic happen.
Because the tube is bigger, the cockpit of the Latitude is also bigger than the Sovereign's, which allows the seats to have more travel, to recline farther and to be more widely adjustable. The windscreens are larger too, and there's interior light and more space along the sides and between the pilot seats. Even the temperature control is better. All in all, it's a much nicer space for pilots than that of any other Citation.
We went out of Austin-Bergstrom International on a beautiful early spring day. We were pretty light, just 26,500 pounds, with myself in the left seat, program test flight head Aaron Tobias in the right and flight test engineer Steve Turner keeping an eye on things from the back.
Flight controls are conventional, with dual columns and a tiller on the pilot's side. The tiller can swivel the airplane around on a nickel (much tighter than a dime), and you use it for most taxiing. For the takeoff roll, you need only the rudder pedals, which are adjustable with a little foot-operated lever that's survived 25 years and numerous Citation models despite it being something of a tricky skill to master.
With a light load and a healthy headwind, we wouldn't need much runway. With a rotation speed of 101 knots, we'd need just under 3,000 feet that day. After a CRJ touched down and cleared Runway 17L, big buildups providing a dramatic backdrop to the south, the tower gave us the go-ahead. Rounding the corner into position, we completed our lineup check, including one last look at the controls (including making sure the taxi control lock was off). I armed the autothrottles, pushed them up and watched them take it away.
Acceleration got my attention as the Pratts spun up to full power and we were off. After I rotated I called for gear up, and then flaps, and we climbed at 250 knots selected, a speed that gave us a rate of climb of around 3,000 fpm that day. We had flight-planned up to 43,000 feet — the plane's ceiling is 45,000 feet — with only a couple level-offs on our way there. The Latitude can climb directly to FL 430 in 24 minutes.
I hand-flew the airplane up through FL 250. It felt like other larger Citations, a solid, predictably handling plane that asks for steady trimming to minimize control forces. Compared with a fly-by-wire model, it's work, though with time any proficient pilot would come to feel at one with the plane. With the larger windscreens, the visibility is very good, though I found I liked my seat a little higher than the sight gauge suggested I set it. At FL 430 we were getting book value for our weight and the temperature, a true airspeed of 432 knots while burning 1,460 pounds of fuel per hour.
As I said, technology is nicely integrated, even up front. While up at altitude I tried out the Iridium phone through the headsets. It worked great. I even texted the office that I would be in late, because I was out flying, so please hold my calls.
The controllers, as is not always the case, were accommodating, letting us loiter at FL 430 for a while and then clearing us back to Austin via the usual north arrival procedure with step-down altitudes, speeds and crossing restrictions part of the process, all of which the G5000 FMS can handle automatically. On descent — we were cleared into Austin via the Sewzy One arrival — we let the autothrottles handle the speeds, keeping the value just below the "barber pole," so you get best performance without hazarding the alarm bells of drifting into the loud land of the red-and-white dashed lines. The autothrottles are a great addition to the Latitude, as they are to the Sovereign+ and X+, because they bring a world of sophistication to the midsize segment that makes flying safer, easier and more economical.
Below FL 180 we canceled IFR, and then I tried my hand at steep turns — I'm glad it wasn't a check ride — and checked out the autothrottle underspeed protection feature. Forget to add in power when you need it, and the system does it for you. But don't forget. I also worked to wrap my head around the VREF speeds I'd be looking at on approach, as we configured the plane for landing and I took in the strange view of flying a 30,000-plus-pound max gross airplane at 100 knots and it feeling nothing but solid.
Once back with Austin Approach, I flew the ILS for 17L, keeping an eye open for the traffic, a gaudily painted Southwest 737 on final for the parallel, 17R, in the hazy convective light of the Texas afternoon. The first shot was a normal approach — VREF was 100 knots — and full-stop landing. The big brakes on the Latitude are remarkable; even as a newbie to 680 flying, I got the airplane down and stopped at very close to book value, which was just under 3,000 feet.
I taxied back out for a second circuit, this time with a V1 cut to a single-engine pattern and landing. There was plenty of power, and my approach on one engine was only marginally worse than with two. After touchdown, I powered both mills back up and headed up again, to a third full-stop landing that, while not perfect, was my best of the day. I like it when it works out that way.
In the Latitude, Cessna brings to the table the qualities — reliability, serviceability, performance and cost certainty — that longtime Citation operators value, while adding in levels of comfort, safety and efficiency that only an investment in innovation can bring. The Latitude represents a near perfect blend of those two worlds.
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