Putting the Cessna Mustang to Work

Cessna Citation Mustang

A dream had just come true. Cessna invited me to spend a couple days with its new Mustang. I would pick the trips that looked interesting, and do the flying on my own. Cessna's top instructor and Mustang designated pilot examiner, Kirby Ortega, would be in the right seat to offer the occasional suggestion, and protect Cessna's asset in case I screwed up, but, for two days, I was the single pilot in my own Mustang.

I first flew the Mustang last summer before it was fully certified, and the airplane was a delight, delivering the performance Cessna had promised. Now that the first production Mustangs are being delivered to their owners, pilots want an update on the airplane in its final form, so Cessna came up with the idea of letting me do whatever I wanted in the Mustang for a couple of days to come as close as possible to the actual experience of having my own light jet. Cessna doesn't call the Mustang a very light jet (VLJ) because it is not really a revolutionary airplane as other VLJ makers say they will deliver, but an evolutionary airplane that builds on the nearly 40 years of experience the company has in designing business jets. The Mustang is certified to the same jet standards as the larger CJ series, for example, including all the system redundancy and engine-out balanced field takeoff performance. But because of its $2.7 million price tag in today's dollars, and its four passenger seats, the Mustang is the most attractive Citation for the owner pilot. Some of the hundreds of Mustang orders are from corporate flight departments, but most of the jets will be flown by their owners, at least some of the time. So, for my time in the Mustang I tried to fly the kind of trips a typical owner pilot would. The trips would not be possible by any other means without spending a day or two more away from home, and none of them could have been completed in the same day without your own jet.

On a bitterly cold morning in Wichita I decided a typical Mustang owner would head south, on business. Where would one likely do business south of Wichita? In Texas, of course. A flight to Houston to check up on my oil interests - may as well continue the dream - seemed like a good idea. After that a quick hop up to Dallas for lunch with the guy who was building my new shopping center would be good. And on the way home to Wichita I'd stop at Stillwater, Oklahoma, to leave some money with the Cowboys and maybe get my name carved into the new library.

The Mustang I was flying is number two and it was used for the function and reliability testing for certification. After FAA approval was earned, Cessna has piled on the hours flying all over the country in what it calls service testing. Mustang number two had just turned over 1,000 hours on the clock and looked great. The fit and finish both inside and out are excellent, and there were no visible signs of this Mustang's hours of experience with a variety of pilots at the controls. The airplane was still in "experimental" category, but only because it had a computer system installed to record a bunch of outputs from the Garmin G1000 avionics suite. Everything else was standard.

The Mustang generates many strong impressions when you walk up to it. First, it is bigger than you expect a four-passenger seat jet to be. And, to my eye, it's more attractive than some other Citations, mostly because of the shape of the windshield and nose. The gracefully curved windshield is electrically heated so the ductwork that gets the hot anti-ice air to the windshield of many other Citation models is gone. The Mustang windshield slopes back into the canopy, while earlier Citation designs have a much more upright windshield. The wing is very low and close to the ground, barely reaching up to my knee, and it is a pleasing shape with its 11-degree sweep of the leading edge. The T-tail looks right for a jet. But the greatest overall impression is of smoothness. The nose flows into the windshield, which sweeps into the canopy. The wing-to-fuselage fairing beautifully hides the fact that the entire fuselage is sitting on top of the wing. And the metalwork is free of ripples and waves.

One thing Citations do better than most business jets is hold baggage, and the Mustang is no exception. The nose compartment has a clear span across the entire width of the fuselage and can easily hold several golf bags, while the aft baggage is huge. Total external baggage is 57cubic feet. The only items that need to ride in the cabin are things you may want to use in flight.

One of Cessna's greatest design achievements is the Mustang main cabin door. A single flush handle opens and closes it with almost no friction on the mechanism. The door is bigger than on other members of the Citation 500 family, and operates more smoothly than any I have seen.

Once inside the Mustang, the cabin and cockpit cross section are on par with other light jets. The cockpit is actually easier to enter because the center pedestal does not go to the floor, so you can sit down and swing your toes under the pedestal instead of heaving your foot up and over. I'm 6 feet 2 inches but still raise the pilot's seat off its lowest position and pull it forward a couple of notches. The cockpit is as comfortable as any light jet, and more roomy than many.

The three big flat-panel displays of the Garmin G1000 avionics system fill the panel, but the 15-inch multifunction display (MFD) in the center dominates. You can use knobs on the display units to control the avionics system, or a keyboard mounted just below and aft of the throttles. You have to go all the way up to the newest over-$10 million midsize jets to find so much avionics capability.

The computerized flight plan said it was 496.7 nm from Wichita to Sugar Land Airport on the west side of Houston, and predicted that it would take 1+43 flying time and burn 1,158 pounds of fuel. That didn't include any extra time or fuel for an arrival procedure or other vectoring that was a certainty in the busy Houston airspace.

Kirby handed me the checklist and told me it was my airplane. The checklist is my only real complaint about the Mustang. It must have been written by lawyers, or maybe the FAA, which is probably the same thing, but it is way too long for such an automated and uncomplicated airplane. The main reason the checklist is redundant is that the G1000 system includes a crew advisory system (CAS) that shows you in plain language any important alerts and system information right on the MFD. If there are no CAS messages when you start the takeoff roll, I can't think of anything critical you could have missed, assuming that you made sure the fuel caps were on.

The Mustang system control switches are arranged along the lower edge of the panel and are grouped so that you logically work from left to right starting with the battery, emergency battery and avionics switches, and ending on the right with the cockpit and cabin environmental controls. Some switches, such as engine ignition, fuel pumps and engine synch, you just don't move because the full-authority engine computers (fadec) take care of those chores. The battery is a lead acid type, so there is no temperature to monitor, and starting the engines is a one-button-press affair. Kirby timed me and on my second leg in the Mustang it was seven minutes from snapping the seat belt to taxi with IFR clearance in hand and all avionics and systems set for takeoff. Not bad for somebody brand new to the airplane.

Mustang systems are even less complicated than in other basic Citation models. There is no central hydraulic system, for example. The landing gear and brakes are operated by an electrically powered hydraulic pack just like in a Cessna 210 piston single. If that system fails, the landing gear freefalls down, and a bottle of compressed nitrogen assures it is locked in place. A nitrogen bottle also supplies emergency brake pressure. Flaps and speed brakes are electrically actuated. All fuel is in the wings, there is no need for an anti-ice additive, and there are no fuel management tasks. The only cabin pressurization task is to enter the landing field elevation in the G1000 system. The electrical buses are parallel and are all isolated from one another. If a generator is lost loads are shed automatically. If all main generator and battery power are lost, an emergency battery keeps the pilot's PFD and other essential items powered for at least another 30 minutes. The systems couldn't be more basic, or demand less intervention from the pilot.

Like most Citations, the Mustang has "simplified" takeoff criteria that you can use instead of looking up the actual certified takeoff speeds and runway lengths. In the Mustang if the air temperature is below 30° C and airport elevation is less than 2,000 feet, the simplified criteria apply. Instead, I looked up the actual numbers in the checklist for takeoff from Wichita and found that V1 decision speed and Vr rotate speed were the same at 89 knots, with V2 engine out climb speed at 97 knots. Required runway was 3,060 feet. That runway accounts for an engine failure just before V1 and assures enough distance to stop during the rejected takeoff. Or, if an engine fails after V1, the Mustang will climb at a certified minimum of two percent gradient to 1,500 feet, and 1.2 percent above that; the same as in other commuter category jets.

Positive nosewheel steering and smooth brakes make the Mustang a snap to taxi, though it does take a surprising amount of power to get the airplane rolling from the chocks. On taxi to the runway the windshield heat is already on, and the CAS message reminds me to turn on the pitot-static heat, and when I do, it then goes blank indicating everything is set for departure. All the way forward on the throttles commands takeoff power from the fadecs, and everything green on the MFD means the engines are fine and require no close monitoring.

The Mustang climbs smartly at 200 knots indicated, but higher rates are available at 180 or 170 knots. In 21 minutes, with a short level off at 5,000 feet, I was at 37,000 feet where true airspeed was 336 knots on a fuel flow of 540 pph. That is better than handbook predictions despite air temperature that was 10° C above standard cutting into the performance. Before long Fort Worth controllers had me down to FL 360, where true airspeed bumped up to 346 knots on 580 pph of fuel.

The key to flying the Mustang solo-or any other airplane, for that matter - is to use the autopilot, and the G1000 system works great. Flight guidance controls are on the edge of the glareshield where they are easy to see and reach. Kirby, the designated examiner, demands that solo Mustang pilots use the autopilot during all busy periods, and it is required to fly the airplane in reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) airspace in cruise. RVMS extends from FL 290 to FL 410 and separates airplanes by only 1,000 feet vertically, instead of the 2,000 feet that was the norm before RVSM rules.

The Mustang flown for this report is the second one off the production line and is very much a standard airplane, which includes single-pilot and RVSM certification. The basic warranty on the airframe and engines is three years, or 1,000 hours, with a two-year warranty on the avionics system. All information here is from the airplane flight manual and reflects standard day conditions at sea level unless noted. Because most Mustangs will be owner flown at least some of the time, the weight of the pilot is not included in the empty weight as is typical in other jets.

As usual, Houston controllers had a couple of clearance amendments, which were easy to enter into the G1000. I have lots of time flying Garmin's GNS 530/430 and the G1000 operates very much the same, so I was quickly comfortable. When the arrival procedure was issued, I dialed it up in the G1000, selected the cleared transition, and entered the assigned crossing altitude. The autopilot automatically flew the procedure, including the coupled descent. A vector to an RNAV LPV approach with GPS glideslope guidance resulted in a great landing, not to congratulate myself, but just to note how easy the Mustang is to handle around the airport, and the trailing link landing gear makes any pilot look like the ace of the base on touchdown. The flight took 1+51 and total fuel burn was 1,380 pounds.

The short hop up to Addison on the north side of Dallas would take me through some of the busiest airspace in Texas. We would be held down low on this 230 nm dash flying at 22,000 feet, where the true airspeed was 343 knots on 900 pph at max cruise power. There was some light icing in the clouds, but hot bleed air kept the engine inlets clear, while the totally automated deice boot system cracked the ice off the wings and tail. With an ILS approach into Addison the trip took 51 minutes and used 770 pounds of fuel. The ATC workload was high because of the busy airspace, but never an issue thanks to the comprehensive capability of the G1000 system.

On the way to Stillwater I took time out to fly a DME arc to a VOR approach into Chandler, Oklahoma, to put the Mustang through the paces in a non-radar environment. The G1000 system shows you the arc on the moving map, intercepts it and tracks the course to the runway all automatically. After a touch-and-go it was on to Stillwater for a straight in VOR approach. Kirby was working his way through the list of items that need to be covered on a type rating check ride, and I was ticking them off with satisfactory performance.

Robert Goyer flew the Mustang back from Stillwater to Wichita and I started thinking about where to fly "my" new airplane the next day. A visit to my new vacation home in the red rock region of Arizona near Sedona seemed like a logical trip. The flight planning computer said Sedona was 714 nm to the west, and with the headwinds, the trip would take 2:47 and burn 1,871 pounds of fuel. The Mustang holds 2,580 pounds of useable fuel so that would be no problem.

Like any jet, the Mustang's best range is at or near its certified ceiling which, for the Mustang, is 41,000 feet, so the flight plan was for FL 400 to be correct for direction of flight. Just as I rotated at Wichita, Kirby pulled back the right throttle. With only modest pressure on the rudder pedal my heading didn't change and the Mustang climbed at over 1,000 fpm on one engine. I have never flown a multiengine airplane that is easier to handle on one engine yet still delivers traditional jet performance.

The wind was blowing hard perpendicular to the Rocky Mountains, creating an atmospheric wave way up into the flight levels. The air temperatures were 12° C above standard, cutting into the Mustang's performance at FL 400 where, in the ups and downs of the wave, true airspeed varied from 300 to 330 knots true, and fuel flow was 460 pph. The wave was annoying, but a descent to FL 380 smoothed things out some, and the true airspeed ranged from 336 to 343 knots on 520 pph of fuel.

The insulation and environmental system in the Mustang are particularly well done for a small jet. While cruising in the high flight levels my feet stayed toasty, and my outboard shoulder and arm stayed as warm as the inboard side, something not universal in jet cockpits. The vents are arranged so you can cool the spots where the sun hits, and warm the rest of your body that is in the shade. Cabin temperature controls are totally separate, and equally effective. Cruising was fun, but a stop at Santa Fe sounded more interesting. How would the Mustang handle the 6,348-foot airport elevation? Fresh snow covered all but the touchdown zone of Runway 3, but with a Vref final approach speed of only 94 knots - even though I can't make myself fly quite that slowly - stopping in less than half of the 8,324 runway length as the antiskid system cycled the brakes over the slippery snow was no problem.

The next leg was to Denver Centennial for more high airport elevation experience-and a great lunch at the Jet Center. Robert flew that leg. The final leg for me was from Denver to Hutchison, Kansas, where Kirby wanted to complete the remaining items on the type rating list.

The Mustang has no stick shaker or stick pusher to warn of or prevent stalls as do many T-tail jets. The stall warning is a horn and red CAS warning and, at that point, takeoff power flies the Mustang out of the impending stall with little or no loss of altitude. I held a clean stall into the aerodynamic buffet and the ailerons were effective the whole way with no roll off at the actual stall, but examiners want a recovery at the warning, not the actual stall, and that was easy to accomplish. Cessna's design goals for the proprietary Mustang wing were both low drag and good low-speed performance, and the objectives have been met.

The one maneuver that I wasn't happy with, though Kirby said I stayed within limits, was the 45-degree bank steep turns. I thought I could fool the system by calling up the split-cue cross pointer flight director display and then use the horizontal pitch guidance bar to hold altitude in the steep turns. The command bar didn't really help, and I would have done better just using a normal instrument scan. But, for the first try, it was all okay.

A single-engine ILS, a missed approach and a non-precision approach to an ice-covered runway at Hutchison completed the maneuvers on Kirby's list. Kirby says I would pass a type rating check ride. Since I have type ratings and experience in other Citations, I am not exactly in the same position as a pilot moving into his first jet, as many Mustang owners will be, but the airplane is down right easy to fly. If you are accustomed to using a full capability autopilot as a copilot, and are decent on IFR procedures, the Mustang will be a snap to learn.

When the dream ended and Kirby took the keys back, I was more impressed than ever at what Cessna has accomplished with a clean sheet design. To keep the program on time, make weight, meet the performance guarantees, and deliver such an attractive and nice flying jet is an almost impossible task. But the Mustang is no dream, it's the real deal, and among the luckiest pilots in the world are those taking delivery of their very own new Mustangs now.

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