Flying a light jet hadn't been on my radar. But when Tom Torti offered me a spin in his Citation Mustang, I couldn’t refuse. With a couple of exceptions, I had never really flown a smaller jet, the 727 being my first jet. The opportunity to compare notes with the 777 seemed like a great idea. The 641,000-pound max gross weight difference made the idea even more interesting.
Although my critics may disagree, I am not a “bigger-is-better snob.” (I stand at 5 feet 8 inches and own a slow, single-engine airplane.) That being said, I will acknowledge that an airplane bigness rivalry does exist. The rivalry provides great fodder for hangar flying discussions. And at the FBO where I keep my airplane, fodder is free-flowing.
Rather than point out the obvious, Tom drew attention to the nuances of the light jet. The first highlight of the preflight inspection was the wing illumination light, its primary purpose to determine ice buildup at night. The interesting fact was that Cessna had installed the light only on the left side. If ice became visible on the left wing, the obvious deduction was that the same status existed on the right wing. But what if the light failed? We pondered the issue for a moment and shrugged our shoulders.
Next on the inspection list were the forward baggage compartment doors. As a safeguard for inattention, the system was designed to annunciate a message on the cockpit display every three cycles even if the doors had been properly latched. Considering that the jet was designed for one pilot, overlooking an unlatched door was certainly a possibility. Although innovative, the latch warning system would be lost on a 777; the cycling of all doors is an every-flight occurrence.
When Tom pointed a finger at the AOA (angle of attack) vane, I anticipated a systems similarity with the 777. The 777 has an AOA indicator in the cockpit. If all reference to airspeed is lost, the indicator can assist in maintaining a maneuvering speed for the appropriate phase of flight. But the Mustang has no direct AOA display. The vane sends a signal to the green “donut” on the airspeed tape of the PFD. The donut indicates stall speed for the current configuration.
I trotted over to the right fuel tank, noting the total capacity. A lively discussion began about differences in fuel burn. Ballpark numbers were bantered about. Later, I did some rough calculations. The Mustang fuel capacity: 386 gallons. The 777: approximately 45,200 gallons. The Mustang consumption rate: approximately 1.2 gallons per minute. The 777 consumption rate: approximately 37 gallons per minute.
Stopping just forward of the empennage, I surveyed the inlet and exhaust of the air-conditioning system. I inquired as to the utilization of engine bleed air to power a pack system. No such thing. The system is strictly electric with the capability of operating through engine power or ground power. Engine bleed is used only for the deicing boots. The 777, of course, utilizes the airliner standard of two separate pack systems accessing engine bleed air or APU air to heat and cool the cabin.
Walking behind the right wing, I noted the spoiler. The Mustang spoilers are used primarily for rapid descent purposes with minor effectiveness as a deceleration tool on landing rollout. They aren’t integrated with the ailerons as an additional roll control device. As with most transport category airplanes, the 777 spoilers are an integral part of almost every aspect of flight control.
As we neared the tail, Tom reached up and patted the Pratt & Whitney engine nacelle. I marveled at the compact size of the power plant. It weighed only 300 pounds. Tom gracefully took the chiding that followed. I indicated that the 777’s APU alone would provide enough thrust for the Mustang. Thrust of the Mustang’s PW615F: 1,460 pounds. Thrust of the 777’s Rolls-Royce Trent 892: 90,000 pounds.
Tom smiled in resignation. He asked, “Do you have a Conair hair dryer in your bathroom?” I nodded with a grin. Tom said, “Well … same thing.”
With the walk-around tour complete, Tom waved a hand at the open entry door. He directed me into the cockpit. Considering that he had owned the Mustang for only six months, the offer indicated Tom’s comfort level with the airplane. His relaxed demeanor made him a natural flight instructor. I also gave him high marks for professional conduct, an attribute he would deny in a statement of self-deprecation.
The success that allows Tom the opportunity to own a jet comes from his commercial concrete company, which does major business in the New York City area. He is a 50 percent owner of the Mustang. Two other partners own a quarter share. One partner has a new Private pilot license while the other is a student pilot. A type-rated pilot flies the other partners to their destinations.
The airplane was purchased in Austria for a steal. Due to the European economic situation, the original owner had to part with some personal assets. The 2007 Mustang, serial No. 21, had amassed only 400 hours of total time. The bonus was that the airplane was registered with a U.S. N-number.
Tom candidly remarked to me it wasn’t that long ago that he was intimidated by a turbine cockpit’s complexity. With no more than single-engine piston experience, he had climbed into a King Air 200. Staring at the array of instrumentation, Tom had said to himself, “I’ll never be able to fly this.”
Within a few months, Tom obtained his multiengine license in a Seneca and soon became an owner in the King Air. Before he bought the Mustang, he had acquired 1,500 hours of turboprop experience. He indicated that the examiner for his type certification was — I’m paraphrasing here — rather thorough. Tom currently has 2,500 hours total time.
In addition to his flying experience, Tom is no stranger to professional aviation. His brother, recently retired, was a Southwest Airlines pilot, his last years spent in the management ranks. And coincidentally, through mutual association with his brother, Tom is a friend of fellow Flying contributing editor Dick Karl.
After completing the engine start procedure, which is simple with the fadec system, I taxied the airplane toward the departure runway. A 777 start is similar in that, after an ignition switch is activated, the remainder of the sequence is automatic once fuel is introduced through the fuel cutoff switch. In the Mustang, the power lever acts as the fuel cutoff switch. The other difference between the airplanes is that the 777 can start both engines simultaneously.
With the airplane V-speeds calculated through the on-screen display and the takeoff checklist completed, we rolled onto the runway. Applying takeoff power is as simple as pushing the power levers all the way to the stops. As opposed to the 777, the Mustang’s spool-up stabilization time is almost nonexistent, a concept I had difficulty with later.
I attempted to finesse the rotation and succeeded in screaming past V2 by about 25 knots. The airplane climbed at an impressive 2,500 fpm. I expected a twitchy control response, but the Mustang proved stable and responsive. Although the 777 is responsive, the airliner still exhibits a slight sluggishness typical of most wide-body airplanes.
Once at a safe altitude, I tried a couple of steep turns and, with Tom’s coaching, found the sweet spot in the pitch attitude in order to maintain altitude hands off. My bank of 38 degrees was greeted with Tom’s grinning encouragement of “What part of 45 degrees don’t you understand?”
With similar encouragement, Tom talked me through a visual approach into Groton, Connecticut. As is classic for airline pilots, the fear of becoming slow, especially at stall-inducing speeds for a wide-body airliner, creates a tendency to fly fast. I was no exception. Although my touchdown was surprisingly smooth, Tom summed up the performance thus: “Maybe you could use a little more runway next time?”
An ILS approach into Stewart/Newburgh in New York and a return to Danbury completed my introduction to the Mustang. My number one consistent mistake was underestimating the amount of power available from the comparatively small engines. I found myself beginning to exceed the 250-knot Vmo on a couple of occasions. In addition, the concept of pulling the thrust levers back to idle approaching the runway threshold on a jet engine was foreign to my experience. Airline pilots are innately conscious of spool-up delays.
All in all, I was impressed with the Mustang. I’ll probably have to wait until my next life to own one. For now, my low-and-slow Cherokee Six will do just fine.
Hair dryer? Not quite.