Joining the Jet Set

  • The Vision SF50 is designed for pilots of Cirrus Prop planes.
  • The Vision SF50 is designed for pilots of Cirrus Prop planes.
  • The Vision SF50 is designed for pilots of Cirrus Prop planes.
  • The Vision SF50 is designed for pilots of Cirrus Prop planes.
  • Photo by Paulo Fridman
    Embraer has delivered more than 300 Phenom 100S, many of them to owner-pilots. Photo by Paulo Fridman
  • Embraer has delivered more than 300 Phenom 100S, many of them to owner-pilots.
  • Photo by Paulo Fridman
<< Back to Robb Report, October 2014
  • Michelle Seaton

The marketing material for Cessna’s new Citation M2 tells prospective owners that this plane is “the upgrade every jet-aspiring aviator has been dreaming of.” This message is directed perhaps to the weekend pilots of Cessna 172s or Cessna 206s, for whom the dream of jet ownership includes more than just visions of reclining in the luxurious cabin of a Gulfstream 650. 

Some of these aviation hobbyists upgrade from a visual-flight-rules (VFR), single-engine license and earn an instrument rating so that they can buy a larger, faster, more complicated piston-powered prop plane, such as the Beechcraft Bonanza, and fly themselves to business meetings in distant cities. If you love piloting a plane, this is a great way to combine business with pleasure and to take control over your travel schedule. Eventually, after earning a multi-engine certificate, some pilots trade up again to an aircraft such as the King Air 250, a twin-engine turboprop that can carry seven passengers across several state lines at a speed of about 350 mph. 

Very few pilots go on to earn a jet rating, largely because jets are so much more difficult to fly. They move a lot faster than a prop plane and are designed to travel at much higher altitudes, and their automated systems are so complicated and can require so many rapid-fire decisions that even smaller jets have traditionally required two pilots in the cockpit.

However, now, after recession-related delays in some cases, aircraft makers are delivering or preparing to deliver entry-level jets that were designed with the owner-pilot in mind. In addition to the Cessna Citation M2 and the smaller and slower Citation Mustang—which Cessna began delivering prior to the recession, in 2007—these aircraft include the Embraer Phenom 100, the Eclipse 550, the Cirrus Vision SF50, and the HondaJet. All of these jets have received single-pilot certification from the FAA, meaning they can be flown without a co-pilot, and some of the manufacturers have created training programs that take low-hours pilots (those with fewer than 500 hours of total flight time) through the type rating and check ride necessary to become certified to fly these jets. 

“The Mustang is a very good airplane for transitioning into a jet from a piston or turbo jet,” says John Azma, an FAA pilot examiner and flight instructor who specializes in training prop pilots to become jet pilots. “This jet is extremely pilot friendly and well made.” He notes that the Mustang is a largely automated aircraft, with an easy-to-operate autopilot and flight-management system. “After you get airborne,” he says, “you can engage autopilot and fly the whole way with autopilot, and then disconnect before you land.”

The Citation M2 is also designed for pilots who are transitioning from a prop plane to a jet. JD Terry, the business leader for Citation light jets at Cessna, says that the company developed the jet in response to customer demand for an aircraft that would offer the speed of a jet but could be flown alone by an owner-pilot. He says that pilots feel instantly comfortable in the M2 cockpit. “A lot of people have learned to fly in Cessna aircraft. So somebody that’s coming in from a 172 or a 208 or an older twin and gets into this jet, they’re going to know that they are in a Cessna right away.” 

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