The Mighty Mustang: The Citation Story

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Innovative though the Citation Mustang is, its development is grounded in a long-standing business formula from a solid company, one that has had only four chairmen since 1927. When the manufacturer introduced its Citation line in the early 1970s, Dwane Wallace, Clyde Cessna’s nephew, had been at the helm since 1936. Cessna chief engineer Bruce Peterman was instrumental in the original series-concept development.

Citations are grouped into six distinct families, each one encompassing several evolutions. There are even military variants, including the T-47 and the UC-35. The company dubbed the first prototype, which flew in September 1969, the FanJet 500. The model represented a bold change of direction for Cessna, which commanded a huge portion of the worldwide general-aviation fleet, 34 percent of which consisted of business aircraft. Typical flights were fewer than 600 miles, with three people in the back. Just as it would do with the Mustang decades later, Cessna analyzed the market and found a huge gulf between the best twin turboprops and corporate jets. At the time, a good twin pusher typically cruised at 300 mph at 25,000 feet, and a jet that cost $800,000 would fly 500 mph at 35,000 feet. A jet in the hangar meant extra staff costs, because the FAA insisted on two pilots for jet operations, rather than just one as with a turboprop.

So Peterman’s team came up with a pressurized aircraft that could fly 400 mph at 35,000 feet and carry four passengers plus crew in a 5-foot cabin. With a price tag of $500,000 and low operating and maintenance costs, the jet offered an easy transition for turboprop pilots. Its ease of use and its ability to take off and land with limited runway space made the Citation revolutionary. By 1970 the FanJet 500 had become the Citation 500 (later renamed the Citation I). Anticipating popular demand, Cessna built a 7,500-square-foot headquarters for the Citation line, as well as a new production line and service center in Wichita, Kan.

The first production model was delivered to American Airlines in January 1972 and cost $695,000. By that time, Cessna had invested $35 million in the project—40 percent of the company’s net assets. Fortunately, the Citation was a huge success, in part due to the energy crisis of the 1970s, which made the Citation’s fuel efficiency (it consumed 20 percent less fuel than its competitors) a persuasive selling point.

Today’s in-production line includes the entry-level Mustang, the larger CJ series, the Encore+, the XLS+, the Sovereign, the X, and Cessna’s latest variant, the super-midsize Columbus. “The entire series is a logical progression through a whole line of products,” says Roger Whyte, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “We ask ourselves, ‘What is it our customers want next?’ A rough rule of thumb is that, as you go through the line, each model offers 10 percent more than the last—that is, 10 percent more speed, more space, and so on. We see a gap and try to fill it.”

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