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Wed, May 09, 2007

Full Gallop: Cessna's Mustang Is A Whole New Breed Of Jet

Part One Of A Series

Flight Test Report and Analysis by ANN Editor-In-Chief Jim Campbell

When we were standing in the halls of the 2002 NBAA Convention, for the first official announcement of what was expected to be "Cessna's VLJ", few expected what would eventually result from the decision. Most pundits expected Cessna to compete with the previously announced Eclipse 500 on its own level and attempt to give the "Albuquerque Upstart" (the irrepressible Vern Raburn) a solid run for his jet-fuel money. But for those in the know; this was the last thing they saw in the cards... You see, Cessna tends not to follow markets when they can (instead), define them -- and for those markets in which they do have established competition, they tend to own them or come pretty damned close to doing so. The recently production-certified Cessna Citation Mustang reflects this thinking and before we journey any further, this Mustang is NOT a VLJ... but IS the perfect entry-level aircraft to the world of Cessna's highly regarded Citation line -- and possibly the best bird they've ever built.

OK, so we flew the Mustang... and under some 'intriguing' conditions. Despite my doing my best to bring the best of the Florida weather with me, the WX in Wichita displayed "maximum suckage" throughout a fair amount of my visit (you know you're in trouble when the birds are walking...), limiting my flight test parameters and putting me firmly in the soup from just a few hundred feet off the deck on my very first take-off and culminating with a hand-flown approach to near-minimums with a surprising lack of verbal terror from the poor guy (the unflappable Jeff Tibbits -- a great stick) assigned to fly with me (mind you, he could have been catatonic by then, though...). It was NOT great flight test weather, but it turned out to be an eye-opening look at a jet that is going to have a profound impact on the way that upgrading pilots look at Cessna, and the truly legendary Citation line. It was a real-world flight for a real-world workhorse.

OK, that said, let's clear up some business ahead of all the folderol and other details that will follow this narrative -- while the Mustang is a worthy addition/entry-level bird for the first-time jet owner, Cessna emphasizes that this airplane was built upon a pretty clean sheet of paper. Based on what we saw at the plant, and a number of discussions undertaken in the years since the original 2002 announcement (and a little before that... but PLEASE don't tell Jack Pelton that... grin), we believe them... and applaud their rationale. The Mustang does reflect some clearly "out of the box" thinking... not enough to scare the rank and file that have become Cessna's devoted bread and butter buyers, but certainly enough to allow them to market the Mustang as a fresh start on a new generation (please note that I said "generation") of junior-jetplanes.

Secondly; the Mustang is NOT a VLJ (though, to be honest, even Cessna has blurred that definition a mite over the years, when it suited them). Not even close. It's too big to be "very" light, and is built for a market that simply wouldn't be happy with the smaller/lighter charms of a true VLJ. While I know that everyone jumped all over the Cessna Mustang announcement as "Cessna's Answer to Eclipse" (yeah, yeah, including ANN -- so, sue me), what has resulted has distinguished the airplane above and beyond the VLJ classification... giving Cessna a unique market niche to exploit and the VLJ crowd some room to sigh with relief -- for now.

So; in answer to the inevitable comparison questions between the Mustang and the Eclipse, there are few true similarities... the Mustang is a fair sized larger, certainly priced a bit more, and ultimately designed for a different buyer and an altogether different breed of cat, uh horse. But, they're both flagship airplanes for their respective companies and destined to be major players in their segment of the burgeoning 'light' jet market.

Finally; there is one particular item that sets the Mustang apart from all other potential competitors and is firmly anchored in its lineage. In other words, it's a Cessna -- and to a great many airplane buyers, their decisions start and end with that qualifier. Through a number of decades of savvy marketing and solid customer service, Cessna has developed a nearly fanatical following that rivals that associated with Harley Davidson and Ben & Jerry's (and for many of the same reasons)... a pundit once opined that where bizjets were concerned, there are Cessna buyers and there were "others." For the purposes of this narrative, he was spot on. The loyalty built up by legions of previous Cessna customers (even from the revitalized single-engine line) is a force to be reckoned with, and as Cessna clearly knows, their previous customers are their most powerful ally when it comes to selling hot little jetplanes.

The Mustang marks three major challenges/changes for Cessna. They went with an all-new airframe design, they employed a revolutionary new avionics system (Garmin's truly lovely G1000 implementation) from a manufacturer that had never done anything like it before, and they went with the slightly bigger child in the new but evolving PW600 engine family (which is turning out to be a heck of design series). Coupled together; the Mustang becomes an 'aggressively evolutionary' step forward in light jet design... and based on our flight test series, through all manner of IFR gremlins and the like (as well as the ham handedness of a certain Aero-Editor who shall remain blameless), one hell of a sweet flying machine.

Over the next several parts in this series, we'll talk about the airframe, the engines, the interior, that LOVELY G1000 (yeah... I'm in love, but I assure you that the attraction is purely physical... go ahead, touch the keypad and tell me what happens to YOU), the handling qualities (suh-weet!), some minor interior noise issues (reportedly soon to be corrected), and the way that Cessna is preparing a new breed of buyer for their first jetplane. It's interesting to note that the first retail customer for the Mustang was a fellow who had been operating Cessna 310s... who, I'm sure right now is asking what he's going to do with all the extra time he has now (though we might suggest that the Garmin's XM Radio interface has LOTS of channels available for your aerial listening pleasure, as you go tooling along through the flight levels). The Mustang is going to be a clearly superior and less challenging platform than any piston twin, most turbine twins and even some piston singles... it's that well-organized and that well integrated.

No kidding.

Don't just believe me, read the details as we talk airframes, engines, and avionics in Part Two... and see for yourself.

FMI: http://mustang.cessna.com

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