Flight test: Cessna Citation Mustang
PUBLISHED: 13:08 10 July 2017 | UPDATED: 13:08 10 July 2017
An appreciation of 'the world's most popular entry-level light jet' which, after twelve years of production gives way only to another Cessna light jet, the M2
It may be hard to believe but the very first Cessna Citation – then named the Fan Jet 500 - made its maiden flight more than 47 years ago on 15 September 1969! Originally designed with a pair of turboprop engines, these were discarded when a new Cessna CEO saw the fuselage of the aircraft and suggested that it have two jet engines instead. The Citation project was a major financial gamble for Cessna when they launched it in 1968, with the first delivery being made in 1971, but the rest, as they say, is now history.
The Cessna Citation Mustang (Model 510) was a Very Light Jet (VLJ) designed to compete with the then new breed of VLJs from Piper, Embraer, and Eclipse Aviation. In standard configuration it has four passenger seats in the aft cabin, a toilet and seating for two in the cockpit. It’s approved for single-pilot operation, like most other light jets, but a type rating is required.
The 510 first flew on 18 April 2005 and was awarded its full type certification from the Federal Aviation Administration on 8 September 2006. FAA certification to fly into ‘known icing conditions’ was made on 9 November 2006 with the first production Mustang delivered just fourteen days later.
The Mustang is a low-wing cantilever monoplane with a swept wing, T-tail and tricycle retractable landing gear. One main door is located in the forward left section of the aircraft, with an additional emergency exit on the centre right section of the fuselage. The airframe is primarily of aluminium alloy construction, with a three spar wing. Power is provided by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW615F turbofan engines, mounted in pods on the aft fuselage.
N733CF is a 2015 model Cessna 510 Citation Mustang, construction number 510-0458 delivered to owner Carl Ferland towards the end of 2015. Carl is a successful North Carolina-based businessman who owns the franchises of a large number of the famous Denny’s restaurant chain and uses the aircraft to visit the restaurants dotted around the south-eastern corner of the United States (see ‘Owner Profile’, p.50) The aircraft is managed by Elite Aircraft Services of Raleigh, North Carolina and is one of almost forty aircraft currently in their managed aircraft portfolio.
I met the company’s CEO, Matt Walsh at Elite’s maintenance and operations facilities at Sanford (KTTA), otherwise known as Raleigh Executive Jetport−a large, uncontrolled GA airport with excellent facilities around thirty miles south-west from the international airport at Raleigh-Durham. I am a regular visitor to Elite’s excellent facilities at Sanford so Matt and I were soon walking towards the Mustang parked on the ramp.
First connect the battery
The preflight check is similar to that of many small bizjets, and I walk around under Matt’s experienced eye, systematically removing all the various red covers located around the aircraft. These include the front and rear engine covers on both sides, all three of the static wicks on each wing, the AoA (angle of attack) indicator cover, and both left and right pitot static sensor covers. All these are safely stowed in the big red bag provided and stored inside the rear baggage area. While at the rear baggage compartment I connect the battery and ensure the large screw-in connection is tight.
The battery is always disconnected after the last flight of the day to prevent any battery drainage, especially if a battery start is required before the next flight. I also lean across the baggage bay and check that all circuit breakers are in. If there is a problem with any of them, “do not attempt to push the circuit breaker back in−have the problem checked by the engineers” is Matt’s comment. Today, they are all where they should be.
The preflight walk-around proper starts at the port engine where I open the nacelle flap to check the oil quantity using the simple-to-read red/green, min/max gauge, and ensure the oil filler cap is secure. Looking to the right of the engine, I check the oil bypass indicator has not been tripped−another “call the engineer” situation. I look inside the back of engine and check the fan blades for condition and any signs of debris, before carefully securing the inspection panels. I duck under and around the tail, and move the rudder lock to the ‘unlock’ position. Cessna has designed an interesting failsafe, should you forget to do this. If you only realise the lock is still engaged when you are safely secured in the cockpit and first try the pedals, simply pull fully back on the yoke to release it−and, of course, spare your blushes!
I move on to the starboard engine and repeat all of the port-side checks, additionally checking that the air conditioning unit intake is clear. Then move to the trailing edge to check the flaps and kneel down to inspect the undercarriage leg, tyre, hoses and brakes. At this point, you realise just how low the Mustang wing is to the ground. Then out along the the wing, checking the flaps, ailerons and three static wicks (interestingly, you are permitted to fly with just two of these in place). Moving around the wingtip, past the funky new digital strobe light and lens, and along the leading edge, checking the de-icing boots on the way. I also undo and check the fuel contents cap before refitting it securely. Continuing towards the fuselage, I check the vortex generators−it is essential to safe roll control characteristics that all eight are in place!
Now along the forward fuselage, checking the AoA vane and starboard pitot tube, before opening the front baggage bay. Here, I check the contents of both the oxygen and nitrogen bottles are at safe levels, before securing the hatch with all three latches and the key. Then on to the nose radome, ensuring all the static strips are secure, before opening the port side baggage bay door to check the level and pressure of the hydraulic fluid. I check the nose wheel and undercarriage doors before examining the port-side pitot tube and cockpit glass. Finally, I move back towards the port
wing and repeat all the checks from the starboard side, finishing up at the starboard engine.
Cessna has included a nice safety feature: once the battery is connected, both front baggage bay doors must be closed and locked before the software will allow the engine start procedure−just as well when you consider the implications of a front baggage bay door coming open in flight and entering the intake!
Luxury — and an emergency lav
I climb up the neat, folding three-step ladder to enter the cabin through the main door where passengers turn right and occupy one of the four luxurious tan leather seats. Each pair has a foldaway table between them that can be employed once off the ground. The cabin offers excellent comfort and low noise, with windows conveniently located and large enough to provide an excellent view of the world outside. There is also a small ‘emergency’ lavatory (what a ghastly thought−Ed), along with neat storage space for refreshments.
Today, I am up the front and gain entry to the flight deck by shuffling through the somewhat narrow gap between the two front seats. Once installed, with my seat correctly adjusted, the pilot position is most comfortable. The view over the panel is good, as also out of the left- or right-hand windows.
All instruments are easily visible from either seat and the controls fall comfortably to hand. The panel is dominated by the three large fifteen-inch screens: two PFDs (Primary Flight Displays) and an MFD (multi-function display), all powered by Garmin G1000 software. The instrumentation is exactly what you would expect from an aircraft of this capability and vintage. The G1000 system is most intuitive to use and the installation includes a keypad located beneath the throttles, which makes data entry much easier than on some competing systems that use tiny turn and press knobs.
At the top of the panel in the centre is the GFC700 autopilot control panel. Just below is the small assortment of standby instruments containing smaller, conventional (steam-driven) ASI, HSI and altimeter. Below these, and dominating the centre of the panel is the large (and clear!) PFD screen which is currently displaying navigational info in the main area of the screen with two columns of engine and performance indicators in a clear, digital presentation to the left. All very nice! In front of each pilot, left and right of this main screen, is a slightly smaller MFD complete with synthetic vision. This is effectively a large HSI which also displays the altimeter and ASI, along with the TCAS display in the bottom left hand corner.
Each yoke has a PTT button and an autopilot disconnect outboard, along with a pair of trim switches. The trim switches need to operated in unison to adjust the elevator trim, which can also be manually actuated from the centre console on a big wheel. The aileron and rudder trim switches are located just below the keyboard. Dominating the centre of the console are the twin throttle levers with a number of pre-set detents for cut-off, idle, cruise, climb, takeoff, and ‘GA’ (for go-around).
Everything in between can be used but, as I found during my flights, the pre-set detents work just fine and help to reduce the pilot workload. The electric actuators for the speed brakes are on the left-hand-side of the left throttle, and the right-hand-side of the right throttle allowing them to be actuated from either seat. Right of the centre console is the three-position flap actuator with detents for up, takeoff and landing positions. Just behind the console are two cup holders where we place our bottles of cold water for the flight. At this point, Matt quips “Yes, the jet is completely free, but the cup holders are $3 million each!” Circuit breaker panels are located to the left of the port seat and right of the starboard seat.
Simple to operate
With the door closed and locked, and having been ‘walked around’ the cockpit by Matt, it was at last time to fly, with me in the right seat. At this point the effectiveness and simplicity of the automation fitted to the Citation Mustang comes to the fore. With the master switch on, I first check for CAS (Crew Alert System) messages−thankfully, there are none. A ground power unit (GPU) is not essential to start the Mustang, but is highly recommended: we are parked on a hot and humid ramp and, thanks to the GPU connection, are sitting in air-conditioned comfort! In addition, today’s routeing can be loaded into the GPS, and clearances obtained, all before engine start so we are not wasting precious fuel on the ramp.
Our flight today is going to be a general handling trip in the local area, so no flight plan or clearance are required and we can get on with starting. First things first: turn off all non-essential electrical items such as the environmental controls−air conditioning and fans. The ‘Engine Start’ panel has three options: Left, Disengage and Right. I press ‘L’ and move the throttle out of the shutoff detent and into idle, then monitor the N1 and ITT gauges to ensure they remain within limits. I wait as the FADEC system does the rest. Once the left engine is safely running at idle, I press ‘R’ and move the throttle forward to idle and then wait as the FADEC repeats the process. Yes; starting the engines really is that simple!
I complete the pre-takeoff checks from the check list and note the crucial speeds for takeoff: Vr is 91 knots, V1 is also 91 knots, while Vy is 170 knots. These speeds appear on the MFD in in front of the left seat.
The Mustang has nosewheel steering and toe brakes, as well as asymmetric abilities with the engines, any combination of which can be used when taxying. Matt releases the park brake next to his right knee before I gently add some power to both engines and then retard them once we are moving. Idle power is normally sufficient for steering using the nosewheel, although I am conscious of the toe brakes, if they are required. Progress to the holding point is brisk and once here I go through the pre-takeoff checks displayed on the MFD screen.
Once complete, I check the controls for full and free movement, move the flaps to the takeoff position (around 15º) and then taxi onto the runway. When lined-up, I gently move both throttles forward while keeping the aircraft straight with the nosewheel steering through the pedals. Once full takeoff power is applied, the acceleration is brisk. I glance at the ASI and we are approaching 80 knots as I gently apply a little back pressure on the yoke. Matt calls “Rotate” as we move past 91 knots and with increased back pressure on the yoke, the aircraft lifts smoothly off the runway. As we pass the end of the runway the undercarriage is retracted while we continue to accelerate.
Before reaching the 135 knot flap limiting speed, the flaps are retracted and the power lever is moved from the takeoff detent to the climb detent. Next, Matt suggests the Yaw Damper should be turned on−normally making it much more comfortable for the passengers in the back−and this I do.
I continue to allow the aircraft to accelerate to 170 knots and we are already achieving a healthy 4,000 feet per minute rate of climb. At this stage, I could easily have engaged the autopilot and allowed it to take us up to our operating height, but this trip is about me enjoying the handling of the Mustang, so I continue to hand-fly it up to 7,000 feet before levelling off.
On most flights, the aircraft would climb through 18,000 feet, where the altimeter would be moved to the standard setting, the air conditioning shut off, and the recognition lights turned off. The landing lights have two settings−landing and ‘recog’ (recognition); both modes use the same lights but at different intensity. As we are staying at low level, we retain the Sanford altimeter setting as well as leaving switched on the efficient and very comfortable air conditioning.
Handles like a Cessna single
As I level off, I move the throttles to the cruise detent and re-trim. Trimmed, the aircraft flies smoothly with hands and feet off. I try a few turns and get the feel of the aircraft and am pleasantly surprised at just how light it is to fly. It handles much like a big Cessna single−something like a Cessna 182, 210 or even a Caravan. That said, it is very positive and stable, easy to manoeuvre, with a great field of view up front and to the sides. Even at just 7,000 feet, the aircraft is cruising at a TAS of 240 knots but it is also burning a lot of fuel down here−around 900 pounds an hour. This is not where the aircraft belongs; it was designed to perform at its very best around ideally FL310 to FL350.
After checking the local area, it is time to try the slow speed characteristics of the Mustang. I pull the power all the way back to idle and allow the speed to drop away, while gently applying back pressure. Eventually, with a steep nose-high attitude, the nose gently drops, almost apologetically, at around 85 knots. I release the pressure
on the yoke and re-apply cruise power. Very quickly we are back flying straight and level.
Next, with the speed comfortably below 135 knots, I lower the flaps to the landing position before re-trimming. Then I gently move the throttles back to idle and progressively apply back pressure. This time, the nose appears to be pointing slightly more steeply skyward than before. Once again the nose drops in a gentle manner at around 72 knots.
On both occasions I can feel a slight pre-stall buffet through the yoke−clearly the vortex generators fitted to the wing leading edges are most effective. With the yoke forward and throttles moved to cruise, the aircraft is soon flying again. For today’s flight, the aircraft is very light and the stall speeds seen are slightly lower than those quoted in the manual, which are based on gross weight. At slow speeds, the aircraft appears to be more pussycat than mustang and has very benign slow-speed handling characteristics.
Sadly, it is time to return to Sanford and I make a gentle turn towards the airport. I reduce power to around 75%, which gives me a descent speed of around 240 knots and a 1,500 feet-per-minute rate of descent. With a further reduction in power to 70%, providing around 200 knots clean, I position to join downwind. I continue to reduce the power and get the speed back to around 150 knots before lowering the undercarriage.
Interestingly, the gear doesn’t have a limiting speed; you can lower it whenever you want and it acts nicely as a speed brake. With power coming back still further and the speed below 135 knots I lower the first stage of flaps, aiming to be at 130 at the end of the downwind leg. I continue a curving approach and line up with the runway, still at 130 knots.
Now I need to fly at Vref. This speed can vary considerably as it is affected by the weight of the aircraft and more importantly, gusting conditions. It can be as high as
100 knots, or as low as 80 knots. Today, with a very light aircraft and a gentle breeze almost straight down the runway, our Vref is 85 knots. With power still coming back to obtain this speed on final approach, I lower the final stage of flap. The pitch change is marked, and I re-trim before tweaking the power to maintain 85. With full flap set, the approach picture is excellent, looking straight down onto the runway.
Just before I cross the numbers I bring back the throttles to flight idle (there is of course no drag from a propeller to slow us down), hold the pitch attitude while minimising the sink, and let the speed bleed off. I continue to fly the round-out and just let the aircraft gently sink onto the runway.It is imperative to avoid flaring as it is very easy to balloon and the subsequent recovery attempt may cause problems.
As soon as the main wheels touch down−that trailing link undercarriage flatters to deceive−I engage the airbrakes with my left hand on the throttles and the speed starts to bleed off. Then the nosewheel gently lowers onto the runway. Very little braking is required and the aircraft gently runs to a halt.
The Citation Mustang does not have thrust reversing capabilities, relying instead on an anti-skid braking system. Before Carl Ferland committed to buying the aircraft, he had a demonstration ride with Cessna. To allay his fears of going off the end of the runway without thrust reversers, the demonstration pilot instructed him to touch down with maximum-effort braking applied. The anti-skid system kept the aircraft in a straight line all the way down the runway until it came to a halt. This clearly convinced Carl, as he then purchased one!
Once clear of the runway, I partially retract the flaps, leaving them set for takeoff which provides adequate ground clearance, while also making it easier to clean them after the flight.
As we taxi in Matt shuts off all of the probes and windscreen heating while I continue to the parking spot on the ramp. After a one-minute cooling down period, shutting down is achieved by turning the environmental control systems to off, avionics to off, and then lifting the left engine throttle over the gate from idle to cut off, then repeating these actions for the remaining engine. As good operating practice, Matt gets me to wait until the NG levels are below 10% before switching off power to the airframe and the battery bus to off.
Taking it to a higher level
Two days later I returned to Sanford to fly an RVSM (Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum) check flight. We would be taking the Mustang out over the Sea Isle ‘SIE’ VOR, south of Atlantic City. Successful completion of this check flight would allow N733CF, previously restricted to FL280, to operate at more efficient altitudes. (RVSM was implemented by the FAA to reduce the vertical separation above FL290 from 2,000ft minimum to 1,000ft minimum−but to be granted access individual aircraft have to demonstrate compliance).
I had been invited to occupy the right seat, while Ed Oleksy, Elite Aircraft Services’ Chief Pilot, was in the left. Ed had booked the test with the FAA and filed the IFR flight plan, which would have us joining the airways just north of Sanford, inbound to the ‘Jamie’ VOR, before flying up to the Sea Isle ‘SIE’ VOR, just south of Atlantic City. At this point, with the autopilot on, we would fly over the Sea Isle VOR at FL350 before requesting a procedural turn and flying back over the VOR, still maintaining FL350. The FAA would then download all of the available radar data and check the accuracy and performance of the autopilot. Our flight is expected to take around two hours.
Once again, I make the takeoff. With a good, positive rate of climb established, I move the throttles to the ‘climb’ position but, rather than hand-flying the aircraft this time, I engage the autopilot in ‘NAV’ mode and it immediately slaves to the flight plan that Ed has loaded up on the G1000 from his iPad. Our initial clearance is up to 8,000 feet and that is also entered into the autopilot, as is our required rate of climb at 1,500fpm. Once in contact with Raleigh-Durham, we are further cleared up to our cruising altitude of FL350, on track to the ‘Jamie’ VOR.
At this point both Ed and I are monitoring the aircraft’s smooth upward progress, paying special attention to the TCAS displays, as the airspace on the East Coast Corridor is particularly busy. We are handed off to a number of radar controllers before making contact with the team at Atlantic City.
When we reach our cruising altitude of FL350 ahead of the ‘Jamie’ VOR, the autopilot levels the aircraft and once the speed has built to around 330 knots I move the throttles to cruise. The aircraft settles down very quickly at this altitude. The TAS very much depends on the weight of the aircraft and the OAT. In standard conditions, a typical TAS is 354 knots, but today we only manage around 328 as it is a particularly hot day. The book maintains that a TAS of 340 knots is normal, although both Matt and Ed agree that N733CF normally operates at better than book. We continue past ‘Jamie’, inbound to the ‘SIE’ VOR south of Atlantic City.
Everything is checked and double-checked as we continue to approach the beacon. According to the autopilot and onboard equipment, we cross at precisely FL350. Once past the VOR, Ed requests a procedural turn back onto the beacon. With approval from the Atlantic City controller, the autopilot takes care of the turn and brings us back over the beacon, once again at precisely FL350. We roll out onto the heading for the ‘Richmond’ VOR, en-route back to Sanford (KTTA).
Once past ‘Richmond’ we start our descent using the Vertical Navigation Profile on the autopilot and later are transferred to Raleigh-Durham Airport Control for the final part of our descent. At 5,000 feet and out of the airway, I opt to hand fly the aircraft and disconnect the autopilot using the red button on the yoke. When we’re visual with our destination, we are handed off to Sanford for a visual approach. With Ed providing excellent guidance from the left-hand seat, I position downwind and then on to final, ending the trip with a reasonable landing. (A few days later, I heard N733CF had completed the RVSM test to the FAA’s satisfaction.)
Ideal introduction to bizjets
The Cessna Citation Mustang is an ideal introductory personal jet for business use, particularly in the US and Europe. Clearly, it will suit those travelling between locations up to 500-800 miles apart although, while the published maximum range is actually close to 1,300nm, to achieve that within its weight and balance limitations may occasionally be difficult. The Mustang is both beautiful and functional at the same time and, as I found out, with a good level of Garmin G1000 knowledge, a very easy and even fun aircraft to fly, with excellent handling characteristics and good manners. Then there is the very clever software which seems to provide the Citation Mustang with a mind all of its own!