If well-maintained, legacy Citations offer capability & reliability with plenty of upgrade options.
Twenty-five years ago, I was flying a Cheyenne II. I had owned it five years, having traded up from a Cessna 340. I was on top of the world owning a plane with jet engines. OK, it wasn’t really a jet but rather a turboprop. People like me didn’t fly jets, did they?
I had heard about the Cessna Citation, or “Slowtation,” as they called it, and was vaguely aware that it had been certified for single-pilot flight. To me, 350 knots and flight at FL410 certainly didn’t seem slow. In fact, it seemed amazing. Of course, I couldn’t resist. Now, 25 years later, I’m still flying the same plane.
Of course, it’s not really the same. I’ve made a lot of changes: RVSM, avionics upgrades to allow WAAS approaches and ADS-B. With the addition of the Stallion upgrade, it’s certainly not slow any longer. A less than 30-minute climb to FL430 is nothing short of exciting.
A lot of people have asked me why I have poured so much money into such an old plane. Mine was built in 1978. That’s not an easy question to answer. To me, it doesn’t seem like an old plane. In fact, it still looks new. My paint is still good and my interior was redone not too long ago. Of course, I didn’t upgrade everything at once, so the cost was spread out over many years.
The other question that I get all the time is whether buying such an old plane makes sense for the pilot first transitioning to jets. To me, the answer is yes, but there are a lot of factors to consider. There are loads of Citation I and 1SP’s on the market and they can be purchased for a bargain price. The straight I’s are certified for two pilots, but single-pilot waivers are readily available. Just remember, they must be renewed each year and you must have a second class medical.
If the plane has been well maintained, I doubt you will have much more trouble than with a newer plane. While the systems are older, Cessna really got it right when they designed this plane. Unscheduled maintenance has been rare over the years I have owned the plane. Grounding problems along with fuel leaks, anti-ice issues and leaking actuators as well as occasional stuck relays seem to be the biggest issues in my experience. Relays tend to fail when they’re not used, so it’s a good idea to exercise them from time to time. Parts are still readily available, and generally, components can be repaired or overhauled. The Sperry autopilot has proven remarkably reliable. The same is true of the pressurization system, which is a maze of pneumatic components. I’ve had some problems, but over the years it has been reliable.
Finding mechanics familiar with the older planes can be an issue, but there are enough resources so that I wouldn’t consider that a deal breaker. Scheduled inspections can run high, but fortunately there is a low utilization inspection program offered by aviation attorney, Richard Bacon that can stretch out the big phase 1 through 5 inspections. I took advantage of that several years ago and it has saved a lot of money in routine inspections.
The big question is avionics. If you are used to a G1000 and feel you just couldn’t fly without it, then your options are limited. A few older planes have been upgraded, or you could do the upgrade yourself, but that is expensive. Frankly, there are so many less expensive glass options for these planes that you can get everything your heart desires for far less money. A lot of older planes have sophisticated panels, and while it’s not a G1000, it gives you the same information.
Another consideration: the G1000 is getting a little old in the tooth. My upgrade to ADS-B was relatively inexpensive. I’m not sure that’s the case with the G1000. In fact, as a rule, it is a lot cheaper to upgrade avionics when everything isn’t in the same box. I had Garmin GTN625 installed that was coupled to my Sandel glass primary instruments and my existing old reliable Avidyne display and it didn’t break the bank.
Of course, if speed is big concern, the 500 or 501 won’t cut it. Performance-wise, these planes are close to the Mustang with a couple of important considerations. On the plus side, they can carry a lot more. It’s almost impossible to overload them. My plane will carry me, six passengers and over 300 pounds of baggage and remain within limits. I’ve carried as many as eight passengers on a short flight. The downside is fuel consumption. These older engines do burn a lot of fuel.
If you want more speed, then you need to look to the Williams-converted planes such as the Stallion or Eagle II. I converted mine to a Stallion five years ago. The conversion cost more than I had originally paid for the airplane: a little upward of $1.5 million. It was a touch decision, but I never regretted it. With top speed approaching 400 knots and initial climb rates of better than 4,000 feet per second, the performance is equivalent to a CJ2. For the new buyer, these planes are a bargain on the used plane market, and there seem to always be several for sale. A large percentage have already had avionics upgrades. While it might not be a G1000, they are generally well equipped.
Buying an airplane is often more of an emotional decision rather that purely economic. However, if price is a big concern, I doubt there is any deal that would match it, whether you go for a classic Citation I or ISP, or if you go for a Stallion or Eagle II. Over 50 planes have been converted. The Eagle II offers extended range through the installation of larger fuel tanks, but suffers a bit in climb and speed.
My flight profile is quite varied. On a recent flight from Abilene to San Diego, a 900-nm flight, I flew at FL430 where my fuel burn is roughly 780 pounds per hour. The flight took three hours with a 60-knot headwind and I burned about 2,800 pounds of fuel, leaving me with a good safety buffer of 1,000 pounds. My true airspeed at that altitude is generally around 360 knots and so a 1,200-nm range is realistic with no wind. Reducing the power can significantly extend range but I rarely find that necessary. I’m ready to stop after 3.5 hours.
On shorter flights, I will still try to climb as high as the controllers will allow. For example, Abilene to Houston is a little under 300 nm, and they really bring you down low on the arrival. I will still file for FL270 and on the return, FL300. Since I get to altitude so quickly, I always try for as high as possible. On any flight over 400 miles, I will usually go to FL410 or 430. The Stallion has a modified type of FADEC in that there is only a single-channel controller. If you reduce the throttles past a detent, the automatic mode is disengaged and you revert to manual control. At that point, the standard synchronizers can be used to keep the engines in sync. The system works well, but is not considered true FADEC because of the lack of a backup controller.
Another big advantage of the Williams conversion is the significantly lower residual thrust at idle. With the Pratt & Whitney JT-15 engines, you were almost always using the brakes on taxiing. Also, landings are significantly shorter with Williams engines, making longer brake life an added benefit. All this is especially advantageous to me since I have neither power brakes or anti-skid, which is somewhat unusual in these planes. I also didn’t have thrust reversers, but that’s becomes a moot point with the Williams conversion, as they are removed anyhow.
Regarding support, the Citation Service Centers are still a valuable resource and I have used them extensively over the years. In the past, they were reluctant to work on modified Citations, but that no longer seems the case. It is to their credit that they continue to support these older planes. On occasion, I have taken advantage of their Mobil Service Units and have been highly satisfied. I used to depend on the Sierra facility in Uvalde, Texas for a lot of my major work. That is now closed, and I’m not certain if their San Antonio facility provides the same support. Williams seems reluctant to authorize many places to work on their engines and that is a shortcoming. So far, other than a leaking O-ring, I’ve had no problems with my engines.
by Howard Tobin