Three Decades Later, the CitationJet Family Still Flying High

Three Decades Later, the CitationJet Family  Still Flying High

Three Decades Later, the CitationJet Family Still Flying High

Cessna delivers the 2,000th CJ, evolving the popular entry-level jet with new technology and improvements

The famous English bard William Shakespeare once wrote, “No legacy is so rich as honesty.”

The rich legacy of the most popular light jet series ever built – the CitationJet – is among one of the great success stories in general aviation. Part of the reason why is that the CJ is an honest an airplane you’ll ever find. Now with its 2,000th copy delivered, the CJ family, which includes the M2, CJ3+ and CJ4, has retained its trademark docile handling characteristics and bankable performance that made the original CJ such a revolutionary aircraft.

The inspiration for the CJ was the original Citation, which took the market by storm in the early 1970s. While original wasn’t as fast as a Lear, it could land on short runways and be flown single-pilot (with a waiver). Keeping in mind those winning characteristics, in the late 1980s, Cessna went back to the drawing board to create a clean-sheet design for its next entry-level jet. The result was, of course, the CitationJet.

“The goal was to develop the next generation of entry-level jet. This is a market we owned, but we needed to keep up with technology. Also, our goal was to develop an unequivocally safe and less complex jet that could be easily operated single-pilot,” said Charlie Johnson, who was on the Cessna senior management team at the time. Today, Johnson serves on several boards and consults for Tamarack Aerospace Group.

“Our customers were telling us we needed a new answer. The CJ proved to be the answer.”

Unveiled in 1998, the CJ1 was the successor to the original CitationJet. The biggest upgrade was the Collins Pro Line 21 avionics that featured a primary flight display and MFD that incorporated engine instrumentation as well as AHRS.

Cessna took another risk with the powerplant: They partnered with newcomer Williams International to develop a new application for its FJ44 engine, which was originally developed for military applications such as cruise missiles. Rolls-Royce also contributed engineering and manufacturing expertise, resulting just the right engine for the CitationJet: the FJ44-1A.

The CJ’s striking T-tail was another big step, giving the aircraft a strong ramp presence. The original aircraft also featured a heated wing and engine inlets, and bleed air windshield de-ice.

The CJ was always imagined as a single-pilot jet. As such, Cessna built the cockpit around the pilot. Critical switches and breakers were logically grouped and placed within easy reach.

“Several of us had past experience flying high-performance military jets single-pilot, including myself, Milt Sills (chief of engineering) and then-CEO Russ Meyer. We took that single-pilot mindset and made sure it was applied to the cockpit,” Johnson added.

In May 2017, Textron Aviation’s production team commemorated the 2,000th CJ delivery.

Once the CitationJet was announced at the 1989 NBAA, Cessna was flooded with orders, validating that it was the right aircraft for the right market. “There were so many interested customers that we ran out of order forms and began writing them on napkins,” laughed Johnson. “There is nothing that could compare to the CJ, and in my mind, there still isn’t.”

Today, with its state-of-the-art Garmin and Collins Pro Line 21 flight decks, cabin technology and tweaks to improve efficiency, reliability and performance, the CJ family continue to be among the most pilot-friendly jets on the market. And for thousands of owner-pilots, it’s as honest as it gets. 

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