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Cessna Mustang Covers The Globe

By Elliot Borin, Air TaxiFlights.com Staff Writer - © 2009, Reproduction without permission strictly prohibited. All company and product names in this document are the property of their respective copyright and/or trademark holders.

It was probably inevitable that the first Very Light Jet to circumnavigate the globe was a Cessna. Every bit as important to general aviation progress as Boeing, for example, is in the world of passenger aircraft, Wichita-based Cessna Aircraft Company, a Textron Inc. (NYSE: TXT) company has an 81-year history of producing ground-breaking (or should that be sky-breaking?) aircraft like the C-34 Airmaster, dubbed the world's most efficient airplane in 1936, the cantilever-winged Phantom, the world speed-record setting CR-3, and the civilian/military Skymaster, with its unique propulsion system featuring one propeller pulling from the front of the fuselage and another pushing from the rear.

Little wonder that Cessna's twin-engined, $2.7 million Mustang was the first Very Light Jet to win full FAA certification (Sept. 8, 2006).
Lest anyone think Cessna's days of thunder faded with the end of the propeller era, there's also the twin-jet Cessna Citation family, which includes the world's fastest business jet and the three best-selling business jet models of all time.

And last, but never least, there were the 140s, 150s, 152s and 172s, the lightweight, high-winged, single-engined monoplanes that taught three generations of post-World War II Americans to fly. Little wonder then that Cessna's twin-engined (Pratt Whitney PW615F), 8,645 pound (max. takeoff weight), $2.7 million Mustang was the first Very Light Jet to win full FAA certification (Sept. 8, 2006) and the first to fly around the world in not 80, but eight days -- a 20,000-nautical mile feat accomplished by California Attorney Fred Furth and his Great Dane Brandenburg last June.

Which is, perhaps, not as remarkable as it seems when you consider that the Mustang, according to Cessna Program Manager David Dell, is a truly revolutionary aircraft that shares only some "standard off the shelf hardware" with other Cessna models.

AirTaxiFlights.com: I'm not sure exactly who the first company to fly a prototype VLJ was, but there's absolutely no question about which company was the first to receive full FAA type certification for operation under all conditions including flight into known icing. What is there about Cessna that enabled it to get its VLJ off the drawing board and into commercial operation faster than its competitors?

David Dell: Anybody can develop an airplane that flies and performs, but certifying it takes a special synergy between all the members of an experienced team which takes a long time to develop. The team knows what pitfalls to expect and is skilled at implementing proactive and corrective measures to ensure the certification occurs on schedule. Cessna has certified more airplanes that any other general aviation manufacturer in history, so we had that kind of team ready and in place when we started this program.

ATF: Even before the Mustang, Cessna had what most observers would consider a pretty full range of aircraft. What unfilled niche was the VLJ intended to fill?

David Dell: Our market studies indicated there was a lucrative gap between our high end single engine products and the low end of our Citation family. A number of our competitors had high-end single- to twin-turboprop airplanes operating in that market and we believed there was a demand for jet performance among many of those operators.

We've completed about 60 aircraft and have delivered 55 to customers. The others are scheduled to be delivered as soon as they come out of demo service.
ATF: One difference between the Mustang and its competitors to date is price. With essentially the same seating capacity, the Mustang is roughly a million dollars more than Brand E. What's that about?

David Dell: Frankly, the Mustang is simply more airplane than the VLJs. It has more payload, more than 62 cubic feet of external storage space and better performance, particularly takeoff and landing airfield performance in unfavorable conditions. We applied a number of Part 23 Commuter and even some Part 25 criteria to the design of the aircraft and this gives us more robust system functionality and reliability than VLJs which are Part 23 compliant only.

ATF: How many Mustangs have you delivered so far and how do the customers like them?

David Dell: We've completed about 60 aircraft and have delivered 55 to customers. The others are scheduled to be delivered as soon as they come out of demo service.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Owners, passengers, people who have taken demo or evaluation flights are all very impressed. We've already seen numerous reports from operators that their Mustangs are delivering well in excess of the published values for range, cruise speed, and fuel efficiency.

ATF: Can you give us some examples?

David Dell: Early on, we planned on an average flight of one to 1.5 hours, but we've already seen some very long legs, upwards of three to four hours. We also have operators who report regularly bettering the published 1150 nautical mile cruising range by a hundred or 200 miles.

We have a customer in Puerto Rico who routinely flies from there to Delaware non-stop, which is a pretty long hop and we recently had an international delivery that made the first leg, a hair over 1300 nautical miles from Wichita to Bangor, Maine, nonstop with, perhaps, just a bit of a tailwind.

Customers have also responded very favorably to the advances in reliability, diagnostics and maintainability that have been engineered into the Mustang. For example, we've beat our initial MTBUR (Mean Time Between Unscheduled Removal) program goal by nearly 40%. We also incorporated first-level access to most of our systems LRUs (Line Replaceable Units) to increase maintenance efficiency and added sophisticated onboard diagnostic systems to facilitate troubleshooting in the field.

In addition to making the Mustang a better airplane, all of these elements contribute to its highly favorable operating cost ratio and that's one thing owners have been universally happy about.

I'm basically a private pilot who's flown the Mustang and I can tell you that it's a very easy airplane to fly and get comfortable in.
ATF: What other kinds of feedback are you getting from the first group of operators?

David Dell: They're not only happy with the performance of the aircraft, they're also happy with the logical layout and straightforward functionality of the Garmin G1000 avionics system. A lot of these people are coming to the Mustang from aircraft that have analog instruments ... the old, traditional "steam gauges." They like the fact that it takes them relatively little time to get up to speed and begin benefitting from the quantum advantages of "glass cockpit" versus traditional instruments.

ATF: Since you were nice enough to bring transitioning from older aircraft up, how steep is the Mustang learning curve?

David Dell: Very steep. Except that it's a negative curve so very steep means you get down it really fast. That said, it obviously depends on a person's experience. I'm basically a private pilot who's flown the Mustang and I can tell you that it's a very easy airplane to fly and get comfortable in. New pilots transitioning from other types of aircraft go through a standard flight training curriculum and in cases of minimal experience, they will be required to participate in a mentoring program where an experienced, type-rated pilot flies with them for a given number of hours in their typical operational environment, going into and out of the airports they would most frequently use. ATF: How many Mustangs have you sold so far?

David Dell: Let me answer that this way. All told, we have more than 400 orders on backlog.

ATF: Can you tell us how those orders are divided between domestic and international, corporate and personal, etc.

David Dell: I'm actually kind of surprised by the ratio of international to domestic. For example, 75 percent of the orders we booked in 2007 were international, which brings the breakdown of the entire backlog to a bit over 50 percent international and a bit under 50 percent domestic.

This is somewhat of a surprise because the Mustang order book is weighted more heavily toward foreign orders than the other Citations. But it's a nice surprise, a good sign that we're making inroads in some international markets we haven't been heavily involved with historically. Even better, we're currently seeing the international market for the other Citations picking up considerably.

In terms of usage, buyers are kind of a mixed bag.

There are a number of turboprop owners looking for better fuel economy and lower-operating costs generally. People who don't necessarily need the capacity of something like a King Air. Another high percentage of people on the list are individual pilots and business owners who can afford the Mustang's acquisition and operating costs whereas a jet in the $4-5 million range might not be feasible for them.

We also have around 75 fleet orders in the pipeline and a few Citation owners who are downsizing into the Mustang.

London Executive Aviation recently took delivery of the first of a number of Mustangs it's got on order and is already using it in air taxi service.
ATF: Assuming that some of those fleet orders are from current or future air-taxi operators, when can we expect to be able to book a commercial flight?

David Dell: You can do it right now if you go to England. London Executive Aviation recently took delivery of the first of a number of Mustangs it's got on order and is already using it in air taxi service. Right now, the Mustang is the only light jet under 10000lbs that has achieved EASA certification and consequently the only one operating commercially in European air taxi operations.

ATF: Sorry to bring up the "E" word, but a lot pilots who've flown an Eclipse 500 say that the airplane "flies bigger than it looks." As a pilot, would you say the same holds true for the Mustang?

David Dell: Yeah, I would agree with that in terms of it being smoother, more stable, more comfortable than you would believe possible from standing next to it on the runway. It's an airplane you can hand fly very easily. The avionics package is very straightforward, provides great situational awareness and the logical instrumentation and control layout really reduces the pilot's workload.

On the other hand, it is not bigger than it looks in the sense that it has heavy control surfaces or slow responses. It's actually quite a nimble aircraft with larger aircraft flying qualities in the areas of stability and comfort.

It's interesting you asked that question, because we do get a lot of prospective customers who tell us "this is really a much bigger airplane than I thought." This is especially true among those who have looked at other VLJs, they praise the roominess of the cabin, the luggage space, the overall feeling of spaciousness we've achieved in such a small package.

ATF:OK, potential buyers like the way it flies, how it looks, the amount of room it has, the sticker price and the operating efficiency. Selling them still can't be that easy, there must some area in which you have to overcome customer resistance.

David Dell: Probably the biggest stumbling block right now is the backlog. Strange as it may seem, some people have an issue waiting a few years to get an airplane.

ATF: Believe it or not, Dave, I can relate to that. If I had $2 million-plus I could afford to spend on a jet, waiting three or four years to get it would be like a sentence to purgatory.

But then, I've always been addicted to instant gratification. Thanks for not making us wait til 2010 for this interview.

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