Pilot Report: Cessna Mustang

 - September 27, 2006, 11:52 AM

The champagne corks were surely popping in Wichita on September 8 when Cessna Aircraft announced it had earned full type certification of its newest jet, the Mustang. The paperwork was signed just short of four years after the company announced the project at the 2002 NBAA Convention in Orlando, Fla.

In the middle of last month, AIN visited Cessna’s Wichita headquarters and Independence, Kan. manufacturing plant where the Mustang is built, to fly the airplane and find out whether the Mustang is a true entry-level jet or simply a turbine-powered airplane hurriedly developed to keep Cessna a step ahead of its competitors.

Cessna began cutting metal on the Mustang, designated the 510, less than a year after the project won company approval. The company made it clear in 2002 that the Mustang would not be simply a stripped-down light jet, but a Part 23 airplane that would offer the true versatility of load, speed and range customers demand.
And while the Mustang promised to raise the stakes for entry-level jet makers, it also delivered a klaxon message to competitors lacking the resources of Cessna and Textron: when this company sees a lucrative marketplace opportunity, get out of the way.

At press time the Mustang was certified for day and night VFR and IFR, as well as RVSM. Only one item remained outstanding: known-icing paperwork, expected shortly but certainly in time for first scheduled aircraft deliveries in the first quarter of next year. Cessna’s current backlog covers 250 Mustangs and extends to the fourth quarter of 2009.

Cessna’s first business jet, the 500, was priced at nearly $590,000 more than 30 years ago. In today’s dollars, that 500 would cost $2.3 million. Billed as Cessna’s true entry-level Citation, the Mustang is priced at $2.6 million.

The Mustang price and performance numbers (see spec box on page 87) are certain to make turboprop salespeople plenty nervous too. A Beech King Air C90GT, a derivative of a 42-year-old design, offers a comfortable size cabin but costs $2.95 million, and its cruise speed trails by more than 100 knots. The 270-knot Pilatus PC-12 turboprop single rings in at $3.3 million, typically equipped. The TBM 850 turboprop single sells for slightly more than a Mustang but flies 20 knots slower.

At the heart of the Mustang’s avionics is the Garmin G1000 suite, similar to that found in Cessna’s current piston-single line, but with the addition of a center multifunction display. The functionality of the G1000 is easy to spot once the pilot spends the time learning the system. Much of the system is intuitive enough that by the second or third flight, many of the entries will be second nature.

Russ Meyer III, Cessna’s Mustang program manager, plowed right through a number of company scheduling issues just weeks before NBAA 2006 to make an airplane available to AIN. Cessna engineering test pilot Don Alexander, a former Air Force C-141 commander, served as my instructor.

The flight began at Cessna’s Wichita Service Center aboard N510KS, the second production-conforming aircraft. The ramp was a toasty 32 degrees C on the cockpit gauges, while the ATIS called it 28 degrees C with a gusty southeast wind and only a few high clouds. The Wichita field elevation is 1,333 feet msl.

Entering the cockpit of the Mustang requires only minor gymnastics thanks to a well placed handle to grab and a short throttle pedestal. The control wheel on the Mustang is connected through the instrument panel and is reminiscent of a single- or light twin-engine aircraft rather than the typical long arm of a jet control wheel sticking up from the floor. The seat is comfortable and easy to move vertically and horizontally.

I didn’t care for the traditional automobile-type shoulder harness, and a five-point harness is not offered as an option. The Mustang has an electrically heated glass windshield that eliminates the once-deafening bleed-air blowers used on earlier Citations to keep the pilot screens clear of ice and condensation.

Since the ground power unit was plugged in, the pilot’s 10.4-inch flat primary flight display screen was already lit up and showing the basic HSI configuration that combined the engine and other system gauge readings into what Alexander called the “compressed mode,” or the configuration that would be seen during a total electrical failure. While the display is certainly crowded in an emergency, nearly every piece of information a pilot might need is available in one place.

The copilot side uses the same type of flat screen as the left seat. The multifunction display (MFD) is a single 15-inch flat screen that holds the engine indication and crew alert system.

The plan was to depart at maximum takeoff weight and climb directly to FL410 while recording some of the pertinent data along the way. With full fuel–193 gallons usable per side–100 pounds of ballast in the nose, 120 in the rear compartment and a passenger, we were just a few pounds short of the 8,750-pound max ramp weight. Since mtow is 8,700 pounds, we’d need to burn a bit of fuel during taxi. Be warned: the Mustang does not burn fuel very quickly on the ground.

With the nose facing into the sun on the ground, the air conditioners–running because the aircraft was plugged into the GPU–did a pretty nice job of keeping the cockpit and cabin cool. The fans have three positions for cockpit and cabin–high, low and off. In the high position, a necessity in 28 degree C heat, the fan noise made it difficult to talk to Alexander in the right seat, or even to hear the radios. Low fan speed would be a necessity on the ground for most operations in high-traffic areas, I think.

The instrument panel will be familiar to previous Citation pilots, with engine start buttons to the left as well as easy-to-read generators and fuel boost pump switches that need only be left in normal. The aileron and rudder trim are a bit hidden from the pilot’s view at the base of the center pedestal. Although they are not often used, it might be tough to find them in the dark.

Alexander filed a flight plan to the Cessna Test Area west of Wichita for our climb and a later route that would take us back south of town for a landing at Independence. Since the field elevation at our first landing point–Independence–was 825 feet, the only work necessary to run the pressurization system was to load that airport data into the Garmin before takeoff. The Mustang’s maximum pressure differential is 8.4 psi, which delivers a sea-level cabin to 21,000 feet and will hold an 8,000-foot cabin to 41,000 feet.

Engine start with GPU means being able to run the avionics full time, which is very handy. A battery start would require turning off the avionics master switch, as well as the generators. The Mustangs are equipped with lead acid batteries. The air conditioning is also turned off for the start. With a clearance in hand, we started the left engine with a single touch of the start button. At 8 percent N2 the throttle was moved over the gate to begin fuel flow to the engine.

The nice thing about fadec is the automation. Alexander said that the throttle could actually have been moved over the gate at the beginning of the start sequence. The fadec is smart enough not to allow fuel into the combustion chamber until the proper time.

Both motors spun quickly and reached idle speeds within 15 seconds. There are no time limits between starts using the battery. Temperatures never climbed much past 700 degrees C during the sequence. As always, it is the rate of temperature increase that will be the first tip-off to a hot start. A rapid rise toward the 800 degrees C mark would be of concern to Alexander. At idle, fuel flow settled at 120 pounds per side.

After engine start, the generator check is a matter of turning off one operating generator to check that the remaining unit has picked up the load, followed by the same check on the opposite side. The pilot’s indication that the GPU has been disconnected is the drop from 28 volts back to the approximate battery voltage of 24 volts. Windshield anti-ice is normally turned on after the start since there are no overheating concerns. While the Mustang uses a number of annunciator tones, there is only a red light to indicate a possible engine fire. There is no stick shaker or stick pusher before a stall.

Taxi control of the Mustang is accomplished through rudder pedal steering. I initially called the brakes sensitive, but my passenger more accurately labeled them responsive. And indeed they are. When I needed stopping power during the taxi, I had it.

Since the small Pratts don’t offer a lot of residual thrust, it takes a bit of power to get the aircraft rolling, but little to keep it rolling at a comfortable taxi speed. The pilot needs to stay ahead of taxi control to avoid tapping the brakes to steer, which can produce an annoying pull to one side and announce to everyone on board you’re a newbie. Taxiing would later prove to be much easier. Since the emergency gear extension releases the uplocks when needed, the gear free falls once the handle is pulled. A blow-down bottle is installed as a backup.

Flight controls are all manually actuated. The hydraulic system is an electrically powered pack located in the left hand side of the nose area that provides for the landing gear extension, retraction and braking. The Mustang is equipped with two 300-amp starter generators. One is capable of powering everything on the airplane and also provides automatic load shedding in case of an emergency.

The flight plan called for outlining the test area on the center multifunction display to track our progress over the ground. With the Garmin G1000, we could have simply departed and eyeballed the map to remain within the confines of the test area. One particularly useful aspect of the avionics system is its ability to record and later play back a clearance by hitting the rec button on the audio panel.

This keeps readbacks and radio chatter to a minimum while making it easier to review an original clearance well after it was first received. For some reason the com 1 function on N510KS was not usable on the copilot’s side, so we operated the rest of the flight from com 2. Had it been IFR, I would have wanted both panels to be fully functional.

Getting Under Way
ATC sent us to the 8,000-foot Runway 19 Left. Another large-aircraft tool on the Mustang is Garmin’s Safe Taxi system, which uses the 15-inch MFD to provide pilots an exact graphical position in relation to labeled taxiways, runways and buildings during taxi at more than 680 airports across the U.S. The G1000 also uses the XM satellite system to provide weather overlaid on the moving-map display.

Takeoff numbers pulled from the tab data were calculated at V1 of 90, Vr of 90 and V2 of 97 knots. We would use a cruise climb of 170 knots until reaching Mach 0.44 through FL410. The numbers were entered in the Garmin by toggling through an on-off function that I did not particularly care for. Without turning the takeoff numbers “on,” they would not appear on the speed ribbon during the roll. It would seem a simpler system would be to allow the pilot to turn on “takeoff,” or “landing,” at one time rather than to click through each V-speed individually.

A final takeoff check confirmed that flaps were set at takeoff, that the speed brakes were retracted and the HSI heading was the same as runway heading. Establishing takeoff power once on the runway was easy thanks to the fadec, but still began with easing the throttles up to 35 percent or so to confirm smooth acceleration before pushing the levers to the firewall.

Acceleration was brisk and we quickly reached takeoff speeds. Rotation forces were light as I retracted the gear and climbed west toward our first altitude limit of 10,000 feet. Flaps were retracted at V2 plus 10 while climb power was set in the detent at about 1,000 feet agl. Alexander said the engines can be held at takeoff power for 10 minutes.

My goal was to hand fly the airplane all the way to FL410. The only issue I noted with the 170-knot climb was a nose attitude most pilots might not feel too comfortable with. While a higher speed would translate into a longer climb to altitude, I’d probably use it just to have better visibility over the nose. Despite the nose attitude, the visibility from the Mustang cockpit can only be described as excellent. The Mustang does not include TCAS but instead uses Traffic Information System (TIS), which works only with certain local ATC radars.

Although other initial climb restrictions included plans to stop us at 15,000 and FL230, we found ourselves cleared to FL340 within 10 minutes of brake release, with a clearance to FL410 following soon after. As we passed 13,000 feet our climb rate showed 1,650 fpm despite the heat.

At FL190 we were climbing at 1,100 fpm with a temperature of ISA+17. We were hoping the temperatures would cool down a bit to be certain we could make Flight Level 410. At FL230 it was ISA+14 with the true airspeed settling in at 251 knots.
Out of FL270 we were climbing at 260 ktas. ISA dropped to +10 at FL300 with a climb rate of about 1,000 fpm and a climb speed of Mach 0.44. Out of FL360 we were burning 280 pounds per side and climbing at 600 fpm with ISA back up to +12. Approximately 39 minutes after brake release, 510KS leveled out at 41,000 feet at the miserly cost of 500 pounds of fuel, about 40 gallons per side. I removed my headset out of FL370 and found the noise level quite comfortable. Once level at FL410, it took about 10 minutes to accelerate to 319 ktas at ISA+4.

At the temperatures we saw throughout the climb, the choice of FL410 might have been questionable, especially since the Mustang seemed to be struggling at 500 fpm out of FL390. I’m glad we hung in there though because the rate picked up again for the last 1,500 feet. Long-range cruise speed is 298 ktas and would be needed to make the full 1,150 nm.

Before we left FL410 I stepped into the back of the cabin to check the noise level. From the rearmost right seat,  I could carry on a conversation with the other pilot, who now sat in the left seat. The nearly 15-foot-long cabin in the back is comfortable, with a 54-inch width and 55-inch height.

Cabin seats include shoulder harness belts. Cabin outfitting is nice–not lush, but comfortable. The interior has folding armrests on the reclining, aft-facing seats. There’s a 110-volt electrical outlet in the console. Cabin windows are tinted, which Cessna believes will reduce the need to lower the shades, an important move since the Mustang cabin looked small with all the shades down.

The potty seat, located between the cockpit and the cabin, is unbelted and really for emergencies only. The cockpit curtain pulls shut for privacy on that side while an expandable visor that attaches with magnets closes off the area from the rest of the cabin.

After the acceleration run at FL410, we descended to FL350 to check cruise speed, which turned out to be 338 ktas. Alexander said the best altitude on flights of 600 to 800 nm is FL350, where the true airspeed will be about 340 knots.

We headed toward Independence, a nontower airport that is home to the Mustang production line. The Vnav function on the Garmin is robust enough for most any pilot. Alexander and I told the system to plan on our reaching an altitude about 3,500 feet agl a few miles away from the airport so we could test how well the system would couple to the GPS 17 approach there.

Within a few minutes of the top of descent (TOD) warning from the computer-generated “Vertical Track message,” the TOD appeared on the MFD. The autopilot captured the slope and my only job was to keep the power in line. Since there is no radar coverage at Independence, we made visual vectors to the final and watched the system fly the approach.

The Landing Learning Curve
Initial approach flap setting is 184 kcas, while landing flap can be dropped only when the speed is below 148 knots. The gear can be dropped at up to 250 knots. Beginning the base-leg turn, I dropped approach flaps. Approaching the final approach fix, I slowed to 180 knots and dropped the gear. Final landing checks were only three green down.

Passing puwes final approach fix inbound put us on a five-mile final for the 5,500-foot-long Runway 17. I popped off the autopilot, called for final flaps and maintained the airspeed of about 150 until two miles out. Our ref was indeed low, about 94, even on the first approach, for which we were just under the max landing weight of 8,000 pounds. I should have slowed the aircraft a little earlier on final to fit into the traffic pattern better.

Crossing the end of the Independence runway at about 50 feet, I pulled the power to idle. My first landing taught me one lesson about the Mustang: don’t flare. Even though I floated somewhat in the gusty wind, the touchdown was firm on the left main first and settled quickly to the other two gear. I extended the speed brakes with my right thumb on the button and pressed heavily on the brakes. We made the first turn, which we estimated to be about a 3,000-foot ground run. The brakes are an excellent combination of power and ease of use. Cessna says we could have landed the airplane in as little as 2,600 feet at sea level. Alexander said on a dry runway, 3,000 feet made him feel much more comfortable.

When we left Independence we headed south toward Tulsa to avoid an MOA to the west. It took just under eight minutes to climb to 16,500 feet, where we set up for VFR steep turns. I rolled into a number of 45-degree banks and found that with only a slight boost to the throttles from Alexander, and a small crank of trim, I could hold the bank attitude with a speed near 200 knots.

Rudder pressures rolling from left to right were not light but just enough to make the airplane feel solid. The visibility throughout the turns was good, if only somewhat restricted out of the side windows during very steep turns.

I tried racing along at 220 to 230 knots to see how quickly the aircraft would slow for a simulated traffic pattern. With power back to flight idle, I dropped the gear and within five seconds found myself below the 200-knot limit for approach flaps. With those down, speed dropped to less than the 184-knot limit for landing flaps. With the second notch down and the gear out, the airplane slowed down to the 130-knot range within 10 seconds.

I punched the go-around button on the throttle to prepare for a simulated balked landing. I brought the levers to the takeoff detent and found only a modest amount of nose-down trim was needed to keep the nose under control. Now weighing in at somewhere around 7,650 pounds, the Mustang acceleration was quick.

Still at 16,500 feet, we headed for Wichita to try some VFR approaches. ICT actually snuck up on us a little faster than expected and we found ourselves at 16,500 feet, 17 miles southeast of the airport. Perfect. I pulled the power to idle, extended the speed brakes and pitched down toward a base-leg entry to Runway 19 Left.

With an indicated airspeed of approximately 200 to 210 knots, the rate of descent easily held around 3,500 fpm and we comfortably reached a point five or six miles from the traffic pattern at 2,500 feet. I noticed no perceptible pressure bump on the way down, but the speed brake rumble was quite pronounced.

The wind at Wichita was gustier than when we’d left a few hours before, with peaks to 28 knots. Knowing what was coming, I was ready to finesse this next approach. With landing flaps, I pulled the power to idle at 40 or 50 feet agl and held the same pitch attitude I’d had on final.

The Mustang settled on the mains nicely and I quickly lowered the nose gear as my right thumb commanded the speed brakes to extend. This time, I also pressed hard on the brakes. The amazing part of the Mustang brakes, again, was their responsiveness. I used only moderate pressure to produce large results. We almost made the Runway 19 Left M5 turnoff, which would have indicated about a 3,500-foot landing distance. But so as not to cook the brakes, I let the aircraft roll to M6. Since the best landing is most likely the next one, we taxied back to 19L for just one more.

The Mustang displayed its rocket-like performance down the runway as we departed at 8,000 pounds. The crab angle on downwind meant that the strong crosswind was still there. On final, as the PAPI showed the wind was trying to best me, I added power, then more and then more as more of the red lights became visible than white.

Finally arresting my descent, I dragged the airplane the last half mile or so with a lot of power. Once I had the runway made, I eased off the power and made a, well, solid touchdown connected to another short ground run, indicating I should have quit earlier while I was ahead. After three hours of flight time, we had burned 1,370 pounds of fuel.

Cessna hopes the Mustang will fill the long-empty entry slot of its popular business jet line that began with the 500 thirty years ago, and that it will be the aircraft of choice for people thinking about an attractively priced, easy-to-maintain alternative to piston-engine or small turboprop aircraft, as well as those ready to move up to the speed and comfort offered by high-altitude jet travel.

Having flown the early 500s and now the 510, I think the Mustang is an entry-level jet that far surpasses the company’s first footsteps into the business jet market more than three decades ago. It is sure to be a match for many competitors because the move up to the left seat in a Mustang will be relatively simple for most piston and turboprop pilots, whether they fly the aircraft single pilot or as part of a crew.

After an evaluation of slightly more than three hours, we’d give the Citation Mustang an “A.” When the company makes a five-point cockpit shoulder harness standard in front we’ll give it an A+. The Mustang is indeed an impressive machine.