Garmin scores big with Citation Mustang deal

 - October 15, 2007, 11:22 AM

Following the same successful road map that has served the company since its founding in 1989, Garmin International has secured a milestone contract to supply the integrated avionics system aboard Cessna’s newest business twinjet, the $2.3 million Citation Mustang.

Conceived with the typical owner- flown pilot in mind, the all-glass Garmin G1000 cockpit for the Mustang features a 15-inch multifunction flat-panel display in the center of the instrument panel flanked by a pair of 10-inch primary flight displays with extra wide horizon lines, archetypal business jet display symbology and bezel menu-control buttons.

In a significant shift from its long-standing role producing handheld GPS receivers and panel-mount GPS/navcom boxes, Garmin will supply the Mustang’s autopilot, FMS, weather radar, terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS), traffic information system (TIS), solid-state attitude and heading reference system (AHRS) and air-data computers. That’s a lot to chew off for a company that has never before tried its hand at integrating a complete avionics system. And while it certainly was no secret that Garmin had its ambitions set on producing complete cockpits for high-performance pistons, turboprops and entry-level jets, word that the company had landed such a coveted prize as a new Cessna business jet on only its first try–even one in the so-called “very light” category–surprised many industry observers. But it shouldn’t have.

What started out 14 years ago with a few engineers and an idea to build handheld GPS receivers for pilots has burst into full blossom over the past decade, leading to impressive growth at a company that has become one of the most talked-about success stories in aviation.

In competing for the Mustang cockpit, Garmin beat aviation stalwarts Honeywell and Rockwell Collins, enticing Cessna with a combination of simplicity, quality and low price.

“The capabilities of the G1000 are tremendous,” said Cessna president Charlie Johnson. “We were extremely impressed with Garmin’s new technologies. Because many of our customers are stepping up to the Mustang from single-engine and turboprop airplanes, it’s essential that the system be easy to use–we found the simplicity and technology we were looking for” with the Garmin package.

The competition for the Mustang’s avionics system started more than two years ago, pitting Garmin against the Bendix/King Apex cockpit from Honeywell and another system developed by a team that joined Avidyne and Rockwell Collins. Honeywell’s Apex, which has been in development for the past few years, employs novel display technology and a unique low-cost databus developed for the automotive market. Avidyne, meanwhile, is a partner on the Avio cockpit for the Eclipse 500 and supplies the all-glass Entegra system for the piston-powered Cirrus SR22. For the Mustang competition it proposed integrating its flat-panel displays and an automotive databus with a Rockwell Collins AHRS and autopilot. Rockwell Collins was to have served as the systems integrator.

Cessna senior management considered all three designs seriously–and at first glance it might have seemed Garmin had the longest shot of any in roping the Mustang. After all, Bendix/King avionics have been standard on single-engine Cessnas for years and the Mustang’s bigger stablemates–the Citation CJ1, CJ2 and CJ3–all fly with Pro Line 21 avionics supplied by Collins. Another strike against Garmin was its inexperience as a cockpit integrator. Yet Cessna views its selection of the Olathe, Kan. avionics maker as anything but a gamble.

“Garmin’s reputation and the tremendous acceptance of its GNS 430 and 530 avionics among the typical buyer of the Mustang helped make the choice much easier for our senior management,” said Mike Fuhrman, director of Citation marketing support. Reduced workload and system integration, he said, were key factors in determining which avionics system won the contest, especially since a large number of Mustang owners will fly single-pilot after upgrading from light GA airplanes.

Fuhrman said Cessna has taken deposits for 330 six-place, Pratt & Whitney Canada PW615F-powered Mustangs, due for certification and first customer deliveries in 2006.

Initial specifications from Garmin call for the Mustang’s front office to include dual integrated radio modules, WAAS-capable IFR GPS receivers, RVSM-compliant air-data computers, mode-S transponders, dual AHRS, three-axis digital autopilot, TIS traffic, weather radar and Garmin’s forthcoming class-B TAWS. The airplane’s FMS will be based on the GNS 430/530 platform, but with enhancements–including an FMS keypad in the center of the panel–making it just as valuable as flight management systems flying aboard larger business jets, Fuhrman said.

Open Architecture
Garmin has been understandably reticent about revealing just how the disparate parts of the G1000 system will come together. Gary Kelley, Garmin director of marketing, was willing to share some of the more pertinent highlights while leaving others a secret (he promised more details of the G1000 would be released this summer at EAA AirVenture 2003 in Oshkosh, Wis.).

The lightweight, modular design and open architecture of the G1000 ensure it will evolve well into the future, he said. All information– from aircraft attitude and air data to engine instrumentation, weather datalink, traffic and terrain–is integrated and electronically depicted on the large-format PFDs and MFD with simplicity, enhanced situational awareness and safety in mind. The G1000’s color TFT displays boast XGA (1024 by 768) resolution with wide viewing angles and clear sunlight readability, Kelley added.

“All facets of the G1000’s development are being done in house,” he said. “We don’t farm out design work or look for expertise outside our own company. We like to do things ourselves. That way we can control our own destiny.”

Garmin has spent the money to bring necessary expertise under its own roof. Sequoia Instruments of Los Gatos, Calif., a Garmin subsidiary purchased in November 2001, designed the G1000’s low-cost AHRS, a key ingredient of the system. Garmin also bought an airborne weather radar design from an unnamed supplier and hired a group of engineers to develop the Mustang’s automatic flight control system, which Kelley said features unique servos that will enhance autopilot reliability.

Garmin has built a flight control test center at New Century Airport in Olathe, where flight test of some G1000 hardware has already started.

“We’ve spent a considerable amount of money to develop this system,” Kelley said. “Now we’ll get busy working with Cessna to develop the interfaces and symbology, with definition and refinement continuing.”

When asked to offer reasons why Cessna chose Garmin for the Mustang, Kelley listed many attributes that he said make the company a solid partner. First, he said Garmin is financially strong and stable, having made a lot of money in the last 10 years, not only in aviation but also in marine and automotive markets. Garmin also has a proven track record, both with its handheld GPS receivers and popular GNS panel-mount line. Its success has bred familiarity, and even brand loyalty among pilots. Finally, he said, Garmin has talented engineering and leadership teams in Olathe, as well as strong manufacturing capabilities, something that Cessna executives admit played a part in their decision to award the Mustang cockpit to the company.