Pilot report: Cessna Citation CJ4

 - May 31, 2011, 5:10 AM

AIN_2011_Pilot Report_CessnaCJ4.pdf

When it comes to buying an airplane–any airplane–manufacturers and their salespeople can talk utility and value until the cows come home. But people buy airplanes–and learn to fly–because they want to move from one place to another fast…the faster, the better. Combining speed with comfort is often a challenge, though, especially in the light-jet arena.

Cessna demo pilot John Reimer wanted to wow me as I put the new CJ4 I was flying through its paces. “Line up on the centerline, hold the brakes and run the throttles of the two [Fadec-controlled] Williams engines right to the stops,” he suggested. “Then release the brakes.” A few seconds later as I released the brakes, it all made sense. I was immediately pressed back into my seat as the CJ4 shot down the runway, as if on a catapult. Of course, the airplane was light with four people and just under 3,500 pounds of fuel and an outside temperature of 24 degrees C. Rate of climb easily topped 3,000 fpm for the moment or two I caught a glimpse of the VSI. I had to yank back on the power quickly so as not to blow through Wichita’s 2,600-foot pattern altitude. Amazing what an extra 1,600 pounds of thrust on those upgraded Williams FJ44-4As can deliver.

Not Just a New CJ3

When I first learned Cessna was planning the CJ4, like many others I envisioned a slightly roomier, slightly faster, longer-legged CJ3. The CJ4 goes way beyond that. Without giving away too much of the ending up front, the Cessna book numbers are well researched and tested figures that allowed me to have quite a bit of confidence in the other numbers I saw.

It takes about 200 days from start to finish to produce a new CJ4, and Cessna’s manufacturing processes allow the company to dispense with a green flight right after the aircraft leaves the assembly line. Eliminating this step before the CJ4 heads to the paint shop helps keep a lid on manufacturing costs, (but Textron CEO Scott Donnelly thinks they need further tweaking).

While the CJ4 represents an evolutionary step in the CJ series, it won’t replace the CJ3, or even the CJ2 for that matter. Both of those earlier airframes will continue in production. Cessna recently pulled the CJ1+ from the line, however, leaving the Citation Mustang the company’s entry-level jet. The CJ4 shares a common type rating with earlier versions and is single-pilot certified.

CJ4 competitors include the Phenom 300 and the Learjet 45XR. The CJ4, with its Sovereign-like mildly swept wing, is easily 35 knots faster than the CJ3 but neck-and-neck with the Phenom 300. The Learjet 45XR can be slightly faster than the CJ4. The new Cessna, like the Phenom, can carry as many as nine passengers and one pilot. The Learjet 45XR requires two pilots, but also carries a maximum of nine passengers. The cabins on the Learjet 45XR and the Phenom 300 are both five feet one inch wide. The CJ4 comes in three inches narrower than these competitors. Its cabin is 20 inches longer than the CJ3’s.

When stuffing bags aboard becomes a top priority, crews will appreciate that the CJ4’s baggage space has grown to 77 cu ft, 18.5 percent more than that of the CJ2+ and the CJ3. That translates into five full-size golf bags. The Phenom 300’s total baggage space is just a foot smaller, while the Learjet 45XR has 65 cu ft of baggage space, or about 20 percent less than the CJ4. The CJ4’s range is also up compared with the CJ3; 2,002 nm versus 1,875, a 7-percent increase. The Phenom and the Learjet 45XR will fly nearly as far as the CJ4, both at 1,971 nm. The CJ4’s range translates into Boston-Denver or Stockholm-Casablanca nonstop. A Paris-Cairo trip takes four hours. Takeoff runs are virtually identical in the CJ4 and the Phenom 300 at 3,130 feet, versus about 4,700 for the Learjet 45XR.

Maximum speeds on all of the aircraft are similar, with the CJ4 and the Phenom 300 at 453 knots and the Learjet 45XR at 465 knots. When it comes time to shell out some cash for a new aircraft, however, the Learjet 45XR has the most expensive quoted price at a shade under $11 million. The Phenom lists for $8.5 million and the CJ4 for $8.895 million.

Inside and Out

Pilots with an eye for detail–especially those with CJ3 experience–will notice a few changes on the CJ4, among them the wing, entry door, windshield de-ice system and single-point refueling.

The CJ4’s higher speed–we saw nearly 450 knots true at altitude–comes from the new 15.45-degree swept wing that replaces the old Citation straight wing on earlier CJs. The new wing uses a single monolithic wing spar for strength and operates with all mechanical flight controls. The single flap is hinged. Each of the Williams FJ44-4As delivers 3,621 pounds of thrust. A 3,000-psi, closed-center (always on) hydraulic system brings to the CJ4 another element of big-airplane operation: a modulating speed brake that doubles as a lift-dump spoiler on landing. Like earlier models, the CJ4 does not use thrust reversers. Gone too are the truly annoying windshield de-ice blowers, replaced by electrically heated glass on the front and side windows. The wings and engine inlets are heated by bleed air while the horizontal stabilizer is fitted with pneumatic de-icer boots.

The aircraft features a new larger 24-inch-wide air-stair door with a step. Inside the cabin a side-facing two-place couch behind the copilot is an option. Notwithstanding the awkward legal tangle between Cessna and cabinetmaker Nordam, the CJ4 cabin refreshment center is visually impressive and includes a built-in cabin management panel at the top. Cabin seats are comfortable and employ an interesting, patented design to hide the armrest completely out of sight. The potty can optionally function as a belted seat.

Rockwell Collins built the integrated cabin management system on the CJ4 that controls the lights, the window shades and even the environmental system’s fan speeds. The power window shades can, for example, be toggled between sheer mode–some daylight–and the complete cabin blackout mode. As they leave the airplane, the crew can touch one button on the cabin master control panel and lower all the shades at one time to keep the cabin cool. The CJ4 does not incorporate an APU although every seat has its own AC power port, as well as a connection for just about every kind of audio-video device made. The cabin’s iPod docking station can play music in one location or be programmed to play a list of tunes to a select group of passengers’ seats, or even all seats…except the cockpit, of course. Rockwell Collins 10.6-inch HD monitors are standard at each seat, as is XM radio.

Cockpit Enhancements

In flight training, an always-challenging crisis focuses on the double-generator failure that leaves the pilots with only battery power to operate. Interestingly, most late-model jets operate with partial AC/DC systems although the possibility of using any of that valuable AC power when the generators die has seldom existed. Part of the CJ4’s before-taxi checklist includes turning off both DC starter generators and waiting about 30 seconds to watch the alternators magically pick up the load. In the CJ4, a dual generator illuminates only a yellow caution light, not a red warning light any longer, and also automatically sheds non-essential electrical loads.

One look in the cockpit reveals a radical sloping panel redesign that gives the CJ a much-needed appearance upgrade. The flat instrument panel is history, and now most important engine and system controls are placed on a tilted panel, making them easier to manipulate, especially the FMS keyboards. The CJ4 comes standard with two keyboards to enter and update flight plans to a single FMS. Dual FMS systems are an option. The throttle quadrant pedestal is now ramped and pushbuttons replace all the toggle switches. System updates are now easily handled with USB connectors and flash drives.

The CJ4 relies on the Collins Pro Line 21 suite for just about everything electronic in the cockpit, including graphic charts. The SafeTaxi function is extremely useful for a single-pilot operation. The Pro Line 21 includes an engine indication and crew alerting system and graphical representations of the trim and flap positions, as well as the state of the electrical and pressurization system. The pilots can also take a snapshot recording of CAS events, so they’ll never again be questioned by a maintenance director who is unable to duplicate a problem. The Collins MultiScan weather radar features automatic tilt control and allows for independent presentations on the pilot and co-pilot screens.

While 1,600 additional pounds of thrust sounds impressive, the Williams FJ44-4A engines are a necessity to produce the CJ4’s rocket-like performance since the aircraft weighs in at 16,950 pounds, nearly 3,000 pounds more than the CJ3. Luckily, the -4As are fuel misers. With full fuel, the CJ3 can add 570 pounds of people. On the CJ4, that number is 1,000 pounds when the aircraft is brimming with gas, and 1,200 with a single pilot. In either case, the airplane can then fly 2,000 nm. When departing a 5,000-foot elevation airport at maximum weight on a 30 degree C day, the CJ4 needs less than 6,000 feet of runway, or about double what it uses at sea level at the same temperature. At ISA standard temperatures, the airplane will rocket to FL350 in 13 minutes and to FL450 in 28.

Flying the CJ4

Cessna’s philosophy is that if flying a jet is easy, flying will also be fun, encouraging even more flying.

The weather at Wichita the late April day I flew was nice, with high ceilings and relatively light winds. We were able to find three other Cessna employees brave enough to fly along. Two of them, demo pilots John Reimer and Jim Perry, had to be there. CJ4 product marketing manager Mike Pierce made it an even four as we climbed aboard for the hour-and-a-half flight around Kansas.

Taking the left seat is often the first test of an airplane’s friendliness, and the sloping throttle quadrant makes the entire process on the CJ4 much easier than earlier models. At first glance some pilots might think the windshield is smaller than the CJ3’s, but it’s really an optical illusion. The glareshield is actually higher than on earlier airplanes to accommodate all the autopilot controls.

With the avionics switch in the dispatch mode, little battery power is used–in case there was no GPU–to allow the pilot to pick up the clearance and enter a flight plan into the FMS and review all necessary charts. The fuel system is easy to understand and operate just by looking at the panel. Should fuel transfer become necessary, simply point the fuel selector to the direction you want the fuel to go. Boost pumps are automatic for engine starts and transfers. Because the pressurization system pulls field elevations from the flight plan, there is no pilot input necessary there either. Outside LED lighting uses the turn-on-only concept. Hit the taxi switch to turn on necessary lights. For takeoff, hit takeoff and the appropriate lights are turned on and unnecessary ones are turned off, and so on. Emergency gear extension is motivated by gravity after the uplocks are released, with a blow-down bottle for backup.

The thrust levers are already set at idle, so no need to move anything at engine starts. Push the start button, then the run button and everything else is automatic. A hot start means punching only the stop button. Once the battery recovered to fewer than 200 amps, I started the second engine. At idle, the cockpit noise level is extremely quiet. 

We planned to depart Wichita toward Garden City, Liberal, Anthony VOR and back to Wichita with a takeoff weight of approximately 14,000 pounds, about 2,500 pounds under gross with about 3,500 pounds of fuel. That translated into a quick acceleration and a V1 of 92, Vr of 94, V2 108 and Vreturn of 140. The flaps have two settings: 15 and 35 degrees, with 15 standard for takeoff. Our planned takeoff distance was 2,500 feet, which means we could have accelerated to V1, lost an engine and stopped safely on a 3,000-foot runway. The CJ4 could also depart Aspen on an 86 degree F day at close to maximum gross weight (calculation does not include second-segment climb data).

For takeoff, check flaps 15, speed brakes shut and pitot heat on. Throttles to the stops and away we go. After a sprightly takeoff, the gear came up, yaw damper on and the flaps soon thereafter as the speed quickly built. At the six-minute mark we were climbing through 22,000 feet with an indicated airspeed of about 235 knots. I hand-flew the aircraft to altitude and even with power changes, trim adjustments were minimal. By 11 minutes we’d reached FL340, where we leveled off for a bit and checked true airspeed, 448 knots on a fuel flow of about 1,550 pounds per hour total. At FL380, the TAS dropped to 438 knots, but I needed to back off on the power 4 percent to keep the overspeed warning quiet. Fuel flow at FL380 was about 1,300 pounds per hour.

Some airplanes have a problem keeping the cockpit cool in a variety of situations, but the A/C on the CJ4 will easily freeze out the pilots who aren’t paying attention, something I’m not used to after flying some other light jets. The Cessna guys call it the “meat locker” control. Each pilot has his own fan controls, which means I can freeze myself while the person in the right seat can be comfortable.

Up high we tried some slow flight and my favorite 60-degree steep turns because this “cranking and banking” really gives a feel for how well balanced the controls are. For someone transitioning out of a smaller piston aircraft, the CJ4 is a piece of cake to fly. The controls are light enough that you don’t need to be an Arnold Schwarzenegger to keep the nose up. Even in a 60-degree bank, I was easily able to add only a small amount of trim and release the wheel to watch the airplane continue all by itself.

We set up for an ILS back to Wichita’s Runway 1. The CJ4’s gear speed is 200 knots, which means that holding a high speed to the marker and quickly slowing down is pretty easy. Fifty-five percent power is a great approach power setting since it brings you to just under 200, and with a notch of flaps (15) the airplane quickly slowed to 145. Ref on this first approach was set at 100 knots and with gear and landing flaps, there was little to do other than keep the needles centered. I appreciated the ability for a quick peripheral look at the angle of attack indicator on the approach. I flared a bit high on the first one so we floated just a bit. The touchdown was still smooth as I released s smidgen of backpressure.

Reimer reset the flaps to 15 and I pushed the thrust levers forward and away we went for another, ILS, this one with the right engine throttled back. Sorry but there’s not much to report, especially thanks to an effective rudder bias system. The only item that really changes is the decision about when to lower the gear and flaps, essentially once the runway is assured. This time, the flare was easier to judge and we settled to the pavement easily from the 50-foot point when I squeezed off the throttles. I pulled the speed brakes once the nosewheel was on the ground and we were stopped in about 2,000 feet. I wanted to go out again, but clock said my time was up, at least on this trip.