EBACE Convention News

Cessna’s Columbus still taking shape

 - May 17, 2008, 3:32 AM

After an extensive period of market consultation over its Large Cabin Concept, Cessna launched its new Citation Columbus program just over three months ago on February 6. In recent years, the manufacturer has made a big impression on the market with its Citation Mustang very light jet. Now it hopes to make no less an impression at the upper end of the business aviation market with a 4,000-nm, eight-passenger aircraft that will enter service in 2014.

Prior to this week’s show in Geneva, Joe Hepburn, senior program manager for the Columbus, spent time with EBACE Convention News to explain where the project stands.

Cessna has gone out of its way to get maximum input from prospective customers. To what extent will Columbus incorporate their requests? Surely it’s very hard to make everyone happy?
Well, we are still at the stage where we can consider all input on the design and
it certainly isn’t frozen yet. Now is the time to work on finer details, such as the various avionics options. We certainly can still weigh the input that we get from customers, even if some things will have to be put aside for the next airplane in the family.

When will the design for the Columbus be frozen?
We will still be incorporating things until early next year, but these will get smaller and smaller. We have been to the wind tunnel and have sized structures for the aircraft. We are now defining interface areas and handling characteristics. There are several systems levels decisions to make, but I would say that the architecture and layout work is now complete.

What work has been undertaken since you launched the product in early February, and what will be happening between now and first flight in 2011?
We are finishing the third phase of high-speed wind tunnel work in the UK and we are very pleased with the preliminary results, which put us on track to deliver the aircraft on time. Now the detailed design work is starting. We are also working on long-lead time items for the production phase, such as getting the sizes of extrusions for things such as stringers, and key structural elements, such as ribs. This will define how quickly we can get a wing ready for testing.

Why did Cessna choose the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW810 engine? Did you consider the Snecma Silvercrest?
We looked at several different options and we did consider the Silvercrest. There were several solutions that were technically feasible. It really came down to our relationship with Pratt & Whitney Canada in the past. We were confident that they would do it [that is, develop the engine on time and meeting performance goals]. There was a balanced business case for this engine; we had to have full confidence in the partner and had to be sure that the dates would align.

Spirit will be building the Columbus fuselage and empennage. What is the
reason for outsourcing this very substantial part of the program? Do you have any concern about compromising the development and production timetables by relying so heavily on an outside vendor (as has happened with Boeing and the 787)?

We have chosen to outsource, first, so we can continue to support production of the existing family of Citations. Cessna is trying to grow capacity for the rest of the family and we would have had to develop more factory space and add more skilled workers to do all Columbus production too. This decision won’t change the pedigree of the aircraft because Cessna will retain ownership of the program and we will be involved in design at all levels. We will have full oversight and approval of the design and will use a digital design plateau. In fact, we are taking some lessons from companies like this [that is, Spirit] and they are right across town from us here in Wichita.

Will the Columbus fuselage feature composite materials? If so, how much?
We are staying with bonded-aluminum structures for the fuselage and wings. The cost of materials and capital investment were factors, but we don’t feel this will compromise performance. Again, it comes down to a having a balanced business case for the program. Composites have a lot of promise for the future but, for now, raw materials costs still tipped us in favor of aluminum.