Changes Are Evident in Design of New Cessna Sovereign Cabin and Cockpit
The newest versions of Cessna’s Citation Sovereign and X may seem at first glance to embody relatively minor changes, but Cessna designers have put a lot of effort into upgrading the two popular models. The most overt changes are the switch to Cessna’s Intrinzic flight deck, based on a Garmin G5000 avionics suite with four touchscreen controllers, as well as powerplant upgrades, new winglets on the Sovereign and a longer fuselage on the X. But the interiors of the jets are the subject of intensive focus by Cessna’s design team, led by vice president of interior design and engineering Cynthia Halsey. AIN had an opportunity to interview Halsey about what was involved in the interior redesign on the Sovereign, which she pointed out involved both the cabin and cockpit as an integrated whole.
What was the goal for the interior design?
The goal was to look at the cabin as the whole inside of the airplane. The whole experience is the whole experience, it’s everything inside including the outside of the airplane. I and a couple of senior leaders addressed the team when they started. We said that the goal is to have a cohesive look with the whole airplane. And ergonomics had to be first, but esthetics had to play a great balance with those ergonomics. We were very good at doing practical cockpits but now it was time to understand that everyone wants to have a great environment, whether it’s front or back.
What is new in the cockpit?
Our supplier-partner Garmin made it easy and exciting to incorporate integration that we hadn’t been able to incorporate before like the [touch-screen controllers] on the side, and being able to control the lights [with the touch screens]. The pilots don’t have to reach around anymore and hit a switch panel, it’s right there at their fingertips. The stainless accents throughout, the leather wrap [on the yoke], it’s a driving machine. And we wanted the pilot to feel like he was getting in a modern driving machine. And the [G5000] displays are so beautiful, it was a great canvas to work with.
Were the goals the same in the cabin?
Comfort was huge. We wanted to optimize the available space and rethink a lot of what customers’ expectations are and how they use the product.
One of the benefits of my job is I get to use our airplanes. I watch a lot and get great feedback from customers as well as internal. The table design was an outcome of watching everyone get in planes, whether it’s ours or someone else’s, and load their pockets and fill the cupholders up with keys and phones and then searching for how they charge their products.
So what could we do different? And it’s silly things like, pretend there’s no cupholders, what would you do? It’s funny how all of us designers get very entrenched in, “But we’ve always done it this way.” Now pretend you don’t have to design around this element. Some of it was that finite, that you had to sit there and say, “Okay, forget this stuff, what do you really want?” And the team did a phenomenal job. We’ve got quite a few patents out of the new design and very good feedback.
The cupholders, [which fold down from the side]. They actually work. That’s a design patent.
Is there a name for this innovation?
We call that whole area the ditty storage. In the military you had a ditty bag and you put everything in this ditty bag. I started noticing cars were providing space for stuff. Cupholders were no longer just two circles, they looked like a figure eight, they were broader. We kept talking about do we provide ditty storage for our customers, and we always would put it down low. Feedback was, “I don’t want to put it where I’m not going to see it. Because then I just go and lose it.”
So, how do we make cupholders be more functional? That whole area grew into, how do we make that a personal space, a work space? Henceforth you have the USBs to charge your phone, iPad, everything is right there. I can put the [cupholder] flappers up, I can hold a drink, I can put my stuff there, it doesn’t fall all over the place. It’s a personal space.
You added more space by canting the seats in four degrees…
That was part of it. We don’t advertise it a lot because people don’t get it. They think I can’t put ever my feet straight. Yes, you can. You can make it go straight and track up to the table. But if you sit down, I’m now oriented away from you, it’s a more comfortable position. We did a lot of focus studies, and most people didn’t notice it. Matter of fact, I’m hesitant to even talk about it although it is depicted on the floor plan. I lobbied to not even show it on the floor plan just to keep it as a minor trade secret because it does give you a feeling of more space.
In the cockpit there’s ditty storage for the pilots.
We tried to provide that for the cockpit as well. Everybody has mobile devices and there’s never a good place to put them.
Is this the first implementation of the Clarity cabin management system with its Heads Up Technologies fiber-optic backbone?
Yes. Everyone is experiencing incredibly rapid development as it relates to cabin electronics. By developing the fiber-optic backbone, we took a smart group and put them in a room and said, “If you were going to design electronics for the future cabin, knowing it’s moving lightning-fast, what would you start with?” They immediately said you need a fiber-optic backbone, something that’s scalable, that we can update via software, not hardware.
So [Heads Up] is a strong partner, but what will be interesting is you won’t always see it. It’s very visible in the Sovereign and the X, but wireless is where it’s going to be at, so applications will continue to enhance the passenger experience via wireless capabilities. In other words, you may not see mounted hardware. It will always have a fiber-optic backbone. And in the M2 it is wireless. When that certification is complete, some of those enhancements will roll back into the Sovereign and the X. That will allow this device to talk to any device in the airplane as well as the mounted screens that are in the Sovereign.
Instead of texting from your seat station, you could text from a smartphone to a seat?
Right. Or you can push content, browse the Internet. Some people want to be able to change the lights with their phone. It’s multimodal, having the ability to do things a lot of different ways is the way the industry is going.
So Heads Up Technologies is a big part of this backbone?
Heads Up was the supplier-partner that we chose to assist us with this product. You’ll see in all of our products that have Clarity–right now the Sovereign and the X–we’ll continue to update the GUI [graphical user interface] and add features. That’s the great thing about software, we’re able to make enhancements.
The main thing is, it took a ton of weight out of the airplane. And it integrates with the ship’s systems, so we’re not carrying big black boxes like everyone else. We’re pulling information off the FMS. This leverages systems that are already on the airplane. You have a smart cockpit, now we have a smart airplane, a smart cabin.
What are other Clarity benefits?
One of the true benefits is that we’re using only 7 percent of the distributed capability of this system, it’s huge. Everybody can be doing stuff and we’re not even tapping into anywhere close to what the [system can do]. We ran a test for management and had movies running on eight different screens and it was using very little of the power. And the sound is just phenomenal.
Do you ever feel like you’re going to run out of design opportunities?
No, we’ve got a bunch more in our pocket. At the end of the day, an airplane will get you from A to B, and most airplanes will do that. So how do I make this experience more productive, more beneficial, more comforting, more relaxing for the passenger?
What is the relationship with Heads Up?
We own the concept. One of the reasons that we chose them as supplier-partner is they have extensive experience in fiber-optics. They have a pretty weighty medical arm, they also do a lot of the Disney rides that are all fiber-optics. We sought a supplier-partner that had experience because we did not have experience in fiber-optics. Rob [Harshaw, Heads Up’s president and CEO] is, like Ipeco, a tremendous supplier-partner in that we sat down and said, “[We] have these things I can bring to the table, why go develop them when I already have them?” And we had our IP [intellectual property], and he has the ability to provide some of this to other OEMs.
What else is new on the Sovereign?
We significantly upgraded the finish materials. We kind of always felt the airplanes we’re a bit more utilitarian–I’m not saying that the Sovereigns of the past weren’t attractive, we would do very nice materials, but [for example] the leather-wrapped yoke. You might see that in a large transport airplane, but you wouldn’t see it in something like an M2. But you’re going to see that in all our airplanes now. From single engine up, it’s a tactile feel that says, “I’m quality.”
We went to a much higher grade of carpet. The materials have always been high-grade, just getting them to pass burn [testing] you have to use good stuff. But we took a holistic approach of what we wanted this airplane to be. Our customers have told us, whether I’m buying an M2 or a X, I have a certain expectation of quality. And that quality flows everything down from the capabilities of the airplane, the cockpit, the amenities, the fit and finish, the comfort, the ergonomics and the materials.
We did a significant improvement to the cooling system in the Sovereign. The X was never a problem, it parts your hair, but the Sovereign needed some improvement; that was feedback we got from our technical advisory committee.
Where did the idea for the all-black instrument panel come from?
The Mustang was black. The catalyst came from what logically made sense based on the bezels from the avionics providers. Some avionics providers do grey. Garmin does black. When that team got together and were brainstorming what the cockpit of the future should look like, they kept trying to shove a square peg into a round hole: a black bezel and a military grey panel. It just didn’t look good. It didn’t make those beautiful displays pop. So one of the renderings–and it was almost a blasphemous kind of expression–was just make the whole thing black. And it took off.
It gives a bigger feel. Like anything new, some people will grasp it sooner than others. We did studies, and customer acceptance is what’s most important. It gives a great finished look, and makes all those cool trims really pop. It’s a good-looking cockpit.
Should we look for some of these features in the Citation X?
It’s a philosophy that will touch all our products, regardless of size.