Announcing Columbus, Cessna commits to large-cabin Citation

 - February 26, 2008, 5:19 AM
After extensive market research and more than a year of showing prospective customers a cabin mockup of a large-cabin jet, on January 24 Cessna Aircraft formally launched the newly named Citation Columbus, formerly known as the Large Cabin Concept. Cessna didn’t reveal details about the Columbus until a February 6 event in Washington, D.C.

The all-aluminum, $27 million Columbus will carry eight passengers 4,000 nm at Mach .80 and will be powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada’s new PW810 turbofan (see box on page 54). On the flight deck will be Rockwell Collins’ Pro Line Fusion avionics suite. Maximum cruise speed is Mach 0.85, and the cabin will be pressurized to provide a 6,700-foot cabin altitude at the maximum altitude of 45,000 feet.

Cessna began research on the largest Citation six years ago with market studies, surveys, concept testing, focus groups and customer advisory boards, according to Roger Whyte, Cessna senior vice president of sales and marketing. Customers were asked to comment on a variety of possible aircraft sizes and configurations, but the main reason for the move to a big business jet is that existing customers want an upgrade path to a larger Citation, he explained. “They told us clearly that they wanted to see Cessna build a large-cabin airplane with a comfortable, well appointed cabin, a flat floor and a baggage compartment that could be accessed from inside the airplane. They wanted the ability to go long distances without sacrificing speed.”

The 4,000-nm range of the Columbus at Mach 0.80 links London to Dubai, Singapore to Sydney, São Paulo to Miami and Munich to New York. According to Whyte, customers also insisted “on the next aircraft from Cessna being environmentally friendly.” Buyers, however, don’t want their new large Cessna to push the boundaries of technology, so while they do want Internet access in the air, they didn’t push for such systems as fly-by-wire flight controls. What customers want, he said, is low acquisition, direct operating and lifecycle costs.

Cabin comfort is also a key customer desire, and Columbus designers moved the cabin floor lower in the fuselage to add seated space for the feet and knees, Whyte said. “Standup headroom is equivalent to a G550’s.” To accommodate the lowered floor, additional structure will be added to the lower fuselage. The Columbus can seat up to 10 passengers, and the fuselage has room for a walk-in lavatory and closet.
“It’s the longest cabin of any airplane in this class by almost two feet,” he said.

Cessna is managing the Columbus program differently from other Cessna business jets, acting as integrator and assembler instead of manufacturing most of the airframe itself. Spirit AeroSystems, which makes Boeing 737 fuselages and sections of 777 and 787 fuselages, will manufacture the fuselage and empennage for the Columbus. Although Cessna has selected a wing supplier, according to chairman, president and CEO Jack Pelton, the company won’t identify that supplier until contracts are signed. A possible wing supplier for the Columbus could be Vancouver, Canada-based Avcorp, which already makes major components for the Citation Sovereign and CJ3 programs and receives more than 50 percent of its overall business from Cessna. Spirit AeroSystems could also be a wing candidate as it manufactures wings at a factory
in Tulsa, Okla.

Development Work Under Way
The Columbus program is different in another way, too, and that is in how much engineering work had already been done by the time Cessna parent company Textron gave the go-ahead. “The design approach has resulted in the ability to predict aircraft performance to a high level of accuracy,” said David Brant, Cessna senior vice president of engineering. “These analyses are being validated by testing and continue to be refined.” Cessna has conducted high-speed wind tunnel testing at a facility in Bedford, UK. “Both low- and high-speed wind tunnel testing has led to accurate sizing, performance and prediction confidence as well as confirming earlier stability and control predictions,” he said.

All this early work on the Columbus helped Cessna engineers lay out the jet’s primary structure and define the baseline systems architectures much earlier in the program. The hydraulics will be a 3,000-psi system, Brant said, and Cessna is working on other features that “are innovative in control technologies that we can’t expand on today, but as these technologies develop, we will be implementing them when they reach the maturity level that we [need].”

One example of a new technology that Brant and his team are considering is brushless starter-generators, which cost about three times as much as traditional brushed units but have a vastly longer service life. Astronics, a company that makes brushless starter-generators, also offers an aircraft power distribution system called CorePower, which uses electronic circuit breakers not only as circuit breakers but also to control and monitor electrical components. Brant wouldn’t say whether Cessna is considering a system like CorePower, although he did tell AIN that
“we are looking at electronic circuit breakers. We’re looking for technology mature enough to drive up reliability.”

Cessna will conduct much more ground testing with the Columbus than on any previous program, Brant said. All the early wind tunnel and development testing means, he said, “that we’re moving away from development during flight test. We want the flight test to be a validation.”

Cessna engineers and suppliers have been working on the joint definition phase since late last year and will continue to do so through the first quarter, Brant said. “This is where the team works out the intricate details by system and by component of where things go and how they work. We’re also developing a global collaborative environment that is new and that is innovative in how we will exchange information even around the world if we need to.”

The Columbus will be the second business jet to feature the Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion flight deck; Bombardier was the first to adopt Pro Line Fusion, for its long-range Globals. But the Columbus is the first new jet design with Pro Line Fusion and therefore the airplane should be able to take full advantage of Fusion’s integrated technology platform and room for future growth.

In the Columbus, Pro Line Fusion will include four 15-inch displays, one in front of each pilot, one in the center of the panel and one at the top center of the console. Standard features include synthetic vision, multiscan weather radar, Rockwell Collins’ integrated flight information system with electronic charts, graphical weather overlays, dual FMS with WAAS and RNP approaches, traffic surveillance system with ADS-B capability, autothrottle and onboard information management system.
Optional equipment includes enhanced vision, predictive wind-shear radar, controller-pilot datalink communication, surface management system, second IFIS and third FMS.

Pelton said that the Columbus development program will cost Cessna $775 million and that none of the suppliers are risk-sharing partners. “Cessna’s paying all of the development costs,” he said, “and it gives us the ability to decide what is best for us to build versus what is best for someone else, provided that they are a world-class supplier.”

Buyers have signed letters of intent for 70 copies of the Columbus and Pelton said he expects those to be turned into firm orders this year. The program predicts first flight of the prototype in 2011, FAA certification in 2013 and entry-into-service in 2014.

Like the engine that powers it, the Columbus will be the first in a new series. “We believe that this is the sweet spot based on what our customers have told us for the initial launch product,” Pelton said. “We do believe that there are other variants of this product that will make sense and we’ll explore those as we get further along in the development of this airplane.”