Fifty years ago, the maiden flight of a new Cessna turbine-powered airplane would create a wholly new market for what is now Textron Aviation and a family of business jets that’s since sold more than any other—more than 7,500, to be exact—and amassed more than 35 million flight hours. It was on the afternoon of September 15, 1969, that the first Cessna FanJet 500 took off from the then-named Wichita Municipal Airport for an hour-and-45-minute-long flight in which it reached a maximum speed of 225 knots.
Plans to fly the airplane to FL200 were scrubbed because of a stubbornly low cloud base, leaving it to reach only 10,000 feet for its first flight.
Soon after that first flight, and with much persistence on the part of then-commercial jet marketing v-p James Taylor, the FanJet was renamed Citation, a nod to thoroughbred horseracing's 1948 Triple Crown winner that was first suggested by Cessna’s advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather. It was only after Taylor’s perseverance that then-Cessna chairman Dwane Wallace and president Del Roskam agreed to sign off on the new name.
Powered by two, Pratt & Whitney JT15D-1 engines, the twinjet was first unveiled as a mockup at the National Business Aviation Association Convention in October 1968 in Houston. The type received its first FAA certification—for Part 25—on September 10, 1971.
American Airlines took delivery of the first Citation 500 in January 1972, using it for development of the carrier’s training program.
Cessna created an entire marketing organization around the jet called Commercial Jet Marketing Division (CJMD). Led by Taylor, the 80-person division was housed in 7,500 sq ft of a 19,500-sq-ft facility in Wichita that also served as one of the company’s first three Citation Service Centers. The two other service centers were built in Poughkeepsie, New York and Sacramento, California. In addition, CJMD developed what it called the Convincer, which was a Citation 500 fuselage mockup contained by a truck trailer that traveled 10,000 miles in the U.S. and Canada to promote the new jet. In all, the company delivered 691 Citation 500s between 1972 and 1985, including the single-pilot 501 that came in 1977.
Today, the Citation family comprises seven models—M2, CJ3+, CJ4, XLS+, Sovereign+, Latitude, and Longitude—with seating from seven to 12 passengers and range between 1,550 and 3,500 nm.
“The same vision that led to the creation of the original Citation 50 years ago still guides us today,” Textron Aviation CEO Ron Draper said. “We are building on our history as an industry leader and investing in the future to continue to exceed customer expectations.”