Flying High at 50! CJP Marks the Citation’s Golden Anniversary – Part V
by “Flight Levels” Editor Rob Finfrock
September 9, 2021 marked the 50th anniversary of FAA type-certification for the Cessna Model 500 – better known as the first Citation jet aircraft, which Aviation International News noted “fundamentally changed [Cessna] from primarily a general aviation manufacturer to a business aviation one.”
In celebration of this momentous event, each 2021 edition of Flight Levels so far has spotlighted a different Citation model series, based on information from multiple resources including CJP’s own Russ Meyer Citation Library.
Since the beginning of the year, we’ve covered the legacy Citation models, Cessna’s success in expanding into the midsize segment, the very popular Citation Mustang and the single pilot-focused C525 CitationJet and its many impressive derivatives. In this conclusion to the series, we’ll spotlight some arguably lesser known, near-members of the Citation family.
Cessna’s first forays into executive transportation predated the “jet age” by more than a decade. Introduced in the early 1950s, the Model 310 piston twin was conceived as a post-WWII, all-metal, modernized take on its earlier T-50 Bobcat that, while introduced in both civilian and utility guises, ultimately saw greater success as a military transport.
Likewise, the proposed Model 620 – ‘ twice a 310′ – was a four-engine piston concept featuring seating for eight to 10 seat passengers in a pressurized cabin. The prototype Model 620 first flew in 1956 and initially appeared to be on track for certification by the end of the decade.
However, Cessna determined the introduction of commercial jets like the DeHavilland Comet, Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 would mean a market flooded with now-obsolete piston airliners available for corporate use, many available for much less than the Model 620’s estimated $325,000 pricetag in 1960 dollars (around $3 million today.) By odd coincidence, the program was formally abandoned the day after the aircraft was first shown to the public, in an engineering recruitment film seen by students at Wichita State University.
Around the same time, Cessna also researched a stretched version of its newly-introduced T-37 twin-engine military jet trainer capable of seating four in a pressurized cockpit. Billed as the Model 407, the aircraft would have been Cessna’s first-ever civilian jet aircraft.
While neither the 620 nor 407 ever entered service (the latter didn’t evolve beyond a wooden mockup) they established not only Cessna’s ambitions for growth beyond the piston aircraft segment, but also the company’s willingness to explore unique market niches heretofore uncharted by general aviation manufacturers. By the end of the Sixties, this vision was fully realized in the Model 500 Citation.
Cessna enjoyed a high degree of success with its ever-expanding Citation line throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, with new Citation concepts from the manufacturer leading to the introduction of certified variants. As the new millennium began and now under Textron’s ownership, Cessna identified the need for the largest Citation it had ever offered.
Unveiled in cabin mockup form at the 2006 NBAA convention and formally introduced in February 2008, the all-new Model 850 Columbus was projected to offer range of up to 4,000 nautical miles with eight passengers, with total seating for 10 in an unprecedented level of comfort for a Citation-branded aircraft and powered by newly-developed Pratt & Whitney 800-Series turbofans.
However, with the global financial crisis in its early stages, the timing couldn’t have been worse for the introduction of the largest and most expensive Citation yet. As markets tightened and aircraft sales plummeted, Textron first suspended the Columbus program in April 2009 before cancelling it outright three months later.
Although the Columbus was dead, Cessna’s desire for an extra-large business jet continued unabated. By 2015 the global economy was once again on the road to recovery, and the manufacturer introduced the Citation Hemisphere at NBAA2015 with first flight targeted four years later.
Once again intended as the largest and longest-legged Citation variant ever and capable of reaching Mach 0.9 with an extended range of 4,500 nautical miles, development of the Hemisphere continued largely out of the public eye for nearly three years, buoyed by a 150-aircraft order from NetJets. However, a wrench was again thrown in the works, this time not due to economic conditions but rather development issues with the Snecma Silvercrest turbofans slated to power the jet.
Textron Aviation suspended the Hemisphere program in April 2018, and while the company reportedly considered swapping to a variant of the aforementioned PW800 (and engine manufacturer Safran promised a Silvercrest redesign would be flight ready by July 2019) as of September 2021 the Hemisphere program remains suspended, with the Model 700 Citation Longitude – a follow-on to the earlier Columbus program – currently holding the crown as the largest Citation flying.
Okay, this one may seem a bit of a stretch, but stay with me…
Consolidation of the iconic Cessna and Beechcraft names under the Textron Aviation banner in 2014 resulted in a few unusual bedfellows, perhaps most notably the sight of the latest Beechcraft King Air turboprop twins now displayed alongside the newest Citation jets at airshows around the globe. Indirectly, it’s also led to something of a winding road for the in-development Single Engine Turboprop (SETP.)
While officially an all-new design that was never intended to be branded as a Citation, the SETP nevertheless showed strong influences from the jet line (particularly the Model 510 Mustang) when it was announced at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in 2015. That lineage seemed even stronger when Textron subsequently announced the GE Catalyst-engined Denali would indeed be marketed under the Cessna brand.
The Denali program has slowly progressed since then, with a targeted first flight in 2019 pushed back by testing program delays. That initial flight is now slated for the end of 2021… but with the Denali now sporting the Beechcraft name instead of Cessna, as Textron Aviation positions the aircraft more closely to the existing King Air turboprop line and less so the utilitarian bent of Cessna’s Model 208 Caravan and upcoming 408 SkyCourier turboprops. However, the Citation influence will live on.
(Thank you for reading this series, and special thanks to Textron Aviation and academyofaviation.com for filling in some of the blanks on the lesser-known predecessor aircraft and almost-Citations.)