From an early age Clyde Vernon Cessna had the natural ability to mend things, and from the family farm in Kansas his prowess spread through the local community. His self-taught engineering ability lead to an involvement in the fledgling automobile industry, but in 1911 he saw a flying circus at Oklahoma City, and caught the aviation bug.
He believed his future lay as an exhibition flyer so he had to get his hands on an aircraft, and teach himself to fly. He ordered a $ 7,500 Blèriot XI monoplane kit from the Queens Airplane Company in the Bronx, and fitted an engine. He then proceeded to the difficult bit - flying it!
He crashed his Silver Wings aircraft twelve times before making a successful take-off and landing. Some say the aircraft was more a Cessna than a Bleriot after numerous rebuilds.
In 1916, Cessna built his first airplane, became an exhibition flyer and a trail blazing pilot, and joined iconic legends Walter Beech and Lloyd Stearman to form the Travel Air Manufacturing Company in 1925. However, after a couple of years, following disputes over the advantages of biplanes versus monoplanes, he split to found the Cessna Aircraft Company in Wichita, Kansas, in December 1927, where he concentrated on high wing cantilever monoplane designs - and from that point, Mr. Cessna didn’t look back!
Since then the Cessna Aircraft Company has delivered more general aviation aircraft than any other manufacturer; 189,000 airplanes to nearly every corner of the planet. In 2006 Cessna reported revenues of about $ 4.2 billion and a backlog of $ 8.5 billion. Last year alone, the company delivered 1,239 aircraft, including 307 Citation business jet models. Since the maiden flight of its first Citation (originally named the FanJet 500) on September 15, 1969, more than 5,000 have been delivered, making this aircraft family the largest fleet of its kind in the world. But the company is far from resting on its laurels.
The largest current research program is its Large Cabin business jet Concept aircraft (LCC) which, if it goes into production will be its largest, and longest range, aircraft Cessna has produced to date. The company has been gauging LCC market demand as well as conducting preliminary design and wind tunnel work. A full size cabin mock-up was first shown at last year’s NBAA show in Orlando, Florida, and was also at the Paris Air Show in June this year. It showed seating for nine passengers, a cabin width of 6.8 feet, a large galley and toilet and a representative flight deck.
Should the LLC come to market, range would be around 4,000nm, and the aircraft would be capable of a cruise speed of 0.80 Mach. The company says that features such as avionics, engine suppliers, and final interior arrangements will not be defined until it launches the program. If the LLC receives goahead it will join the Citation Sovereign and Citation X at the top end of the family.
Cessna continues to upgrade and introduce new business jet models, increasing its family so that entry level owners can progress further through the company’s range of products. If its LCC aircraft comes to fruition, owners will have seamless options from the Citation Mustang VLJ to a large cabin business jet with a range of 4,000nm and 0.80 Mach cruise speed.
STAYING AHEAD OF THE MARKET
Deliveries of Cessna’s VLJ, the Citation Mustang, reached 16 aircraft by early August, and the first European aircraft was due to be delivered to Jane Howland at Farnborough, England, on September 5th. Other Mustang deliveries to Germany and Scandinavia will then follow. Cessna says it is on target to ship as many as 44 Mustangs this year, 100 in 2008, and plans to ramp up production at its Independence, Kansas, plant to 150 aircraft by 2009. Total orders stand at over 300 aircraft with more than 100 ordered by European customers.
After the Mustang’s milestone introduction Cessna engineers aren’t getting a respite as two more business jet models (the Citation XLS+ and the Citation CJ4) head toward certification. The $ 11.6m XLS+ flew during August for the first time, and is expected to enter service in September 2008. The original Citation Excel was delivered in May 1998, and 370 units were delivered through June 2004. The Citation XLS was first delivered in July 2004, and 329 are expected to be delivered through the end of September 2008. The 500th Excel/XLS, meantime, was delivered in June 2006, making the Excel/XLS the best-selling aircraft of all business jet models since its introduction.
The Citation CJ4’s first flight is scheduled for the first half of 2008 and entry into service is set for the first half of 2010. Since launching the program prior to last year’s NBAA, Cessna already has taken more than 120 orders for the $ 8 million jet.
Configurable for seven to eight passengers in the main cabin, the CJ4 is expected to have a full fuel payload of 1,000 lbs and maximum payload of 2,100 lbs, 300 lbs more when compared to the typical CJ3. The CJ4 is expected to have a cruise speed of 435ktas.
The newly engineered wing is moderately swept and some features are similar to the Sovereign, including the three upper speed brake panels on each which allow the airplane to have the short field performance the CJ series is known for. The new Williams International FJ44-4A electronically controlled (FADEC) engine, which made its first flight aboard a test bed in early April, will debut on the CJ4.
Cessna is also increasing production of its Citation X by more than 65 percent by 2010 to meet the growing demand for the world’s fastest business jet (Mach 0.92), and the world’s fastest civil aircraft of today.
Other new models that recently entered service include the successful upgraded Citation Encore+ where European sales already account for 26% of the order book. The integrated Collins Pro Line 21 avionics suite supplies the Encore+ with many of the same features as the CJ3, CJ1+ and CJ2+. The heart of the integration resides in the File Server Unit (FSU) serving as a portal to display electronic charting, graphical weather, and enhanced mapping in the cockpit.
Cessna is also currently flight testing a wingleted Citation X, as a retrofit option, to increase range and payload on hot and high departures. The patented Elliptical Winglet is by Winglet Technology, and the companies plan to detail the expected performance benefits and availability later this year.
And the new Model 162 SkyCatcher Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) was launched at the recent EAA AirVenture show at Oshkosh in late July. This Cessna LSA proof of concept aircraft was shown at Oshkosh for the first time last year, but the production model is designated Cessna 162, and placed between the company’s out of production Cessna 152 trainer and the C172 four seater. The LSA is a new entry category for the sport and pilot training mass market, and was cleared by the FAA to allow more pilots to be trained in half the time it takes in larger and more complex aircraft.
A LSA category aircraft is defined as having a maximum gross weight of 1,320 pounds, maximum level-flight speed of 120 knots, and no more than two seats. Cessna’s new two seater has a Garmin G300 glass cockpit, and the aircraft is powered by a Teledyne Continental 0-200D lightweight 100hp engine. The prototype is due to fly in the first half of 2008, with first deliveries in 2009. SkyCatcher has already gained over 400 orders and production is expected to be around 700 units per year.
“For the past year we have been soliciting feedback from the market on our proof-ofconcept aircraft, and the result is an airplane that we believe is the most advanced and innovative in its class,” commented Jack J. Pelton, Cessna’s chairman, president, and CEO.
Essentially, this aircraft is to take-over the role of ageing Cessna 152s, Pipers etc. which were forced out of production by the extreme law suits from the mid 1980s.
Also returning to Oshkosh was Cessna’s Next Generation Piston (NGP) proof of concept aircraft, which, if it goes ahead, is planned to spawn a new family of modern single engined aircraft which could span from the current Cessna 172 Skyhawk through to the Stationair. John Doman, vice president, Cessna worldwide propeller aircraft sales, says, “We have challenged our engineering team to come up with a plan that provides universality to allow the aircraft design to grow both larger and smaller while remaining economical.”
The final design and interior are still being refined, and the company says that it is likely that the final configuration will be a hybrid of composite and aluminum to optimize the available technology. If the parent Textron board gives go-ahead approval it could be announced by the end of this year.
There doesn’t seem much doubt that the NGP family will be offered with Thielert diesel/kerosene burning engines as Cessna and Thielert agreed to collaborate on future programs earlier this year. The Cessna 172 has already been retrofitted and certificated by the FAA and EASA.
TIMES WEREN’T ALWAYS ROSY
But there were troubled years, and the toughest time for Cessna, and all other U.S. General Aviation manufacturers came in the early 1980s with a series of high profile product liability lawsuits that ended in huge awards made to surviving relatives of those killed and injured in flying accidents - sometimes even when they were caused by pilot negligence or incapacity.
Inevitably manufacturer liability insurance went through the roof, and the only way out was to stop production. The result was that some manufacturers went bust, while others looked for other general, and business aviation niches in which to survive.
Cessna ceased production of all piston engine aircraft in 1986, and didn’t re-start until 1996, with the re-introduction of the Cessna 172 and 182.
Salvation came on March 16th 1994 when President Clinton signed the General Aviation Revitalization Act (GARA) limiting manufacturers’ liability to 18 years from manufacture. This legislation reinvigorated the industry, creating jobs and inspiring the development of new products, while making general aviation safer and more reliable than ever.
“By placing a practical limit on product liability exposure, Congress literally brought the [U.S.] light aircraft industry back to life,” explained Russ Meyer chairman emeritus, Cessna Aircraft Company, in 2004. (Meyer was involved in the drafting of the legislation).
According to GAMA, “In 1994 when GARA was signed into law, airplane shipments had declined 95 percent from the previous decade and the industry had lost over 100,000 jobs. Cessna Aircraft Company, the largest general aviation manufacturer in the world, had stopped making single-engine piston airplanes. Piper Aircraft Company was in bankruptcy, and Beech Aircraft had shut down most of its piston production lines.
“A review of all the lawsuits defended by one company over a ten year period found that the NTSB had not attributed the cause of these accidents to design defects, yet, that company had paid nearly $ 535,000 per accident in litigation costs. In 1994 Congress, airplane manufacturers, owners, and pilot groups all finally agreed that GARA was the only solution to solving the frivolous lawsuit problem.”
Ed Bolen, President and CEO of NBAA, sums it all up, “GARA is a tiny, three-page bill that has generated research, investment, and jobs. It is an unqualified success.”
THE CESSNA LEGACY
Clyde Cessna died in 1954, aged 75, having handed over the company reins to his nephews Dwane and Dwight Wallace in 1935. His company achieved great things both during and after his lifetime. Born in 1879, Cessna was part of aviation from the first, flimsiest and underpowered craft to the jet age. He saw the name Cessna become a household name for general aviation, and Wichita and Kansas the aviation capital of the world.
In his last year he even saw the Cessna name become a jet producer with its T-37 jet trainers for the USAF. Present chairman, president and CEO Jack Pelton comments, “Cessna has accomplished an incredible amount in the past 80 years. Few businesses have such a long history and, of those, very few remain right at the technological forefront. What Cessna has achieved stems from the amazing vision of Clyde Cessna and the hard work and ingenuity of generations of workers, all driven by a shared love of flight.
“We are deeply proud of the special place Cessna occupies in aviation today and determined to ensure that the next 80 years will be just as momentous for our company and our customers.”