Wild horses – Cessna’s Mustang gallops towards certification

Several companies competing for the personal jet market are turning the downwind leg toward certification.

One of those is Cessna, known for its piston-powered trainers and Citation business jets. In 2002 the company announced it was entering the Very Light Jet race with the Citation Mustang.

The road to certification is often filled with challenges that can delay development. So far, Cessna has managed to stay on — or ahead of — the schedule outlined in 2002 when it announced the creation of the Mustang. For example, the first flight of the prototype was scheduled for May 2005. It actually took place in late April.

“We were a few days early,” said Russ Meyer III, Mustang program manager. He added that the design and development team put in a lot of overtime because of some unexpected challenges early in the jet’s development.

“It’s important to adhere to that schedule so we can deliver airplanes on time to our customers,” he said.

Although the first flight came earlier than anticipated, Meyer hesitates to say that the Mustang is ahead of schedule.

“I would say we are on schedule, maybe just a little bit ahead of it,” he stressed. “The important thing is to keep that momentum going.”

The six-seat Mustang will be certified as a single-pilot IFR, FAR Part 23 aircraft, with an anticipated cruise speed of 340 knots, and maximum operating altitude of 41,000 feet. Powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW615F dual-channel FADEC engines, the plane also will boast a fully integrated Garmin G1000 avionics suite.

The jet received its Type Inspection Authorization (TIA) in December. That authorization signals the FAA’s approval for the prototype to begin accumulating flight hours that will apply toward official certification.

“Our goal for achieving TIA was January 2006, so we are pleased to receive this designation several weeks early,” said Meyer. The Mustang prototype and serial number one have made more than 290 flights, accruing more than 490 hours, he added.

Some of those hours were put on the plane in July when the Mustang made its first public appearance at EAA AirVenture. Those in the market for a VLJ gathered around the jet on the ramp for closer inspection, then made their way to the Cessna display to take a peek inside the Mustang mockup.

Meyer notes there have been a few modifications to the aircraft since Oshkosh, created in response to flight test results.

“Most of them are minor,” he said. “One of the most visible is the addition of strakes.”

If public reaction is any indication, Cessna has created a good-looking airplane. At AirVenture people lined up to see the mockup of the jet’s interior and, once inside, were reluctant to leave.

When the first Mustang with a completed interior was displayed at the National Business Aviation Association convention in November, “one of our marketing people commented that the Mustang stole the show,” Meyer said.

The Mustang is designed to be an owner-operated aircraft. A training program is being developed with Flight Safety International to help new owners transition to the VLJ and its glass cockpit.

“We will build a simulator and Flight Safety will develop a program that will have classroom work that includes avionics so that the pilots can have hands-on training before they fly,” said Meyer, adding that Garmin has created a whole package for the Mustang.

According to Meyer, Cessna plans to tailor the training program to the experience level of the customer.

So far 230 orders have been placed for the Mustang, which is the 27th aircraft Cessna has certified in a decade. First customer delivery is slated for December of 2006.

So what’s next for the Mustang?

– First quarter 2006: First flight of production unit 0002.

– Fourth quarter 2006: FAA certification and first customer deliveries.

– Third quarter 2007: European Aviation Safety Agency and Brazilian certification.

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