““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Cessna Citation Columbus
Editor's note: Cessna suspended development of the aircraft reviewed below in April 2009 and then formally cancelled the program in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on July 10, 2009.
The eight-passenger Citation Model 850 Columbus will sell for $27 million (2008 dollars). According to the company, it will have a maximum cruise speed of 488 knots (Mach 0.85), fly 4,000 nautical miles before stopping for fuel and be powered by Pratt & Whitney's new, fuel-efficient, low-noise and low-emission PW810 turbofans. Cabin altitude at its certified ceiling of 45,000 feet will be 6,700 feet. The cockpit will incorporate the new Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics system and the cabin will have the latest in-flight entertainment options, including Internet access.
Cessna chairman, president and CEO Jack Pelton estimated the jet's development cost at $775 million and said that the company is not recruiting risk-sharing partners for the project. Certification is planned for 2013 and initial customer deliveries are scheduled for 2014. At the time of the project's official launch, the company claimed it already had received 70 letters of intent from prospective buyers. The Wichita airplane manufacturer, a Textron company, aims to reduce costs and speed development by acting more as an assembler and integrator than a manufacturer on the Columbus, farming out production of major exterior and interior components to suppliers.
Externally, the Columbus resembles the sleek Mach 0.92 Citation X on steroids. But Cessna rethought just about everything with regard to the aircraft's interior. Unlike other Citations, the Columbus will have a flat floor and true stand-up headroom, equivalent to that of a top-of-the-line Gulfstream. It will also have a cabin that is at least two feet longer than anything else in its class.
The Columbus incorporates other significant design departures as well: a large cabin door, entry area and galley; a walk-in lavatory and closet; and a baggage compartment that is accessible in flight.
The manufacturer faced numerous challenges in creating an interesting and relevant cabin for the Columbus, according to Cindy Halsey, Cessna's vice president of interior design, engineering and development. She said extensive customer research was the key to getting the Columbus' cabin right. "Our manager of interior research and development, Gary Sauber, did quite a bit of customer research," she explained. "We conducted focus groups where we brought in current customers and said, 'If we went down this road, what would be important to you?' We did that in terms of cabins, flight decks and features." A preliminary mockup of the aircraft's interior began making the rounds at major industry trade shows in 2006 and was well received.
The goal was to weave a cutting-edge, European influence into the Columbus' cabin without sacrificing practicality. "We took a team to London and spent quite a bit of time there looking at designs," Halsey said. "Then we went to the aircraft interiors show in Hamburg."
She said Cessna "needed to hear from some of [its] staunchest critics in France and Germany. And we wanted to beat the pants off the people who are doing this today for hire. There are a lot of design houses out there right now doing product for aircraft and they have hip names and a lot of brand recognition, but their designs don't really represent where the customer wants to go."
Space and Style
The overriding goal was to create a sense of space and style with the interior. The keys to that were the door, entryway, galley and windows.
"We made the cabin entrance very big," Halsey noted. "This was Jack Pelton's idea. He said, 'How many mockups have you been in where they want to impress people by how much stuff they can put in there? I want them to walk in and feel that it is a big opening.'"
When passengers get to the top of the airstair steps, Pelton wants the view of the galley to take their breath away, so the designers made the galley large, Halsey said. "Some of the engineers told us no one would ever want a galley that big," she recalled, "but a fleet operator told us, 'It is perfect.'"
The designers made the jet's windows larger than those on previous Citations. "The windows have the appearance of the Citation family of windows, but they are bigger and more ergonomically placed," Halsey said. "We studied the exact seat pitch in the 50th to 90th percentile-sized passenger so that the windows would meet that span of eye reference looking out."
Cessna also paid much attention to the Columbus' lavatory. "It is just a beautiful design with lots and lots of storage that doesn't look like storage," Halsey said. "One thing customers told us was that in most business jet lavs there is no place to put little amenities, like bottles of aspirin and tissues and feminine products. At [last year's] NBAA [National Business Aviation Association convention], people actually wouldn't leave the mockup's lavatory. They just stayed there, opening up all the little cabinets and niches. You push some buttons and things slide out."
But the most important thing in the cabin is still the seat, Halsey said. "We needed customers to sit down in that seat, look out the window and envision themselves in this product. Engineers typically design a frame and then we decorate it with foam. For [the Columbus], we are designing the seat for comfort and then handing it to the engineers to make it certifiable."
Cessna reports that development of the Columbus is well along and that the design already has been subjected to numerous wind-tunnel tests that verified performance assumptions. Pratt & Whitney plans to start test runs on its PW810 engine later this year.
At a Glance
Price (2008 dollars): $27 million
Passengers (standard): 8
Range (six passengers and reserves): 4,000 nm
Maximum cruising speed: 488 kt
Cabin Width: 6 ft 10 in
Cabin Height: 6 ft 1 in
Cabin Length: 27 ft 3 in