““[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 I
This small-cabin (light) jet has lower per-mile direct operating costs than contemporary models such as the dassault falcon 10 and learjet 35A, and the acquisition cost is only 20 percent of what you'd pay for a similarly performing very light jet. Plus, you can tweak a citation i to the point where it even outperforms many new aircraft costing millions more. and properly maintained, it will fly virtually forever.
When it first hit the market in 1972, the 348-knot Cessna Citation 500 fanjet drew snickers. Cessna had spent $35 million, then half the worth of the company, developing a slow jet. It was a huge gamble and, to more than a few industry watchers, it looked like a foolish one. Airport wags laughed and called the airplane the "Slow-tation."
Nobody's laughing now. Despite having entered the field almost a decade after several competitors, Cessna has made a third of the roughly 16,000 business jets in service worldwide today. However, the company's entry into the jet market didn't come with that Citation 500; rather, it occurred in 1952 when the U.S. Air Force picked Cessna to build the T-37 primary jet trainer. The "Tweet," as it was known, had many features you can still find on Citations-bulbous nose, straight wing and cruciform tail, to name a few.
Cessna pondered offering a civilian variant of the T-37 during the late 1950s. The Model 407 would carry a pilot and three passengers at up to 460 miles per hour at 46,000 feet. It didn't make it past the mockup stage, but the idea of a passenger jet was never far from the minds of Cessna executives. In the 1960s, they surmised that a middle market existed between 500-mile-per-hour and 250-mile-per-hour turbojets. They guessed right.
In 1968, Cessna announced the 400-mile-per-hour Fanjet 500 (later rebranded as the Citation). The aircraft featured simple systems and docile handling geared to single-pilot operation. Cessna built about 690 Citation 500s, Citation Is and I/SPs between 1971 and 1985 and 439 of those remain on the FAA registry. The manufacturer made major improvements over the years, including the addition of thrust reversers, higher gross weights, lengthened wingspans and more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada engines. Cessna delivered the first Citation 501/I/SP, certified for single-pilot operations, in 1977.
With the improvements announced in 1976, the company changed the aircraft's name to Citation I. Maximum altitude increased to 41,000 feet and the 38-inch wing extension, combined with thrust reversers, allowed the airplane to land on much shorter runways. Your average 3,500-foot strip is no problem for this airplane, which can also land on turf.
Today you can find used Citation Is for as little as $400,000. Aircraft in this price range are generally early 500 models and have a service ceiling of 35,000 feet. You can buy a 1980 model in good condition for less than $700,000 (see chart above). That's less than the price of a new single-engine piston airplane such as a Hawker Beechcraft Bonanza.
However, due to their dated technology and slow speed, Citation Is have comparatively high direct operating and maintenance costs and limited range (see chart on page 33), so they're not worth buying unless you plan on using them infrequently or mainly on short hops. The engines have a time-between-overhaul interval of 3,500 hours. It costs $350,000 to overhaul the pair. A major inspection can easily run $125,000. Range with four passengers is only 970 nautical miles.
Other key metrics are also on the skimpy side. Payload with full fuel is just 820 pounds, for example. So unless the passengers and pilot are emaciated and without luggage, we're really talking two to three passengers, not four. If you do have bags, there is room for 17 cubic feet of them in the nose and another 40 cubic feet in the cabin, which means the Citation I actually has marginally less luggage space than the new $3.2 million Citation Mustang entry-level jet. At 205 cubic feet, moreover, the Citation I's cabin is on the small side.
On the other hand, the aircraft has a lower per-mile direct operating cost than contemporary, although faster, jets such as the Dassault Falcon 10 and Learjet 35A, and the acquisition cost is only 20 percent of what you'd pay for a similarly performing very light jet.
You can fly a lot of hours on the price spread between $700,000 and $3.2 million. What's more, you can tweak a Citation I to the point where it outperforms many new aircraft costing millions more.
First-generations Citations have no airframe life limit. Properly maintained, they will fly virtually forever. This, combined with their relatively low price, makes them logical candidates for modification. For $1.6 million to $1.8 million-the price varies depending on the trade-in credit for your existing engines-you can buy a modification package that includes more powerful and fuel-efficient Williams FJ44 engines; auxiliary fuel tanks; and a modified wing. This can make these older Citations fly higher, faster and farther than any brand-new very light jet, and for less money. Kick it up a notch with a paint job, an upgraded interior and glass-panel avionics and you have an airplane that is virtually indistinguishable from new.
Sierra Industries in Ulvalde, Texas, has converted about 175 Citation Is with its Eagle II and Stallion packages and the performance changes can be large. Takeoff and landing distances shrink, too, allowing the Eagle II to operate out of 3,000-foot strips. Range increases to 1,400 nautical miles in the Stallion (four passengers, one pilot and IFR reserves) and to 1,650 in the Eagle II. The Stallion can also be fitted with Sierra's new fuselage auxiliary tank, which boosts range to 1,750 nautical miles. At cruise altitude, an Eagle II delivers 35 percent more thrust and burns 40 percent less fuel than a straight Citation I. The Williams engines are also quieter than the original Pratt & Whitneys, which helps cut cabin noise.
An Eagle II flies 54 knots faster and can climb directly to 43,000 feet, 2,000 feet higher than the Citation I. It gets there a lot faster, too. A straight Citation I climbs with both engines at 2,719 feet per minute; the Eagle II climbs 4,500 feet per minute. An Eagle II will reach 43,000 feet in 25 minutes, while a straight Citation I must step climb to 41,000 feet over the course of 80 minutes.
"By the time you get up there, it is time to come down," said Bill Hettinger, who owned a stock Citation I and looked at VLJs and the Citation CJ2 before picking up a 1980 Citation I with an Eagle II conversion. "None of the VLJs had the range and the CJ2 was more expensive," Hettinger said. "This airplane is a known quantity-it was not a leap of faith."
Sierra offers other after-market options for the Citation I, including avionics upgrades, baggage compartment modifications, an aft divan and a front-cabin "barrel sofa." Universal Avionics sells a package to convert the cockpit to LCD panels for around $500,000. Including the cost of aircraft acquisition, a full-up conversion can be done for under $3 million and delivers a lot of performance for the money.