““[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 Sovereign
Since being certified in 2004, this $17 million midsize jet has become one of Cessna's most popular models. One reason is that it can carry eight passengers almost 2,700 miles. Another is that it can take off and land on short runways. and then there's its intentionally simple suite of technologies, which helps minimize maintenance costs and down time.
Cessna Aircraft has delivered more than 5,100 business jets and the Citation Sovereign (CE-680) is one of its current top-sellers, with more than 160 handed over since the FAA certified this midsize model in 2004. Fractional companies account for more than a third of those sales, and the rest have been to a wide cross section of other operators, including many in Europe and Asia. Indeed, 50 percent of Sovereigns are sold outside the U.S. And, despite an annual production rate of better than 70, the order backlog trails a full two years.
What makes the Sovereign so popular? For starters, it will carry four passengers and ample luggage 2,847 nautical miles. It can take off from runways shorter than 4,000 feet and land at some shorter than 3,000 feet. Plus, it climbs like a bullet-4,000 to 5,000 feet per minute through the lower altitudes-without being a gas glutton.
Merle Van Sante, a 14,000-hour contract pilot who has flown several Sovereigns, believes unmatched utility explains its popularity. "If you want range, you've got range," he said. "Short field? No problem. Fast climb? You've got that. Need to haul eight or nine people? You can. It just seems to do it all."
And it does it with an intentionally simple suite of technologies. Looking for computer-driven, fiber-optic fly-by-wire flight controls and a lot of other whiz-bang? Or even powered or power-boosted flight controls? You've come to the wrong place. Think good old-fashioned mechanical controls and cables, and a smattering of hydraulics. Aside from the glass-panel Honeywell Primus Epic avionics, digital engine controls, LED cabin lights and optional Airshow in-flight entertainment system, there are few hints that this airplane was designed anytime after 1989. Apparently, that's just the way Cessna, and its customers, like it.
"We designed this airplane to keep complexity down," said Terry Shriner, Cessna's senior program manager for the Sovereign. "That gives it the reliability operators need for quick turn times and high utilization. Simple systems mean the airplane has fewer complex components to break."
Some Sovereign operators fly their airplanes more than 1,000 hours per year and the overall fleet passed 100,000 hours in November. Shriner said the Sovereign's mechanical controls produce "pleasant" forces. "Pleasant" is one of those pejorative words in aviation.
The airplane's "roll has a much heavier feel to it," said pilot Van Sante, who has logged 200 hours in Sovereigns. "It feels more like driving a bus than a sports car." In fairness, so do lots of other airplanes, but pilots used to smaller Citations will find that the forces required to turn a Sovereign are demonstrably heavier.
From the cruciform tail to the trenched center aisle in the passenger cabin, the Sovereign harkens back to the first transcontinental business jets of the 1960s, such as the Rockwell Sabreliner 65. Cessna claims the aircraft falls inside the super-midsize category. Well, that's stretching a point. OK, more than stretching a point. The Sovereign has nowhere near the cabin volume, wide floors or headroom of a true super-midsize such as a Gulfstream G200 or a Falcon 2000, but then it costs millions less, too.
The Sovereign has the same 66-inch tube width at the shoulders as the smaller Citation XLS and the faster and longer Mach 0.92 Citation X. The trenched drop-floor center aisle provides 68 inches of headroom. The passenger cabin is just over 25 feet long. Eight individual slide, swivel and reclining passenger seats are arranged in two facing "club 4" configurations. You can substitute two- and three-place couches for some of these seats at additional cost, but that's not a listed option. Room exists for an additional single side-facing seat opposite the aircraft entry door.
The standard right-hand refreshment center is located forward of the main entry door. It is 31 inches wide and holds two hot-beverage tanks, an ice drawer, a trash receptacle and storage. Unless you really need that side-facing forward seat, junk it in favor of the optional extended refreshment center. The eight-cubic-foot coat closet opposite the refreshment center can hold 140 pounds. A 27-cubic-foot hanging closet in the aft cabin (inside the lavatory) can accommodate 415 pounds. The main 100-cubic-foot baggage hold is in the tail cone and can accommodate 1,000 pounds; it is heated but not accessible from the passenger cabin. Sliding divider doors separate the functional, but not plush, lavatory from the main cabin. The lavatory features an externally serviced flushing toilet, sink, vanity and some storage. Overall cabin noise is low for an airplane in this category and lighting and ventilation are excellent.
Cessna instituted an innovative maintenance program for the Sovereign that makes extensive use of fault analysis in determining service and replacement intervals. The program has significantly reduced downtime and costs compared with previous models and is just another reason that simplicity is Sovereign.