““We didn’t take no fancy rock-star airplane [to get here]. [Pause.] All right, all right, we did take a fancy rock-star airplane. But we thought about driving.” —Bruce Springsteen, talking to the audience during an April 23, 1988 concert at Los Angeles Sports Arena ”
A major makeover renders a popular midsize jet even more appealing.
The emperor has new clothes.
Cessna’s latest incarnation of its midsize Sovereign fits advanced technology and improved interior design into a fuselage tube cross section introduced by the Citation III back in 1979.
Certified late last year, the Sovereign+ features subtle winglets Cessna calls “swooplets,” new touch-screen Garmin avionics, a new cabin-management and entertainment system, a better environmental-control system, uprated Pratt & Whitney Canada engines, a redesigned cockpit and an upgraded cabin with seats for eight to nine passengers. While it may look almost identical to a legacy Sovereign, the new model offers a nine-foot-longer wingspan that holds more fuel and boosts takeoff weight from 30,300 to 30,775 pounds.
The airplane incorporates these improvements while retaining its ability to use runways as short as 3,530 feet, cruise at 460 knots and post slightly faster climb times. Bundled together, the changes on the Sovereign+ also yield an airplane with a range of 3,000 nautical miles, 150 more than its predecessor, making it officially transcontinental in the U.S. It executes the trip with dramatically improved functionality and comfort, while—so far, at least—holding the line on price: $18.1 million. This is the type of incrementalism Cessna does better than anyone else in the business.
Certified in 2004, the original Sovereign quickly built market appeal, selling 350 copies through the end of last year, more than half for export. The basic design is simple: mechanical linkages to the control surfaces, no exotic fly-by-wire here. Stylistically, 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. You can’t really call this airplane super-midsize as it has nowhere near the cabin volume, wide floors or headroom of a true super-midsize such as a Gulfstream G280 or a Bombardier Challenger 350, but then it costs millions less.
As previously suggested, the Sovereign borrows from several Citations. It has the same 66-inch tube width at the shoulders that the company adopted with the Citation III and later shared with the smaller Citation XLS and the faster, longer Citation X. The trenched drop-floor center aisle provides 68 inches of headroom. The passenger cabin is just over 25 feet long. Eight individual swivel, slide and reclining passenger seats are arranged into two facing “club 4” layouts. A single side-facing seat opposite the aircraft entry door can be added, bringing passenger capacity to nine, if you select the shorter 31-inch-wide “refreshment center.” It holds an ice drawer, storage, trash and two beverage containers. The nine-seat layout is the most popular, as most operators use their Sovereigns in roles akin to corporate shuttles: they skip the frills, load up the seats and go.
Stowage space remains respectable for an aircraft in this category. A heated, externally accessed 100-cubic-foot baggage hold in the tail section can swallow 1,000 pounds; inside the lavatory is a 27-cubic-foot hanging closet rated for 312 pounds; and another smaller closet, in the front opposite the galley, can take 123 pounds.
The sole lavatory is aft of the main cabin and separated from it by a pair of sliding doors.
None of this changes on the Sovereign+, but plenty else does. The cabin is completely restyled with more flowing cabinetry and new LED lighting to brighten the space. Other touches include a more robust side-table design and the elimination of traditional cup holders in favor of multifunctional storage for keys, cell phones and beverages.
But it is the new air conditioning, seats and cabin electronics that passengers will appreciate most.
Cessna says the air conditioning provides 37 percent better cooling.
Passenger seating has long been the bane of midsize Cessnas: the comfort of a church pew locked into the styling of a 1980s minivan. Working with Ipeco, the European manufacturer long lauded for its cockpit seating, Cessna designed a common seat platform, used now in the Sovereign+ and new Citation X and soon in the under-development Latitude and Longitude. It features eight degrees more pitch, allowing passengers to lean back farther—and more comfortably. The armrests retract into the seatback, widening the aisle and providing more seated thigh room for larger passengers. You get the sensation that you are sitting in the seat, as opposed to on it. It’s not the same level of comfort you get in a high-end Mercedes, in which the seat-cushion side bolsters automatically inflate and deflate as you round corners, but it’s light years away from a minivan. You can enhance comfort more by ordering the adjustable mechanical lumbar.
Passenger electronics have also made a quantum leap in this airplane, thanks to the new Clairity cabin-management system. Clairity integrates the cabin electrical system, avionics and communications through a fiber-optic backbone. Six 110V outlets are located throughout the cockpit, cabin and lav with jacks at each club-four seat grouping, and USB charging ports are standard at each seat. As an option, the 110V outlets can be added at each seat. Interactive touchscreen controllers at every seat, about the size of smartphones, operate cabin lights, window shades, temperature, digital audio and video and an interactive moving map. The controllers also have built-in Web browsers (Internet service required). Options include RGB mood lighting, Wi-Fi, high-speed Internet and satellite radio.
Five basic fabric and color combinations are available for the Sovereign+. Customers can also choose their own fabrics and colors.
The restyled cockpit is built around the new Garmin G5000 touchscreen avionics suite, which features three 14-inch flat-panel displays, an integrated autopilot and autothrottles. The G5000 offers the latest communications, safety and navigation technology, including synthetic vision, weather radar, GPS with wide-area-augmentation system for precision approaches, traffic-collision-avoidance system (Tcas II), terrain-awareness and warning system (Taws), ADS-B out, radio altimeter and cockpit voice recorder. Automatic functions built into the G5000 speed engine start and preflight checks and add additional layers of idiot-proofing.
While more refined inside for passengers and pilots, the Sovereign+ retains a few of the handling drawbacks of its progenitor, mainly the truck-like handling in the roll axis. But that’s a small price to pay for a thoroughly modernized aircraft that offers almost the ideal combination of economy, range, utility, speed and payload. Even with all this, the Sovereign+ still may not be the perfect airplane. But it’s really close.
2014 Cessna Citation Sovereign+ at a Glance
Range: 3,000 nm*
Max cruise speed: 460 kt
Takeoff distance: 3,000 ft**
Cabin: height: 5 ft 8 in
width: 5 ft 6 in
length: 25 ft 3 in
Baggage: 135 cu ft
*with 200 nm IFR reserves, two pilots, four passengers
**at maximum weight
Mark Huber is a private pilot with experience in single-engine, multi-engine, turbine, amphibious, aerobatic and rotary-wing aircraft.