Cessna's CJ3 offers long-range and a spacious cabin.
Cessna's CJ3 offers long-range and a spacious cabin.

Cessna Citation CJ3

Multiple strengths make it the most popular model in the CJ series.

Cessna’s entire line of Citation CJ light jets has remained popular over the years. Offering varying degrees of stretch of the same diameter fuselage, the models share certain characteristics. But talk to CJ owners and it quickly becomes apparent that one variant stands out above its siblings as the perfect combination of range, performance and operating economics: the seven- to nine-passenger CJ3, which first entered service in 2004.   

“It is one of Cessna’s best-built light jets,” enthuses Alex Wilcox, CEO of  JetSuite, a charter operator based in Irvine, California. The company acquired eight used CJ3s less than two years ago and since then has been flying each one an average of 80 hours per month. JetSuite also operates 12 Embraer Phenom 100s, but it found that some of its customers wanted more passenger capacity and longer range. 

“We needed a plane with the legs to get from Teterboro [New Jersey] to West Palm Beach [Florida],” explains Wilcox. So JetSuite acquired the CJ3s, formerly operated by Cessna’s now-defunct CitationAir, and gave them new paint and a refreshed interior. Among the upgrades: new upholstery, carpet, LED lighting, a redesigned beverage cabinet, stowable life rafts and the Gogo Biz ATG 5000 Internet system. JetSuite alsoreplaced the airstair door with a more substantial one. 

It’s not just the range—up to 1,875 nautical miles, with reserves—that makes the CJ3 a winner in the light-jet category, according to Wilcox. The Williams International FJ44-3A engines (2,820 pounds of thrust each, 4,000 hours between overhauls) give the airplane enough blow to often (depending on load) climb directly to its service ceiling of 45,000 feet.

“Once we get up there, we cruise a little slower than the airliners, but we also are above them by 5,000 to 7,000 feet,” Wilcox says. “We’re not in anybody’s way, nobody is in our way, it is smoother air, and you get more direct routings [from air-traffic control] because there isn’t a whole lot of traffic up there.” 

The CJ3 delivers good operating economics on short or long routes. “It’s a terrific climber,” Wilcox says. “You can go from Teterboro direct to Martha’s Vineyard or direct to Anguilla and the economics still make sense.”

Wilcox adds that his pilots love the airplane’s short-runway performance and fast climbs, even off the pavement at high altitudes and hottemperatures in places like Aspen, Colorado. The CJ3 climbs initially at a maximum rate of nearly 4,500 feet per minute. At maximum takeoff weight it can reach 45,000 feet in just 27 minutes. 

It has a top speed of 417 knots, but that starts to bleed off a little as you go above airliner altitudes in the mid to high thirties. That said, it’s still plenty fast for a light jet and pilots regularly report speeds above the numbers Cessna publishes for altitudes and conditions. And it carries a respectable load—780 pounds of passengers and their stuff—with full fuel. 

In the cockpit, the highly capable Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics accommodate XM satellite weather, which allows pilots to view conditions anywhere in the country. However, the avionics file server isn’t powerful enough to legally qualify the airplane solely with electronic navigation charts that are loaded into the system. You need a backup. Given the cramped cockpit, pilots are best advised to bring alonga tablet device—also known as an electronic flight bag—for this purpose, as opposed to crumpling up a bunch of paper charts. This is particularly true for operators who fly with two pilots. JetSuite added a second navigation unit and a UHF radio to the instrument panel, the latter to facilitate communication on overwater flights. 

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For an airplane in this category, the six reclining single executive seats are comfortable and the passenger cabin is relatively quiet. All CJ3 cabins are outfitted with the first four seats in a facing club-four layout followed by two forward-facing seats with less legroom—great for kids, shorter passengers and “stuff shelves.”

You can also get the CJ3 configured with an optional fixed-position single side-facing seat opposite the entry door and someone can straponto the toilet. So if you fly the CJ3 single pilot, as many operators do, you could conceivably crowd nine passengers into it. However, most CJ3s take off with two to three passengers and one or two pilots. 

The aft lav features the bane of most light jets, the dreaded blue-water chemical toilet. It isn’t externally serviceable, which means some lucky contestant gets to walk it off the airplane. “I suspect that some of our pilots are tipping the line-service guys to clean the lav for them,” Wilcox jokes.

He adds that the cabin heating and cooling system has worked well on JetSuite’s CJ3s, particularly since Cessna came out with a better compressor for it. However, he notes that the pilots’ feet can get a little chilled on long flights. And while the cabin is comfortable overall, Wilcox says that the main cabin door seals can be a bit of a problem and sometimes make noise at altitude. He stresses that this isn’t a safety concern but that it’s “definitely a big issue and Cessna needs to redesign them.”

The various baggage compartments add up to 65 cubic feet. The 50-cubic-foot aft compartment is big enough for a set of skis. 

Stevens Aviation—which has locations in Dayton, Ohio; Denver; Greenville, South Carolina; and Nashville—provides most of the service for JetSuite’s CJ3s. Wilcox says Stevens’s crew know the model as well as anyone who works on it, including the technicians at Cessna-owned service centers. 

To take the bite out of unscheduled maintenance, JetSuite subscribes to Cessna’s Pro Parts spare/replacement parts plan and Williams’s hourly engine-support programs. Posting a dispatch rate of 97 to 98 percent, JetSuite’s CJ3s have good reliability, but “not as good at the Phenoms,” Wilcox says.

Nevertheless, the CJ3 holds its value well, with a 10-year-old model selling for an average of $4.1 million, according to the aircraft pricing service Vref. That’s much better than anything else in class and is just one reason why Cessna sold 460 of them over a decade. 

Cessna plans to keep making them for a while. Last year it unveiled the $8.43 million CJ3+, featuring a restyled cockpit with touchscreen avionics and an updated passenger cabin. And why not? When it comes to Citation CJs, the CJ3 is the favorite son.


Mark Huber is a private pilot with experience in more than 50 aircraft models.

 
 
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