I’m going to admit it right up front: I’ve always admired the Cessna CJ3 from afar but frankly, it’s a bit, (okay, a lot) out of my price range, so it’s a plane that I’ve only dreamed about. But dreams are good, and wow, what an airplane! So, when Cessna contacted me to ask if I wanted to take a trip in a brand-new CJ3+, I jumped at the chance. As a Citation Mustang pilot, I was curious to see how the new 3+ compared with my baby Citation and to see how it would do on a common trip. I was especially interested to see how easy it would be to fly for someone transitioning from a smaller jet like the Mustang.
The story of the CJ3+ starts long before the Mustang, back in 1993, with the delivery of the first Cessna Citation Jet—the original CJ. At the time, it was a revolutionary jet that was made possible by new 1,900-pound-thrust Williams FJ44-1A turbofan engines and a new laminar-flow wing perfected by Cessna. With nearly straight wings, the CJ had relatively docile low-speed handling characteristics, a respectable top cruise speed of 381 KTAS and a range of 1,285 nm. Right out of the gate, the CJ was certified for single-pilot operation, and it proved to be an instant hit with both owner-pilots and business operators.
In 2000, Cessna delivered the first CJ1, which added another 200 pounds of useful payload, and the CJ2, which stretched both the fuselage and the range. At the same time, Cessna made the move to the Collins avionics package. In 2004, Cessna announced both the CJ1+ and the CJ2+ with the addition of FADEC controls on the engines and the new Collins Pro-Line 21 avionics package. Recognizing the demand for even more room and range, Cessna also rolled out the first CJ3 in that same year.
The CJ3 featured FADEC, a stretched fuselage and more fuel capacity than the CJ2+. Even though the weight of the CJ3 had grown to more then 12,500 pounds, Cessna successfully certified it for single-pilot operation under the 14 CRF Part 23 commuter category rules. After a successful 10-year run, Cessna announced a new and improved CJ3+ in April 2014, with first customer deliveries starting at the end of the year. The new CJ3+ fits into the Citation line just below the CJ4, and with a price tag of about $1 million less than the CJ4, the CJ3+ has already proven to be very popular with owner-pilots and business operators.
So, What’s New?
The new CJ3+ features a long list of improvements, starting with a completely redesigned cockpit featuring the three-screen Garmin G3000 touch-screen avionics package, which includes the superb GFC-700 autopilot. With the change to the G3000 comes a new fully automated pressurization controller. Just set the destination altitude before you depart, and the controller does the rest. It couldn’t be easier. Since the CJ3+ can maintain a maximum 8.9 psi pressure differential, the cabin altitude will be held below a comfortable 8,000 feet all the way up to FL450. The G3000 also brings with it emergency descent mode (EDM). EDM is armed whenever the aircraft is above FL300, and if the cabin altitude rises above 14,500 feet, the autopilot will automatically turn the aircraft 90 degrees left and begin a maximum rate descent to 15,000 feet. If you can get the throttles pulled back and the speed brakes deployed, the plane will come down like a manhole cover and level off automatically. Even with the throttles in the cruise position, the system will try to work the plane to a lower altitude, but it won’t allow the aircraft to over-speed, so getting down might take longer. To provide power to the avionics dispatch bus prior to start, the 3+ now has an auxiliary 16 A-hr lead-acid battery located in the nose. This battery also provides added backup power to the ship’s main 44 A-hr Ni-Cad battery in the unlikely event of a dual generator failure. New features also include the all-solid-state Garmin GWX-70 Doppler radar system with windshear and turbulence alert capability and a full LED lighting package with an 8,000-hour bulb replacement time.
The new cockpit uses the same design first introduced with the Citation M2. The seats go back further, the control pedestal has been lowered and shortened to make it easy to get in and out, the controls have been logically grouped, CB panels have been repositioned, and the armrests now feature dual cup holders, storage areas, and USB and 110VAC power outlets. There’s even a convenient push-to-talk button on the armrests. The control yokes are the same stitched leather-wrapped yokes used in the M2. They’re very comfortable and provide a real touch of quality to the modern look of the cockpit. The seats can be positioned over a wide range, and they have a large reclining angle. Overall, the level of comfort in the cockpit has been substantially improved—particularly for those who are tall or who have long legs.
Back in the cabin, the whole environment has been updated with new fully articulated seats that have folding armrests to provide more aisle room. There’s a new air-stair with fully enclosed steps and a very nicely damped lowering system. It only takes a gentle push to lower the stairs. Entertainment options include the Clarity Wireless system that can serve up movies, XM radio, Internet and flight maps wirelessly to onboard mobile devices. Domestic Internet service is available through Aircell Gogo Biz, which provides roughly 3G speed. Inmarsat service is available for international customers. Each seat has USB outlets for powering electronics, and there are 110VAC outlets in the cabin, as well. Two folding tables are available for the center club seat occupants.
Imposing Ramp Presence
It was a warm, sunny afternoon when I met Alan Pitcher, Alex Marks and Mike Pierce on the ramp in Bend, Ore., after they made a quick 98 nm flight from Eugene. As I approached the CJ3+ on the ramp, I was struck by its size. With a 51-foot length and 54-foot wingspan, its size alone projects tremendous ramp presence.
Our walkaround started at the front where there’s a spacious 15 cubic-foot nose baggage space that can accommodate up to 400 pounds of baggage. The nose area also houses the Garmin phased array radar antenna along with a 50 cubic-foot emergency oxygen tank. Like all of the CJs, the 3+ sits fairly low to the ground, so loading baggage is easy. The 50 cubic-foot main baggage area is located at the rear of the aircraft and has the capacity to handle up to 600 pounds of cargo. The baggage hold is large enough to handle lots of bags, skis, golf clubs and just about anything else you might want to take along. I didn’t try it, but it looked big enough to even fit bicycles for those headed for adventure.
The G3000 MFD (top) provides detailed color maps with data overlays.
The main cabin door is the same tapered door system that has been used on earlier CJs. It’s 24 inches wide at the base and tapers to 20 inches at the top. The door incorporates well-proven dual seals, one inflatable and one passive, to ensure a positive pressure tight seal. Across from the door, our airplane for the day was outfitted with finely finished cabinetry behind the copilot seat extending into the cabin. Mike explained that part of the cabinet could be exchanged for a belted jump seat, and that many operators buy both and swap them out depending on their mission requirements. All of the lighting is LED and the wood, leather and carpet combine to create an ultra-modern, super comfortable look. This is definitely traveling in style!
At the very rear of the cabin, there’s a fully enclosed lavatory with a belted seat. Across from the seat is the emergency exit and space for excess baggage and coats. It’s not a standup cabin, but it’s very spacious and easy to navigate.
A Milk Run
A common flight that I make in the Mustang is between Bend and Tucson. The route works out to 912 nm, and I suggested making the same trip in the CJ3+ to see how it compares. For the outbound flight, Alan agreed to serve as copilot—and PIC since I’m not typed in the 525 series. The climb into the left seat is downright trivial compared to earlier CJs, and I found it easy to find a comfortable seat position in spite of my long legs. The seat back reclines nicely, there’s plenty of headroom, and the cockpit feels quite spacious.
Getting the airplane started will be familiar to any Citation pilot. The first step is to bring up the avionics with the avionics dispatch switch. The old Citation rotary test is now through a simple menu-driven procedure to test the appropriate aircraft systems. One feature missing is V-speed calculations, and Alan explained that a new, fully automated TOLD card feature is due in the next software release scheduled for next August. So we set our V1, Vr, V2 and Venr speeds from the books, which worked out to 98, 101 and 111 knots for our roughly 13,000-pound TOW using the normal takeoff flap setting. To start the engines, simply press the appropriate start button conveniently located on the center panel just aft of the throttles, then wait until for N2 to reach 8%, and bring the throttle over the shutoff gate. The FADEC system does the rest. It’s still important to monitor the gauges, but it couldn’t be much easier. I noted that ITT remained well below redline for both the battery start and the cross-generator start. Once the engines are both running, there are only few remaining checklist items to complete before being ready to taxi.
Our flight-planned route would take us south over Reno, Las Vegas and into Tucson. Entering the flight plan into the G3000 is easy for anyone with a little Garmin time—particularly with Garmin 750s. Alan took a moment to explain that new feature in the G3000 called “Surface Watch.” This feature provides warnings for closed runways, runways that might be too short, touchdown and ground speed alerts that will all appear on the displays, as well as over the audio system. Bend is an uncontrolled field, and there was a lot of traffic, so Alan also mentioned that the onboard TCAS-II system would provide resolution advisories should we conflict with any traffic once airborne.
Ready to go, we taxied to runway 34 for departure. I found that taxing the CJ3+ felt almost exactly the same as in the Mustang—just watch those long wings! Visibility is superb ,and the airplane is very easy to control—it just takes a little power to get things rolling. In tight quarters, the nosewheel castors to provide the ability to turn within nearly a wingspan. As we taxied, we checked the brakes and applied brief differential power to test the rudder boost system. In normal operations, bleed air from each engine pushes on either side of a piston that’s interconnected to the rudder control. If an engine fails, bleed air pressure from the running engine will help push the rudder over to automatically compensate for the asymmetric thrust. It’s a simple, almost foolproof safety feature that helps maintain directional control if an engine fails on takeoff.
With only five us on board, we weren’t at the 13,870-pound MTW, but even at that weight, the CJ3+ has a takeoff field length of just 3,870 feet at an elevation of 4,000 feet on a 15C day. Remember that the Part 23 commuter category takeoff field length is the greater of the accelerate-stop, accelerate-go on a single engine, or 115% of all engine takeoff distance to a height of 35 feet. The charts indicate that at MTW, the CJ3+ could safely depart the 5,200-foot runway in Bend even when the temperature is a little over 90F on a warm summer afternoon. Bend only has a field elevation of 3,456 feet, so Aspen is very workable—even in the summer. That’s a significant step up from most smaller jets—including the Mustang.
After briefing a normal takeoff, we pulled onto the runway, and I stood the throttles up to the full takeoff power detent. That’s when you really feel the 5,640 pounds of thrust from the two Williams FJ44-3A engines. Acceleration is exhilarating, and we reached Vr about halfway down the runway. Rotation requires just a bit more of a positive pull on the yoke than the Mustang, but perhaps a bit less than in the M2. Either way, getting airborne doesn’t take long, and we quickly achieved positive rate, lifted the gear and retracted the flaps as we passed through about 130 KIAS. We made a gentle left turn to downwind and climbed out VFR to the south, where we picked up our IFR clearance to Tucson.
The new CJ3+ cockpit features the Garmin G3000 and has been completely redesigned for more room, increased comfort and better ergonomics.
The G3000 has a wonderful VNAV feature that helps to manage speeds in all phases of flight. With VNAV armed, the system can be programmed to target the 200-knot speed limits in class D or C, to descend at a speed below the 250-knot limit below 10,000 feet and target the optimum climb speed of 221 KIAS in an unrestricted climb. The pilot still has to manage the throttles, but this feature is a great aid in complex airspace—particularly for single-pilot operation. As we departed the Bend area, we simply selected flight level change (FLC), dialed in a speed of 221 knots and followed the command bars. Initially, the rate of climb approached 4,000 fpm, and in less than 11 minutes, we were climbing through FL320. In only 20 minutes, we were still climbing at 1,000 fpm as we leveled off at FL410. It didn’t take long before we had to start backing off the power to stay below MMO, so we requested a climb to FL430, where the speed stabilized at 0.728M for a true airspeed of 422 knots at ISA+4 with a fuel flow of 840 pounds/hour. Alan explained that the best strategy to determine the optimum cruise altitude is pretty simple. Simply keep climbing until you reach an altitude where you don’t have to pull the throttles back to stay below the MMO speed of 0.737M. At FL430, a quick check revealed that our speed was noticeably better than the book numbers, and Alan explained that Cessna has always conservatively rated performance numbers. That guarantees that all new planes will meet or exceed book performance, and I’ve noticed the same thing in my Mustang.
I don’t often get to experience this kind of speed, and I could sure get used to it! At 485 mph, we were eating about eight miles every minute, and even from over eight miles up, the ground still looked like it was going by pretty fast. Along the way, I had a chance to try out the fully integrated sat-phone system. Simply pull up the menu on the G3000, dial your number, and the call connects through the headset. Pretty cool and super useful for a call to customs or back to the office—even from FL430!
The descent is greatly simplified by the vertical navigation capabilities of the G3000. Simply set the target altitude at the particular fix, and the AP will take you there. In our case, the clearance was to cross DINGO intersection at or below 14,000 feet and descend to maintain 11,000 feet. The G3000 has a nice feature that permits crossing altitudes to be entered as: “at”, “at or above”, and “at or below,” and it worked perfectly to put us exactly where we were supposed to be. The pilot just has to manage the throttles to keep the speed below the barber pole. As we descended, Alan brought up the descent checklist, and we began the process of warming the windshield to prevent fogging. The CJ3+ uses both bleed air heat and alcohol for defogging, anti-icing and deicing the acrylic windshield. These are time-tested systems that work well, but quite honestly, the simplicity of the electrically heated glass windshield might be the only feature that I’d miss from the Mustang.
With the airport in sight, I accepted the visual approach to 11L, and we arrived just in time for one of the last “daytime” landings before things got really dark. Our reference speed was a perfectly manageable 101 knots. At 50 feet, simply close the throttles and very gently flair for a very smooth, trailing-link touchdown. As soon as the mains are on the ground, pull the flap lever up and aft to deploy the speed brakes and set the flaps in the lift dump position. As the nose touches, apply the brakes. We had a lot of runway, but the CJ3+ anti-lock brakes can stop the plane in an amazingly short distance. Simply put, this is “plant your face into the panel” kind of braking—the stopping power is truly impressive. Even though the CJ3+ doesn’t have thrust reversers, this allows the landing distance at sea level to be as short as 2,770 feet at MLW. With light tailwinds, our flight lasted 2:21 and burned a total of 2,200 pounds of fuel. As we taxied to parking, I had a chance to sample both the exterior and the interior nighttime lighting in the CJ3+, and it’s outstanding.
The new cabin features seats with folding armrests to widen the aisle.
The next day on the flight back to Bend, Alex served as copilot, and we requested and received a “wrong way” clearance to climb all the way up to FL450 to sample the performance at the maximum certified altitude. Even though we had to stop the climb a couple of times for traffic in the Phoenix area, we still leveled off only 24 minutes after the wheels left the ground. With only four of us on board, we were fairly light, but no matter—that’s simply amazing climb performance! At normal cruise power setting, I was impressed to see our speed stabilize at 0.709M or 411 KTAS at ISA +5 with a fuel burn at just 770 pounds/hour. Keep in mind that the CJ3+ is moving a lot of seats along at pretty high speed, so 115 gph is impressive economy. Even with an average headwind of 25-30 knots, our total flight time to cover the 912 nm distance worked out to be only 2:28 and burned a total of 2,210 pounds of Jet A.
Riding In Style
During our flight back to Bend, I spent a little time in the cabin, as well. The noise levels are quite low, and normal conversation is easy. It’s quieter than most airliners and the windows let in a lot of light, so the cabin feels very open. Mike took the opportunity to point out to the wings and explain that the shape of the airfoil is very important to the performance of the airplane. The wing skins are built to be very rigid, and indeed, I could see that there was absolutely no oil-canning on the surface of the wing in spite of our high speed. As I enjoyed the ride, I was especially impressed with the seats. They move toward the center aisle, and the comfort level is superb. The rear club seats are mounted on an extra long rail, so that if no one’s occupying the rearmost seats, the middle seat can slide way back to provide tremendous legroom. I sure wouldn’t mind riding in the back of a CJ3+ any time! The experience is beyond first class.
So How Does It Compare?
As I walked away from the CJ3+, I had a big grin, and I was struck by some general comparisons to my airplane. In general, with no wind, the same trip takes about 2:50 and requires about 1,550 pounds of fuel (at FL400) in the Mustang. So the CJ3+ requires roughly another 100 gallons of fuel to make the same trip about 30 minutes faster. The big difference is that the CJ3+ has the capacity for 10 seats, so it only requires 220 pounds of fuel to move one of those seats over that 912 nm distance. With only six seats, the Mustang requires 260 pounds of fuel to take a seat on the same trip, but that’s about as far as it will go with all the seats filled. The life-changing advantage of the CJ3+ really happens when you fold in the seating capacity with the nearly 2,000 nm range, and that’s where the extra speed really comes into play. With a cooperative jetstream, it’s entirely possible to make a nonstop, coast-to-coast trip. Under more normal conditions, the ability to realistically make a single hop of 1,800 nm becomes an enormous advantage for folks who can make use of that kind of range and capacity. It’s truly a big step up in capability from a smaller jet like the Mustang, and almost more than anything, I was impressed by how easy the CJ3+ is to operate. Anyone with even a little jet time will be appreciate the operational simplicity, the handling and smooth arrivals enabled by the CJ3+. For those with the mission and means, the CJ3+ is an amazing airplane, and now that I’ve had the chance to try it out, I’ll be dreaming about it for a long time.